Katharine Gregg: Why can’t we give up our guns?

For the Monitor
Published: 3/25/2018 12:20:10 AM

I admit right up front that I’m afraid of guns. I don’t mean what they can do in the hands of unstable or criminal people. We’re all afraid of that. I mean I’m just plain scared of them. I’ve shot one only once: a .22 with a sight at a target to please a friend. It only kicked a little and didn’t make much noise. I doubt I hit the target, but I had no desire to try again. I still couldn’t understand its appeal.

I’ve lived in rural New England long enough to know many people who hunt, carefully and respectfully, either for food or for sport, and I respect them. I had a student once in eighth-grade English class who was an ace shooter. She won all kinds of awards. And I have a friend well past middle age who has taken up shooting and has a lesson every week. So I understand it’s a legitimate sport despite the fact I can see only death in it.

I understand as well that the vast majority of gun owners are as rational and sane as I am. They are as distraught about killing rampages as I am. They want them to stop, but at the same time many don’t want any restrictions placed on the kind of guns they can own. They cling tenaciously to the idea that if we only ramped up our mental health system, we could prevent guns getting into the hands of people with mental illnesses. With justification they fault law enforcement and preventive services for failing to preemptively intervene in the latest mass shooting. But while troubled people certainly commit the horrific acts that kill many innocent people at a single time, they are really only a fraction of the people who commit gun crimes. Live in a city and see the amount of gun violence that goes on.

We can’t get rid of our gun problem by laying all the blame on people with mental illness and failed intervention. Strengthening our mental health services is laudable and necessary, but by itself it isn’t going to stop the killings. Only limiting guns will stop the killings. I believe that we understand this, know it in our hearts, but still some of us resist it with profound determination. Second Amendment rights, self-protection, sport. These people defend military-style weapons and bump stocks even though their intended use is destructive rather than recreational. One military-style gun owner interviewed on CNN said, “Every month or so I take my guns out to the range and shoot. It’s thrilling, exciting and a great way to vent.” (I’m glad he has a safe way to vent.) He’s undoubtedly a responsible and self-controlled individual who enjoys a kind of extreme sport. Others in the same interview said people are attracted to certain kinds of guns because of the image they convey. For protection some felt the capability of a semi-automatic weapon to fire repeatedly and rapidly made them safer.

Then I came across a quote from a person who said, “I own an AK because of my fascination with the Second Amendment, which I view as a backstop protector of freedom.” It was the word freedom that caught my attention. I know a man in town who has a sign on his truck saying, “Don’t tread on my gun rights.” I’ve never asked him if he owns an AK-47. Knowing him I somehow doubt it, but don’t tell him he can’t have one. Thinking about him I’ve begun to wonder if that isn’t the root of the huge resistance to limiting guns in any way. Don’t restrict my freedom to have one. In fact, isn’t freedom to pursue things an American tradition? Our right? To be free to pursue our rights, or our desires, without interference – read regulation. We see it in sport, in business, development, banking, and making and selling guns. But how do we keep my right to pursue my interests from stepping on your toes – or worse?

Okay, you say, but it isn’t fair to punish me (though no one is suggesting banning guns altogether) because some unstable person may at some time in the future commit mass murder. And this is when it comes down to community. For the good of all, we each give up a little. Doesn’t that make sense? Maybe the hard truth is that banning military-style weapons is the only way to ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hands. You may say, but look at Paris, the mass murders there and in other places. The Boston Marathon bombing. True, but to me allowing virtually unregulated access to military-style weapons threatens to create a police state where the police are the citizens. Do we want that?

(Katharine Gregg is a poet and essayist living in Mason. She can be reached by email at kggregg@myfairpoint.net.)

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