The Newtown Massacre affected me in ways that I am not sure any of the previous incidents did. I couldn’t even tell my wife about it, I had to show her. It could just be a natural reaction due to the age of the victims. It could be newfound empathy for the families due to my own newborn daughter. It could be related to the fact that I have been substitute teaching, often at the early grade school level, and I have stood in front of classes like the one massacred. Whatever the cause, it got under my skin.
Ultimately, though, it didn’t take long for things to fall back into the normal routine. I was informed, by a couple of people, that I have these children’s blood on my hands. I am, by and large, a critic of most gun control legislation. Remove guns from the Newtown equation, and we get a very different result. Indeed, thousands of lives are saved across the country every year. If we can remove guns from the equation. I oppose it, so…
Not that anyone is calling for guns to be entirely removed from the equation. Except for that guy over there, and that woman over there, that’s a strawman. The iconic hunter will never be challenged. Everybody knows this. And, in case there is any doubt, if you suggest otherwise you will be informed in no uncertain terms that this is the case. A lot of other things happen along the way.
Some of those that assure me that private gun ownership will never be banned because of the second amendment will sometimes suggest that the second amendment doesn’t actually – or shouldn’t actually – prevent the government’s ability to keep people from their guns. Or that it’s stupid or archaic. Others will approvingly cite the homicide statistics of countries that limit or regulate gun ownership far above and beyond what I am assured will ever be sought here. Some will express extreme disdain for gun owners and ownership advocates (not you, you’re okay, but the gun owner I imagine in my head as being common or describe as being common is actually something akin to a psychopath…). Contempt for guns, contempt for gun owners, and contempt for segments of the population we associate with gun ownership and the defense thereof. (Arguments about how bad, paranoid, and/or unreasonable those gun people are aren’t just ineffective with me, but genuinely counterproductive.)
Added to this, examples of unnecessary gun violence will be used for which the only effective solution is the severe restriction of private gun ownership.
A week before Newtown, Bob Costas gave a speech during an NFL game about how the Javon Belcher murder-suicide incident was cause for introspection on our American gun culture. And maybe it was. He approvingly cited Jason Whitlock who argued that if Javon Belcher hadn’t had a gun, he and Kassandra Perkins would still be alive. Which is very probably true. Costas explained that he wasn’t arguing for gun confiscation and had the obligatory reference to hunters being a-okay, but a nation in which Belcher can’t have a gun is a nation in which hunters can’t, either. Making it a pertinent social question, but putting me very ill-at-ease as a question of policy.
The same is true of references to suicide statistics in general. It is difficult to deny that guns make suicide easier and thus more common, but legislation that prevents someone from having a gun with which to kill themselves prevents someone from having a gun. This is an argument for waiting periods, perhaps. Or to deny gun ownership to people on anti-depression medication, in counseling, or with a record of mental illness.
We can discuss the merits of making that so. But it doesn’t seem that people will often go on the record as supporting that. Just as nobody wants to ban guns. This is where it gets elusive, for me, and disconcerting. Ultimately, I don’t really know what the would-be gun controllers ultimately want, policy-wise. I don’t mean what legislation they are proposing at the moment, but what they actually want. The legislation put forth falls well short of achieving the stated aims – at least in my mind – and I find little assurance that we will reach a point (within a realm that I find acceptable) where gun control advocates will say “Okay, we have saved the lives we can through sensible gun registration. Next time there is a massacre, we really can’t ask for more.”
Responses like the one we had at Newtown do very little to dispel these concerns, and in fact feed them. The urgency to do something in response to this will never go away. It doesn’t matter if Adam Lanza had been denied his AR-15 and there had been 21 instead of 26 casualties. It doesn’t matter if the gun had been bought through a properly licensed dealer instead of a straw purchase. It doesn’t matter if we had gun registration and his mother had properly registered the guns and received mandatory training. Everyone concedes that no measure will prevent all deaths, though that runs headlong into rhetoric about “putting an end” to this sort of thing.
Proposed legislation that sounds tough on guns but won’t actually do anything is, from my perspective, the worst of both worlds. Rather than making unacceptable (to me) gun legislation less likely by way of a mutually agreed upon compromise, it simply moves the next round of negotiations to unacceptable (to me) terrain. Ineffective half-measures invite full measures. If an “assault weapons” ban proves to be entirely ineffective, what then? Shrug it off or start wondering why people need to even own semi-automatics at all when they don’t in Australia (for the most part)? It’s not that I even think people who are saying that they don’t want this are being dishonest. It’s that I don’t know when the limiting factor is that they actually don’t want it (and would stand arm-in-arm with me in opposition) or whether they are simply recognizing the limits of the current political climate. There’s a difference, because political climates can change.
This is not, ultimately, sufficient to bring me into opposition to all gun control proposals or that I am always and reflexively with the right on this issue. Right now, the ball is in the pro-gun side’s court to explain to me why we need thirty-round ammunition clips. Last year, when I was looking into gun ownership and what was required for it, more than once the thought crossed my mind that it really is too easy. I don’t know what proposals I would support to make it more difficult, but I at least understand where the other side is coming from on the issue. I’m also coming around on the idea of waiting periods on gun purchases.
It’s the above, though, that is a factor (though not the only one) for my stopping short of supporting universal gun registration. I don’t foresee a universal gun ban proposal in the near or mid-term future. But certain kinds of guns? It’s already happened. And given the care with which gun control proponents have decided guns should be delineated between “legal” and “illegal”… we’re in a place where I am not comfortable and won’t be as long as there remains an impetus to Do Something about gun violence in response to it occurring in spectacular fashion and the associated appeal to emotion.
Or when these things stop happening.
Which, without gun control the likes of which I have been assured nobody is seeking, won’t happen.
In post-script, I would like this piece not to be read as “the problem with the gun control debate is the ‘pro’ side and their dishonesty. Or as any sort of absolution for the problems of the other side. This is merely an account of why I personally approach these things the way that I do. It is absolutely true that there are a lot of NRA-types that will view any and every gun regulation as the beginning of a universal ban despite the merits of any specific proposal in their own right. The problem is that – on certain things – I find their concerns to be valid.