I am from Oregon. I’m not from Roseburg, where this latest gun-related tragedy occurred, but from Clackamas, a suburb of greater Portland. Clackamas was home to its own shooting just a couple of years ago at the mall that I went to probably at least once a week from ages five to eighteen. On that day, I had the surreal experience of calling both my parents to make sure they hadn’t gone shopping that day.
It isn’t a surprise that I am not pro-gun. I see little value in firearms, aside from their use for hunting, and even in that, I see very little sport. And, of course, most gun deaths in this country aren’t the result of a hunting rifle. They are the result of some sort of automatic weapon created for the express purpose of harming or killing another human. Today’s shooter had three weapons, including two handguns. Those aren’t for killing deer.
As President Obama said today in his remarks, we are the only advanced country in the world who has the kind of gun violence we have. We are horrified by the carnage in places like Syria and Iraq, and we should be, but how can we ignore the carnage that happens routinely in this country? It’s a classroom full of first graders, a movie theater full of people out to have a good time, a church group, a college. And it’s not just the mass shootings, it’s the individual gun violence that doesn’t even make the news. According to the CDC, gun violence claims over 30,000 lives annually in this country. 30,000. Just sit with that number for a bit. The CDC reported in 2010 that over 75,000 people were treated for gun related injuries. That’s the size of a small town.
How, as a country, are we okay with this? I know that I personally am not. I know that the president is not. I know that everyone condemns the violence when it happens, sends thoughts and prayers to victims, and then … just waits for the next one. As President Obama said today, thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.
Guns don’t keep people safe. Study after study has found that guns in the home are more likely to harm the inhabitants of the home than an intruder. Being able to carry a weapon allows for heat-of-the moment shootings – because when you are afraid or angry or confused, you don’t think. And shoot first, think later really isn’t a policy that supports people not dying.
I don’t know what to do.
I vote, I don’t buy weapons, but how do I combat the NRA? How do I combat a nation that clings to the 2nd amendment without understanding the context in which it was written? We are not under siege, we are not fighting for our independence, we are not kicking British soldiers out of our farmsteads. We are living in an advanced society that has very little need of self-policing. Not to mention the terrible policing that the actual police have done with their own weapons.
My father likes to ask me how we get rid of the guns. Because if the good guys get rid of the guns, then the bad guys still have them, as if it is all black and white, good and bad, Batman and the Joker. To which I reply, you have to start somewhere. And clearly, having a lot of guns has done a whole lot of nothing, except create more gravestones.
This isn’t just about mental health, although clearly that is a component that should be addressed. But thousands of people with mental illnesses don’t shoot people. And there are people without a diagnosis who do. And how can you know who is who? A background check can’t tell you intent. And, of course, we all know there are ways around background checks.
People will claim that not having guns with stomp on their rights. Well, I’m sorry. I’m not one to stomp on civil rights, but the right to shoot and kill another person isn’t a right we should be having. Quoting God here: “Thou shalt not kill.” Quoting Jefferson: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I know that we aren’t going to do away with guns in this country. It’s unrealistic. Cigarettes give you cancer, people still smoke. But, good Lord, is there no middle ground? No regulation, no tax, no mandatory checks, no education, no maximum on weapons owned, nothing that can be done to stop people from dying?
I don’t have a solution. But dammit, the conversation needs to happen. In our homes, in our communities, in our government.
Tonight, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Roseburg, Oregon. Of course they are. But that isn’t enough. It can’t be enough anymore.