Marshall: Let’s have a real conversation about guns

Monitor staff
Wednesday, October 04, 2017

I don’t want anyone to take away your guns, not the ones you use to keep pests out of your garden, not the ones you hunt deer with, as long as they’re actually guns and not weapons and you use them responsibly.

But I don’t want there to be fools with weapons wandering around in public – or even in private – in an active daily relationship with their weapons, and often with the demons in their heads that point out danger in every other person, in every situation, and sometimes whispering tales of glory and revenge, self-inflicted justice and power.

And I especially don’t want them walking about with hidden weaponry, putting you, and me, and the cops my Dad and friends used to work with in danger.

I don’t want there to be that opportunity for tragic error – not in this country, where no one’s ensuring that weapon owners are trained and remain trained – which they aren’t – and are responsible gunowners – which, clearly, many are not; or sober; or don’t have hate and anger issues; or aren’t medicated with any number of mind-affecting drugs; or aren’t a hormone-stupid kid who stole a weapon from the Dad or Grandpa who was too poorly trained or stupid to heed the absolute responsibility to keep his weapons locked up; or are even wholly sane. If you’re completely honest, gunowner or not, you’ll be nodding your head in agreement when you read that, and if you’re not – well, you draw the conclusion.

Last month, someone walked into the hospital in Lebanon and shot his mother. In Concord recently, a couple of gun owners were waving their guns around at each other, and a shooting happened; in another incident in Concord, one person was shot and two others shot at. In another state, yet another teenager shot yet another bunch of schoolmates. In Manchester, a 17-year old was shot in the face. There were shootings in Penacook. Earlier this summer, some proud gun owner shot another person’s dog at one of the rest areas. Those were the weapons instances I heard about recently in a casual glance at the news – you know there are more, and you wouldn’t have to search hard to find them. And that, neighbors, is a problem: our neighbors are doing an awful lot of shooting at other people.

Let’s talk about near misses. Let’s talk about near misses that turned into tragedy.

A dear friend is now struggling with what to do about her aging father’s guns and weapons. The man is retired military – very well-trained. And yet, the guns are loosely stored in a closet, not in a gun safe. And he’s not in good health. His physical ailments are starting to affect his mental health. He’s easily angered; he’s impatient, and irritable. He’s becoming unpredictable. My friend is afraid to take his guns away; she’s afraid to leave them where they are; and he’s so easily angered – and becomes so over-the-top angry – that she’s afraid to try talking to him about it. He has become a volatile and unsafe gun owner, but he would disagree vehemently with that assessment. My friend, raised in a military family, was carefully taught safe gun ownership. She gave up her own guns when her health deteriorated in away that made her fear that she would not always have them under safe control. That was the responsible, correct thing to do. Her father should have done the same – but here’s a big problem with our free-for-all attitude about not really regulating guns: gun owners, even those who have been well trained, can precipitously become unsafe, or become unsafe so slowly that no one is paying attention.

Sometimes family or friends recognize the problem in time, and are able to divest that person of their weapons. But often the family or friends don’t act – they don’t want to upset the gun owner, to point out their deterioration, to question their judgment, or even their state of mental or emotional health. Or, like my friend, they don’t dare remove the guns, either because they don’t know how to handle them safely or because they’re afraid of stirring the gun owner’s wrath. They don’t want to call the police to help because they don’t want the neighbors to see cops going into the relative’s house – scandal! There may be no relatives to handle the situation and friends may not feel it’s their business; and the gun-owner himself may not recognize – or be willing to admit to – his own deteriorating judgment. Nor may he consider how his deteriorating sight or hearing could lead to a tragedy; or how his short-term memory lapses, or physical wobbliness, could cause an unintended shooting.

I was happy to sign a statement for the local police department saying I thought my Dad was a responsible person and should be given a hidden gun permit; one year later, when his health had deteriorated radically, I thought exactly the opposite. But one year later, no one was asking – Dad had the permit, and that was the end of it. I had to take Dad’s gun away myself.

Aging people are often taking a mixed cocktail of pharmaceuticals. Do any of the drugs, or the combination of them, affect the mind? Who’s responsible for the drug-affected elder’s guns? How about the young fella who owns an arsenal, and is taking mind-bending drugs for a sprained back, or dental surgery, or depression – or should be, but isn’t? Who’s monitoring the safety of the person who just suffered a major trauma – a divorce, a nasty break-up, a firing, the death of a dear friend or beloved relative? Who’s monitoring the gun safety of the person who is slowly experiencing mental changes? Who’s testing whether my being armed doesn’t make me act like a person who will take the law into her own hands? Who will shoot another person’s dog rather than call the actual authorities? Who will shoot the suspicious person rather than call the police? Who will threaten, with my weapon, a next-door neighbor who’s making too much noise, or stealing my parking spot, or whose dog poops regularly on my lawn, or a stranger who cuts me off on the highway, or looks at me funny in a bar? Who’s monitoring that, and who, amongst my acquaintances, will take away my guns if I do any of those things?

Another friend is divorced from a man who has remarried. Their children, now teens, visit their dad at his house – where an array of guns, all loaded, are kept casually setting about in the house. The man has very young children from his current marriage; nothing is keeping those children from playing with those guns, except daddy and mommy saying “No.” The man isn’t always sober. The man has anger control issues. The man is not a safe gun owner, and no one who knows him dares broach the topic with him. Everyone just holds their breath and keeps their fingers crossed. So far, there’s been no sequence of unfortunate events – but no one who knows this gun owner feels safe; and he doesn’t improve with age.

Many decades ago, one of my second cousins and all his siblings and his mother were shot to death by their father. An hour before he shot them, the killer was perfectly normal, having a casual conversation with friends before going home for lunch. No one knows what happened; but instead of eating lunch, he killed his wife and five children. One of the boys died trying to wrest the gun out of his father’s hands, enabling one sister to escape. Shortly after he killed them all, my second cousin’s step-dad was again a perfectly normal, seemingly reasonable man.

This tragedy happened so long ago that the gun used was a tool, not a weapon; had that scenario happened today – as it does, extraordinarily often – there wouldn’t have been time for the son to wrestle with his father. The weapons people casually have about them today would have killed the lot in seconds.

We need to talk. We need to talk about who, really, we feel comfortable owning guns. We need to talk about how often guns are misused. We need to really think about how many ways, and how often, a gun owner can become an unsafe gun owner. We need to rethink the reasons people want to own guns, and decide whether we really want our neighbors arming themselves against their neighbors. We need to think this whole right to bear arms through, carefully. The world has changed, a lot. If you’ve never owned a gun, you need to think this through carefully. And if you’re a gun owner, planning your scathing response to me – first tell us – what arrangements have you made to protect your family, friends and neighbors if you precipitously, or very slowly, become an unsafe gun owner? And do you really want all your neighbors with substance abuse, anger, paranoia, emotional and physical ailments, poor or no gun safety training, hidden PTSD, and all the other danger-making issues to be able to freely arm themselves, so they can protect themselves – against you?

I woke up Monday to the news: at least 59 killed, 500 wounded in Las Vegas, a very gun-happy state. Once again, we have clear, tragic evidence that guns carried for self-defense don’t work in such instances – but in a moment, the gun-dogs will start to howl: guns don’t kill, people do; we need to be able to defend ourselves. Let’s send the howling dogs back to their kennels, and have a reasoned, mature discussion about what we should do about uncontrolled, unreasonable private ownership of weapons. We haven’t been able to control the people with the guns, so let’s seriously talk about what we need to do to control the guns. And let’s stop listening to the gun-dogs.

(Deb Marshall lives in Wilmot. She blogs at herondragonwrites@blogspot.com.)