I have started this post several times, specifically every time an act of gun violence makes the news. And every time I end up deleting the draft. I think I recognize the emotions are too raw and what I am saying needs to be processed much more calmly and rationally than would be allowed at the time. Also I recently posted an article which serves as an introduction to this one (here). So, now I think I can express my thoughts in a way which will be heard.
I have said before I have lived in and around a number of different sub-cultures in this country. One thing I have learned is that while it is normal to speak of “America’s Gun Culture” the reality is there are several “Gun Sub-Cultures”. I live in farm country where everyone owns a gun (well maybe not literally but it seems like it). These guns are used for hunting either to provide food for the family, relaxation, or to eliminate nuisance animals. I have also lived around target shooters, people who use guns to develop eye hand coordination and self-discipline (like martial arts enthusiasts). There are also collectors who love to preserve military weapons. I have been around ex-military who are simply used to having guns around and seem to buy them to feel like they are home in the military. There are those who are scared of something (government, home invasion, etc.) who buy a gun simply for the security it brings. And I have been around gangs who use guns to terrorize and dominate others.
These are broad categories and people can fall into more than one of them, and there are probably other categories I have not encountered or thought of. The problem is that we lump all of these sub-cultures into the idea of “gun culture” and then defend or reject it as a unified whole. Defends of gun rights will lump them all into one category and call them legal gun owners, effectively dismissing the last group in the list. The problem is they fail to recognize that often even this group manipulates the system to obtain weapons legally. And opponents wanting to rid us of the last group fail to distinguish between it and the first group. The truth is that though these groups often overlap and people can fall into more than one category, often the approaches to firearms by each of these groups is drastically different.
What I often see within this debate is that my friends who fall into the first or second categories ignore the large number of people who fall into the fifth or sixth (those only using guns for fear or dominance). And those of my friends whose background is more urban (or at least liberal) often fail to see how firearms are an asset to life for those in the first two camps. In many ways I straddle these worlds, I enjoy outdoors sports, I have done a fair amount of target shooting with a variety of firearms; but I have also seen the damage that guns do to homes and lives when turned on humans. In my own mind I support the first two categories I’ve listed, oppose the last two, and find the middle two to be a grey area where I cannot make up my mind.
What I have seen since 1992 in the U.S. is that this debate has become largely all-or-nothing. Either, people want guns completely eliminated from the culture or they want firearms categorically protected. Again the distinct sub-cultures have failed to interact with each other and slowly they have stopped speaking the same language. Now when we see a mass shooting one side calls for “restrictive gun control” and the other side hears “take away all access to firearms”. This side responds with “gun control infringes on our rights” and the other side hears, “we don’t care about murder victims we want weapons.” Both sides seem scared, one side of weapons and the other side of being without one.
What I have seen is that many whose experience with guns is limited to the inner cities of America do often fail to consider rural America in purposed legislation. Likewise, many in rural America cannot appreciate how their freedom is contributing to the problems with gun violence. Overall, there is an abundant failure to appreciate the other side. Obviously, some of this failure is due to the rhetoric used in the discussions and frankly there are often people on both sides of the debate who need to stop talking. But a large problem is that many simply stop-up their ears to the rational arguments presented from the other side. Thus, we are embroiled in an either/or debate which will either result in nothing being done or in one side exercising its will over the other, and neither of these is productive.
What I see is the need for more gun control in a number of ways, some of which involved taking guns from those fifth and sixth groups. This means that the first four groups might have a slight restriction placed on them. But other ways include educating people to think like those in the first three groups, who show a tremendous respect for the power in the firearm and learn to treat it with caution. In short yes the problem is not the firearm it is the people who have access to the firearm. Yes, taking away the firearm does not cure the problem it merely treats the symptom. And yes, we need to work on treating the real underlying cause of violence, fear and hate. But also yes, until we can effectively treat the real problems we need to eliminate the symptoms. yes, the problem is fear and hate, but if people lack the ability to act out violently we at least prevent some of the results of the problem. I don’t know where the solution lies but I do know that to find it we must overcome the cultural divide and begin to honestly talk and listen to others of differing opinions.