I Think We Can Have That Gun Conversation, Now

[I’ve been sitting on this post for a long time. Since August. Normally I try to stay out of potentially controversial shit here, not because it’s controversial and I’m going to lose readers or whatever but because for the most part I honestly don’t have the time to engage with it. And it doesn’t often do a lot of good. Just the same, here I am on the day of an elementary school shooting. Two days after a fellow author, Bill Cameron, was actually at the Clackamass mall shooting — his account is right here. And you know what, fuck it, I have the time to engage. We have to makethe time to engage with this problem. So, here it is.]

I grew up around guns.

My father had plenty. He ended up getting a FFL (Federal Firearms License) and setting up a small shop in our one garage, where he also did repairs and even built his own guns. He hunted, too, quite frequently.

As a result, I learned to shoot pretty early. I’m not sure how old I was when I got my first BB gun (a Daisy that I still have, actually), but I figure both it and my pellet gun came before I was 10. By 12 I already had taken the hunter’s safety course, already had a couple of .22 rifles to my name alongside a brand new Remington .22-250, and later, a Ruger 20 gauge over-under (both guns I still have and like very much, thank you). With the .22-250 I hunted groundhogs upstate, mostly — farmers would gladly let you hunt their property as the whistle-pigs made a mess of the ground. With the 20 gauge and later, a 12 gauge Remington 1100, I shot birds — geese and grouse and chukars and pheasant.

Dad was a big deer hunter. Also went after elk, caribou and mule deer out West. He wanted me to enjoy deer hunting the same way, but I never could; we raised whitetail deer on our property (curiously, not for food but more like pets), and so it was hard for me to hunt them. Felt like I was hunting dogs or cats. I remember going out on a deer hunt and purposefully missing a shot at a deer, a shot I could’ve made (turns out I was a pretty all right shot with rifle and shotgun). I eventually had to tell my father that it just wasn’t going to happen.

I wasn’t going to be able to hunt deer.

I think I actually hurt him by telling him that, but it was what it was.

I suppose most of that detail is irrelevant, though I mention it all just to make it abundantly clear that I am not anti-gun by any means. They were and are a part of my life.

And, just the same, I figure it’s time we had a conversation about guns in this country.

See, in our house, gun ownership and handling came with a big ol’ bucket of responsibility. You pointed a toy gun — hell, you pointed your fingers — at somebody in our house, you’d bring hell down on your own head. You didn’t pretend to shoot other people. Guns were fucking serious. They were dangerous. You had to respect the gun, respect what it could do. It could feed you, or it could accidentally blow the lid off your head. Guns weren’t “cool.” With them came a kind of reverence and respect and a healthy fear.

This country doesn’t have respect for guns.

And so maybe it’s time we start making laws that change that.

Now, let’s be clear: I know this post is just me squawking into the void. I’m not changing anything with this post; I’m just talking. Your mind is made-up. Guns are one of those topics where tempers flare and everybody takes sides on the opposite side of the field and it’s either take all the guns away or I think I should be able to buy a Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopter at Wal-Mart and use it to hunt deer — and politics only complicate the gun matter. I went to a gun show just before Obama was elected and it was like Christmas for paranoid schizophrenics: everybody had signs up about how Obama was taking away the guns and so prices were jacked through the roof and, ohh, by the way, here, please take a look at my KKK and Nazi paraphernalia, oh, it’s history, don’t worry about the scary racist violent implications.

Of course, Obama didn’t take anything away. But those prices stayed high. (And in there is a lesson how people will use fear to control you and control prices and take your money, but that’s talk for another day.)


My opinion on the gun issue is controversial in that, it’s surprisingly vanilla and nuanced. It is a moderate position in a topic that offers only intense, froth-mouthed polarity.

Here’s what I figure:

Guns are not a real great solution for dealing with other humans. They’re a pretty good solution for dealing with animals. What my father hunted, we ate. That’s a powerful thing, to be able to feed yourself in that way. When I go pheasant hunting, the birds come back with me, and I cook ’em. (And pheasant in cream sauce is pretty heavenly.) So, guns? Good solution for that.

Good solution too for shooting clays. Or paper targets. Or cans off a fence with a proper backstop.

But as the shooting at the Empire State Building shows, guns are not a dandy solution when dealing with other people, since it looks all of the wounded (not dead, but wounded), were shot by cops. Cops who are trained. Maybe those cops were following protocol, maybe they did the best they could with a bad situation, or maybe they’re a couple of chuckleheads. But what that does tell us is, even two men with firearms training make mistakes. So, when people tell me they want guns — specifically handguns, which are notoriously inaccurate — for self-defense, they don’t get how hard that is. They don’t understand that you need training beyond target practice or you’re going to be part of the problem and not part of the solution.

I mean, dang, if you think you’re going to march into a situation where some dude’s got a gun and he’s shooting up a college campus or a movie theater and you’re going to pull a John McClane, I might suggest you uncork your head from your ass, Rambo, because you don’t have the training for that. See, shooting people in a combat situation takes, ohh, I dunno, training. It’s not Call of Duty. That’s not an Xbox controller in your hand, that’s a deadly weapon — and, as your heart goes wild and panic punches through your nervous system, are you competent enough to take out the shooter and not, say, a little girl?

What I’m saying isn’t that we need to take people’s guns away. The snakes are out of the can on that one. And I think gunpowder is in the American bloodstream already.

I’ve got beliefs about regulation that are a bit unorthodox (I don’t see why any civilian would ever really need a handgun, for example), but that’s not the solution I’m gonna propose.

Here’s my proposal:

People need to get educated about guns.

If you’re going to own one, you need to know what guns are, and what good and bad they can do. See, I remember going to the Hunter Safety Course. I remember applying for my hunting license. It was a big deal for this 12-year-old. And it taught me a great deal about the guns I was going to be using. I had to get a license to hunt animals and yet, it is not universal that I require a license to own or use a gun. (Further, a hunting license comes with limits on how many animals I can kill — and yet, we have no limits on how much ammo one can procure or how many guns one may own and operate).

You need a license to drive a car. But somehow, you don’t need one to buy a gun.

So: maybe we license gun owners. You ensure that people have to take a gun safety course. You ensure they spend time using the weapons they’re gonna buy — hell, maybe you even become licensed in individual gun classes or individual guns themselves. And licenses come with preset limits that are fairly easy to enforce. You ask me, this would help ensures that people learn to respect guns. They’re not toys. They’re not action movie fun-time.

They’re not effective tools in diplomacy.

Further, a licensing and education system allows us to deny people, too. See, you fail the test, you don’t get a driver’s license, and the same thing goes here. Plus, easy enough to incorporate other checks on one’s criminal background and mental health, right? Right.

It helps to ensure that if there’s a civilian out there with a gun, I know he’s trained. I know he’s at least gone through the same steps. I know he’s not some crazy dude sitting on a nest of ammo boxes.

Now, you’re saying, “But this is going to make more effective criminals.” To which I say, not likely. Criminals are going to get effective in their own ways. They’re not going to do it through a licensing system where they and their firearms are going to be tracked.

You might then say, “But criminals don’t need to be regulated or care about regulation,” which is another version of the “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” saying. And that’s true. But it’s true of everything, isn’t it? Bombs are illegal, so only bombers will have bombs. Last I checked, criminals are always willing to do things we’re not — that’s why we create laws that ideally prevent and ultimately punish them for the transgression. “If we make rape illegal, only rapists will have rape! And murder, too! And they can shoplift! OUR FREEDOMS ARE ON THE CHOPPING BLOCK DAMN YOU OBAMACARE.”

(I also never much understood the defense of, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yeah, duh. But guns make it a whole lot easier, don’t you think, to facilitate all that people-killing-people?)

All I’m saying is, we should be able to do introduce some measure of rationality into this argument. And this a pretty sane, pretty soft solution — it doesn’t aim to control guns in a big way so much as it aims to introduce education and respect into the equation. We’ll never be able to take people’s guns away, so why don’t we make sure that the populace understands the power and the danger of these things they want to own so damn bad? You don’t like my solution? No problem. Like I said: I’m just squawking into the void. But we need some kind of solution. Whether it’s better mental health checks or tighter purchase regulations or whatever, we need to have this conversation.

123 responses to “I Think We Can Have That Gun Conversation, Now”

  1. When I got my gun in Israel (I no longer have it, nor do I own a gun in the US) I had to go through rigorous procedures:

    1) Needed to prove I should get a gun (the easy part i.e. “I travel for work”)
    2) Had to get vetted by the police (3 months or so).
    3) Got a letter telling me I got approved and that I could now buy a gun
    4) Bought a gun BUT DID NOT GET IT. The dealer had to fill out paperwork including my ID number and the gun’s serial number.
    5) Had to get qualified on the gun I bought in a range, including tests on safety and passing a range (I think this has to be done every few years).
    6) Sent in my receipt and my letters saying I’m certified on the gun I own.
    7) Got my license in the mail and picked up my gun. At this point EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS TO THAT GUN IS MY RESPONSIBILITY!

    Even though there are many people with guns in Israel (either personal or from the military) the occurances of shooting or resolving civilian disputes with firearms are very low.


  2. Excellent post and not to weigh in on your proposal one way or the other there is another conversation that has to happen in this country and that is the involuntary treatment institutionalization of the mentally ill. It’s controversial it’s expensive it may seem unloving. We all have witnessed the mentally ill that end up homeless. Many have witnessed first hand the family violence and we all from a distance have viewed horrific acts such as this school shooting. It is time to have the conversation.

  3. Here’s something to think about. Do you want to stop kids from dying, or to stop kids from being shot? It looks like an insignificant distinction, but stop and think about it. Put aside all the rhetoric and _think_. Don’t focus on the means, focus on the _goal_. Is your goal to keep people from dying, or is your goal to ban one specific way that people die?

    Here are a couple of numbers. As best I can tell, about 50-60 kids have been killed in school shootings in the US this millennium. (Including suicides and one-on-one disputes between teenagers.) That’s a lot, yes. It’s tragic and it breaks my heart to think of little kids being shot. I have a boy who just turned 7, the same age as the kids shot yesterday in Newton. But here’s the thing:

    In that same time frame about 78,000 kids died in car accidents.

    Given the scale of the slaughter that takes place on the roads, I think it’s safe to say that more kids died being driven to and from school than died in shootings at school.

    Of course we all want to keep crazy people from killing us or our loved ones. EVERYONE can agree on that, even if we disagree on the best way of doing it. But if you really want to save the lives of children, look at those numbers and tell me what you think should be done. Can anyone here look in the mirror and honestly tell themselves that 78,000 dead kids is LESS appalling than 55 or so?

    • And all of you people reaching for your keyboard to say, “Yeabut cars serve a useful purpose and guns don’t, so neener neener,” think about what you’re saying. “I never use a gun, but I need my car to drive to work and the mall, so six or seven thousand dead kids every year is fine with me.”

      Okay, go ahead.

        • What is that difference? Are the tens of thousands of kids killed in car accidents less dead than the tens killed in school shootings?

          Random, deliberate, violence is more _shocking_, but it’s more shocking because it’s so rare. We’re used to thousands upon thousands of people dying every year in car accidents, and simply accept it as the price of owning cars.

          And, of course, because the random violence shakes our shared illusion of trust that holds society together. http://www.grumpypundit.com/index.php/2012/07/30/is-what-we-fear-most-each-other/

          • It’s not either/or. We should stop the gun deaths (which would be relatively easy) and we should stop the road deaths (rather a lot harder). We should also stop children dying from poverty (harder still). Do we give up on gun deaths just because kids are dying in larger numbers by other means? I don’t think so.

            And one of the things that makes the gun deaths so horrible by comparison to many of the other ways that children can die is that they are completely, utterly pointless.

          • No, Graham, stopping the road deaths is easier than stopping random bad people from doing random bad things. (And, for that matter, stopping kids from dying of poverty in the US is easier still.) I’m just making the very radical, much-hated, argument that maybe the thing that kills the most kids should get the most attention.

            The gun deaths are more horrible because they’re _pointless_? Oh, come on, you’re really going there? Because a car crash is so meaningful? When is a little kid dying NOT pointless?

            I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a friend (now ex-friend) not long after 9/11. I mentioned that I thought we were maybe overreacting a little to the 9/11 attacks, given how (relatively) few people were killed. (About 1/10th of the number who die on our roads every year.) My friend, in a refreshing burst of honesty, said, “Yeah, but that’s different.”

            “How?” I asked.

            “These were rich white people who died.”

      • (Sorry I can’t reply below, Robert, the system won’t allow it.)

        You said, “…stopping the road deaths is easier than stopping random bad people from doing random bad things.”

        True but irrelevant. What I said was that it was easier than stopping gun deaths. To reduce gun deaths, all you have to do is stop the availability of guns. 16 years ago in Australia, after one of these massacres, they brought in very strict gun controls, an amnesty for illegal weapons, and a buy-back scheme on very good terms. In the 16 years before the gun controls, there had been 18 massacres. In the 16 years since then, there have been none. Yes, none.

        And my point about gun deaths being pointless is this: nobody need own a gun. They serve no purpose that is important to our society. At least cars have some purpose. In fact, they are often vital for people to earn their livings, given the way our society is structured. Nobody needs a gun (except, as I said, soldiers and, in exceptional circumstances, the police). People own guns because they’re scared, or feel inadequate, or for fun (because they like killing animals or shooting at targets). Deaths from guns are pointless in the same sense that deaths from smoking are pointless, or deaths from skydiving.

        • By the way, the Australian gun ban amounted to about 650,000 guns and caused the gun-ownership percentage of the population to plummet from 7% all the way down to 5%. And, while the homicide rate is down since the ban, the percentage of homicides with firearms is down even more sharply than that. (Homicides down 20% from the 1996 level, but firearms are used in only 46% as many of those homicides at they used to. 11%, down from 24%) In other words, Australians are more likely to use a different implement than not kill someone when a gun isn’t available. (80% as likely to kill someone, only 48% as likely to use a gun.) Given that you only care about gun deaths you’re probably fine with that, but I thought it was an interesting statistical anomaly.

          Knives, by the way, are the instrument of choice down under. But, we have been assured, those deaths are acceptable because knives have a Legitimate Purpose. Like tens of thousands of automobile deaths every year are way preferable to taking the bus.

          In any case, gun ownership rates in the US runs at about 45% of the population, and hundreds of millions of actual firearms. It’s easy to wave a magic wand in an Internet discussion and say, “Begone, foul guns!” It’s much harder to do in the real world.

          • What? Gun control is too hard so we shouldn’t even bother? Cars kill more children than guns, so guns are OK? I only care about gun deaths? (Have you read any of my comments? Have you noticed that the topic here is “gun deaths”?) And all your statistics about knives in Australia, while fascinating, are way off the point again. I was talking about gun-related massacres in Australia (for which there is a particular definition, by the way).

            And this stuff you’re spouting about people who want to kill someone finding another way to do it is basically the NRA’s “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” argument. Which is idiotic. Why do you think the USA doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons? Basically, it’s because Iran isn’t going to attack the USA with knives (although you’ve probably got stats to show that they frequently do) or conventional weapons. And yet, nuclear bombs don’t kill people. People do! So what’s all the fuss about? (Hint: It’s about the capacity to do harm and the threshold to violent action.)

          • I’m asking “Why are 55 or so kids killed in school massacres more important than 78,000 or so kids in car accidents at the same time?”

            So far the only answer anyone has been able to give me is, “Because I own a car, but no one needs a gun, and gun deaths are inherently more important.”

            Yes, we should try to keep crazy people from getting guns and killing people. I’ve said so a number of times, but apparently you don’t care what I actually SAY; you just hear the talking points that you want to counter. My argument is that it’s easier, more effective for this purpose, and better for society in general, to worry about the CRAZY PEOPLE than to worry about the GUN. The gun by itself doesn’t do anything to anyone. It’s the crazy person we have to worry about, not least because they aren’t limited to using guns.

            Gun control isn’t as effective as crazy person control.

            Want an example? Connecticut already has very strict gun control laws, including a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons. How did that work out?

          • Oh, and your argument about Iran simply makes my point. The US doesn’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons because their government is on our ‘bad people’ list. They want to hurt us, so no nukes. Israel, the UK, France, they’re on our ‘nice’ list, so we have no objection to them having nukes.

            Watch the bad _people_ not the bad _things_. That’s been my argument all along. Nice to see you finally come around.

    • First time commenter but just had to add my 2 cents worth in here (and just should clarify, I’m from Australia so to me guns are a very foreign entity).

      I think the difference is the premeditation. I don’t get in my car planning to kill a child (or anyone for that matter!). Someone picks up a gun and walks into a school or a shopping centre, they have a pretty specific plan.

      Yes you’re right in that the person holding the gun is the issue, not the gun itself. But the fact is that guns give you the greater potential for damage. Knives might be the preferable murder weapon in my country (interesting stats by the way, thanks for that!) but is someone really likely to achieve the mass casualties that a lunatic with a gun can attain. Would the death toll be so high if he’d been armed with a knife instead of a gun? We’ll never know.

      Surely controlling who can own a gun makes sense? It’s not going to prevent all the deaths, but if it saves at least one life, isn’t that a good thing?

    • Certainly regulating bullets is a good idea. Licensing is a bit odd — it’d be like licensing and insuring gas instead of the car. Bullets being fairly temporary and all that.

  4. Chuck, thank you for the wonderful work you do here at Terribleminds. As usual, your comments are insightful. I too grew up around guns. And if people knew how to treat guns with respect and handle them safely, many deaths could be avoided every year. To that end, I think it only prudent that people be educated about the proper handling of guns. Personally, I would even be okay with some limited education as part of the standard high school education, though I recognize that this is likely to be so politically unpalatable that it will never be implemented. There are two rules that everyone should commit to memory about handling guns: 1) there is no such thing as an unloaded gun; and 2) never point a gun at anything unless you intend to shoot at it.

    My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Newtown, CT. This is truly a horrible atrocity, and I pray that it will never be repeated. Unfortunately, I don’t plan to hold my breath. As humans, we are capable of incredible acts of both kindness and cruelty. And no matter how much education we receive, there will always be those among us who intend to harm others.

    What I really want to talk about, though, is the 2nd Amendment. The Second Amendment to the Constitution reads: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” In 2008, the US Supreme Court decided the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. The plaintiff in Heller alleged that the DC gun-control regulations, which required him to keep his pistol disassembled and locked away, deprived him of his second amendment right to keep and bear arms.

    A vast majority of the rights contained in the bill of rights (the first ten amendments to the constitution) have been incorporated. Incorporation is the process by which various Constitutional rights in the Bill of Rights have been applied to the states via the 14th Amendment. Thus, before 1925 (Gitlow v. New York), there was no enforceable right to free speech in the states under the US Constitution. The federal government could not abridge the right to free speech, but before 1925 the states could do as the pleased.

    The Second Amendment was not incorporated, that is, applied to the states, until Heller in 2008. Frankly, it wasn’t incorporate sooner because there are not that many cases involving Second Amendment questions. In Heller, the majority held that the DC regulations violated the plaintiff’s Second Amendment rights. But, for our purposes, the question is what the right entails. The Court held that the prefatory clause did not limit the operative clause of the amendment. In English, the language regarding a “well-regulated militia” does not limit who has the right to “keep and bear arms.” That is, the people have the right to both own (keep) and carry (bear) guns. Anyone who is a citizen of the US has this right. The fact that the framers thought a well regulated militia was necessary for the survival of a free state does not change the fact that the operative clause grants the right to keep and bear arms to “the people” of the US. It merely states a purpose for the second amendment. The idea here is pretty simple: A well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state; people who are knowledgeable about guns (i.e. can handle them safely) are necessary to a well-regulated militia; the people shall have the right to keep and bear arms so they will be knowledgeable and capable of participating in the militia. Admittedly, this seems antiquated, but it is still part of the Constitution.
    (Disclaimer: this line of reasoning is pretty controversial. There is a huge debate in the academic literature about whether the prefatory clause does or does not limit the understanding of the operative clause.)

    Interestingly, this does not mean that gun ownership is beyond the pale of regulation. To the contrary, there is no doubt that the government may regulate guns. In fact, even the right of free speech is subject to regulation, though it is probably the least regulated right the citizens of the US enjoy. So, in Heller, the question was whether the regulation violated the right to keep and bear arms, and the Court’s answer was “yes, the right has been abridged here.” The right is not violated by forbidding convicted felons (especially the violent ones) the right to purchase guns. And presumably, regulations requiring gun safety courses to purchase guns would not violate the right unless they were too onerous or the regulation was used to deny the right to otherwise responsible and deserving citizens.

    The Court’s opinion is replete with historical commentary (not that the Jurists on the Supreme Court are historians, though they do seem to have pretensions of being expert historians) about the nature of what regulations are acceptable. It is a long and difficult opinion, consisting of many moving parts (majority, concurring, and multiple dissenting opinions), but I believe that it is worth reading for those interested in learning more about the second amendment. Here is a link to the Court’s opinion:


    Also, the case was a very close one, and was decided by a 5-4 vote. As such, it may be ripe to be overturned by a subsequent case, which incidentally happens all the time. One last thought and I’ll call it quits. Many people forget that the question is not answered by saying that a right exists. Rights are always coupled with duties. You have a right to free speech, but you have the duty to use the right appropriately. If you say libelous things about someone, you have exercised your right but you have also breached your duty. You will likely be held liable for damages in a defamation suit. People have the right to keep and bear arms, but if they do not live up to the duties accompanying this right, they will find themselves in a bad situation. In general, people today only care about exercising their rights while casually (nonchalantly) ignoring their duties. We need to be cognizant of our duties when we exercise our rights, and here, that includes treating guns (and people) with the proper respect and handling them safely. Apologies for the long post….

  5. I agree with you, m’sieur. Also would add that rolling back the changes Reagan made to mental health care would help a lot of people. On guns, well, we have to get tested and licensed to drive a car, which is a lethal weapon. Makes no sense that we don’t have the same process for guns, which are largely a luxury sport item. Obvious my thoughts are scattered, sorry for that.

  6. Well, as guns get hard to get, what will gangsters use? Swords! Wouldn’t it be awesome to see gangsters swordfighting in the streets? How entertaining!

  7. It’s good that we should have compassion for the mentally ill, that we should try to help them and care for them. However, the conversation about guns should not be sidetracked into one about how to keep them out of the hands of the mentally ill. That will go nowhere.

    It’s possible that the shooter in this instance had problems that might have been labelled as mental illness. It also seems that the guns he had access to were not his own. They were his mother’s. Certainly the rifle he shot his mother with was her own gun. So, was his mother mentally ill too? Or perhaps everyone who wants to own guns like the Sig Sauer 556 is mentally ill? (I could certainly get behind that proposition.) Or maybe it’s the people who sell them, or the people who make them? Or is it the politicians who believe owning such things is a “right” in a civilised society? Or the people who vote for them?

  8. Two thumbs up Chuck. Couldn’t agree more. Who would’ve thought a guy so irreverent and in-your-face would be so sensible, balanced, and caring on a subject so difficult to navigate. I’m impressed!

  9. Chuck, I’m very much in the same mind as you with regards to education. I think that a strict licensing system, which would include classes and training, is an obvious solution. I also think that gun owners must be compelled to keep their weapons safely locked up when not in use. The guns the shooter used were apparently owned by and registered to his mother – and I have to wonder, given that information, how he was able to get his hands on them. I, like you, grew up with guns in the house, but my father (the gun owner) always kept his rifles and handgun unloaded and locked up when not in use. It continuously astounds me, the number of gun owners who do not take that basic precaution.

    I’m more ambivalent regarding mental health checks. I agree that a discussion regarding access to mental health needs to be had – I’ve been saying it ever since the shooting in which Gabby Giffords was injured. I had hoped that the debate surrounding Obamacare would have incorporated the importance of making mental health care available and affordable, but alas, that did not happen. Health insurance is a life line to those who struggle with mental illness; without it, treatment is often too expensive to be long-term, and thus effective. In my own case, my prescription drugs would run me over five hundred dollars a month without insurance, with weekly talk therapy running me another four hundred. Both of these treatments are necessary for me to be a fully functional human being, and both enable me to care for myself and my family, maintain employment, and be a responsible citizen – all things that I think every person, regardless of wealth or insurance status, who struggles with mental illness should be able to experience.

    I’m less enthused with the idea, touted by both political pundits and people commenting on this post alike, that “we just need to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people, and everything will be fine.” First of all, define “crazy.” Is “crazy” anyone who has ever received treatment for mental health issues? Are you calling the one in ten people who will deal with depression at some point in their life “crazy”? Are you calling the people who have been responsible in pursuing mental health treatment “crazy”? Because, you know, I was a lot crazier back when I WASN’T receiving mental health care.

    And therein lies the rub. We don’t need to further stigmatize “crazy” people. In fact, we really need to stop calling them “crazy” at all. (Seriously, stop. It’s offensive and demeaning and dehumanizing.) We need to stop reducing people to a diagnosis, and stop knee jerking that every person who struggles with mental illness is violent or unpredictable or less intelligent, less responsible, less HUMAN. And we need to stop portraying receiving mental health care as a sign of weakness or failure. When “have you ever received treatment for mental health issues” becomes the barrier to owning a gun, the message sent is not one of personal or state responsibility – it’s that receiving mental health care is bad and that those who need it are bad people. Or, at least, easily stigmatized people. That’s hardly going to encourage the people who need that health care to pursue it. And it’s certainly not going to encourage an open discussion about access to mental health care. If merely self-identifying oneself as receiving mental health treatment makes you less of a citizen, what makes you think that people will be remotely honest about it? After all, why on Earth would I manufacture my own prison?

    I’m currently not interested in owning a gun, but if I was, what criteria would be looked at as a sign of my mental fitness? Would the fact that I have no criminal history, no history of violent tendencies, no history of hospitalization for issues relating to mental health, and that I have faithfully adhered to my mental health care regimen for years be put into consideration? Or will the federal or state or local employee simply see that I have a clinical history of major depression and bipolar disorder, and that I currently take an antipsychotic (for the off-label use of preventing mania), and knee-jerk that I am a crazy person who shouldn’t be allowed to own a gun?

    Don’t get me wrong, I do think that there needs to be checks on mental acuity when it comes to owning a gun – but I see it as more of an issue regrading whether the hypothetical owner has a history of violent or aggressive behavior (related to a mental illness or otherwise) than whether they have a history of receiving mental health care. Receiving mental health care should not be the defining characteristic that groups oneself into a legally discriminated class, and not simply because it further stigmatizes an already down-and-out group: it’s because making mental health care a delineating line between “crazies” and the rest of society does not solve any problems, relating to gun violence or otherwise. It does not encourage open dialogue regarding the sad state of mental health care in America. It does not address that fact that plenty of people murder, rape, rob, and commit all sorts of violent crimes without ever being prescribed Prozac or waiting in a psychiatrist’s office (in fact, it presents a bit of a red herring, encouraging lawmakers, law enforcers, and law followers alike to focus on one type of criminal at the expense of preventing crimes committed by the rest).

    And it ignores the fact that receiving mental health care, rather than being a sign of mental instability, often means that a persion is making good, responsible choices related to their health, and that their life is either improving or already improved compared to whether they were, both physically and mentally, before treatment. Receiving mental health care when needed is a good thing. It is a GOOD THING. Period. Any discussion regarding mental health in this country needs to begin with that. Receiving mental health care should be encouraged, not stigmatized.

    We don’t need to have a “crazy people shouldn’t be allowed to have guns” talk. We need to have a “getting mental health care doesn’t make you crazy” talk.

    (My apologies on the novel-length post; clearly this is something that I feel passionate about and that intimately affects my life. I also just wanted to say, for clarification, that I’m not ascribing any of the negative views regarding mental illness to you, Chuck.)

    • Something that people never seem to mention when talking about the high levels of gun control, and low levels of crime, that most other ‘Western’ countries have is that those countries also have, in contrast to the United States, a civilized attitude towards health care.

  10. It’s been awhile since I’ve been active on this site but I’ve chills up my arms from this post but also the link to Bill Cameron.

    The more and more this happens I only can think of the solution of the great American philosopher, Chris Rock. Guns are easy to get but bullets cost $5,000.

    I work with a survivalist and his few on his “stockpile” alarms me to say the least. He is entitled to do what he feels is right and I trust him to make good decision but he is one of many who might not lead to a mental balance.

    I am afraid.

    • Then people who own guns won’t be able to train with them. You’ll have people with a potentially dangerous tool that have no idea how to use.

      I like your ideas, Chuck. I would have no problem with the idea of going every year for a gun safety and usage test. That still wouldn’t have stopped this guy, but it’s one step toward changing the gun culture.

      • The problem with simply making guns, or ammunition, very expensive is that it only penalizes poor people. This is, of course, in keeping with the tradition of gun laws in America. (The very first gun control laws were aimed at keeping riff-raff like abolitionists and freedmen from having guns.)

        Which, by the way, reminds me of a (but not the only) counter to the “No one ever needs a gun, ever, under any circumstances” arguments. Ever heard of the Deacons for Defense?


        “An example of the need for self-defense to enable substantial change in the Deep South took place in early 1965. Black students picketing the local high school were confronted by hostile police and fire trucks with hoses. A car of four Deacons emerged and, in view of the police, calmly loaded their shotguns. The police ordered the fire truck to withdraw. This was the first time in the 20th century, as Lance Hill observes, “an armed black organization had successfully used weapons to defend a lawful protest against an attack by law enforcement.””

        The United States is a country where not everyone can depend on the police to protect them. Some whole groups, within living memory (and arguably to this day) have needed protection _from_ the police.

  11. I posted something along a very similar vein on Friday night (which I’ve since taken down due to the spammity spamminess of the replies), so needless to say, I agree with you. We require more training and experience to legally drive a car than to own a gun in this country.

    The bit that resonated with me most was about what it’s really like to be in a violent situation with a gun. The argument that if the teachers were armed, they could have saved all those children by shooting the gunman is bogus. Highly trained police often have difficulty shooting accurately in the terrifying and stressful situation when someone is pointing a gun back at them. It’s not as easy as the nice people on tv and in the movies (and even in novels) make it look.

    Arming the citizenry isn’t a solution, if the citizenry would only add to the problem. It’s not a perfect example, but look at cars again. Even with the crazy amount of training and testing required to get a license, there are STILL accidents every day. there are STILL people I see on the roads I think have no business ever getting behind the wheel. Does anyone think it would be a good idea to give this sort of person a GUN?

    I don’t have anything against guns. I enjoy shooting at a range (I don’t own any guns, and I don’t have a desire to own any guns, personally. I know I’m not good enough, or trained enough, to keep them around). The characters in my novels use guns as part of their daily life, since they are in the military. I’ve done enough research to understand the safe handling and proper use and care of firearms, and it makes me all the more sure I’m not anywhere close to qualified to own a gun. I just wish more people realized that fact.

  12. Great post, Chuck. It’s a relief to see someone else squawking into the void that I happen to agree with on a fundamental level. Like you, I own rifles and enjoy their proper use. Like you, I learned gun safety at a VERY young age, and (like you probably will) I taught my son from the first moment he even wanted to hold a (toy) gun that we NEVER point a gun at anything we do not intend to kill. And, also, that we do not kill people – an important lesson many people seem to omit from the ol’ parent training manual.

    I’m also in agreement with you that the solution lies somewhere between “ZOMG BAN ALL GUNS ONLY EVIL PEOPLE WANT GUNS” and “AN ASSAULT RIFLE IN EVERY POT!”

    Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly where that line should be drawn, or how to enforce it. Sadly, it’s one of those lines that we seem to find by horrific trial and error, and while I think there should be a better way, I don’t know what that way is. And the fact that I don’t know – and that I know no one else has a realistic solution either – saddens me deeply.

    I know “personal responsibility” needs to factor somewhere into the equation. For example, if my son (or my husband) showed signs of mental illness, the first thing I’d do is ensure there were no guns on the premises – and probably lock up my knives. That’s not a criticism of anyone in particular – I wasn’t in the life of the people whose relatives caused the recent tragedies and I won’t speak to what I don’t know. My point is merely that with great power comes great responsibility, and with lethal weapons comes even more.

    Hopefully more of us can start speaking up with a more “voice of reason” approach and somehow progress can be made on this front.

  13. You know, they teach drivers’ ed in school, but you have to look around a bit for a gun safety class. Why couldn’t they teach weapon safety in school? I mean, there’s archery classes… Two weeks on firearm safety shouldn’t be terribly difficult.

    ‘Course, I could just be talking out the wrong end of my head again…

  14. I enjoy reading Chuck’s posts because the insight (well, and the laughs) help me enjoy *reading* fiction all the more. Hence, I tend to just lurk here.

    I am one among many friends who are gun enthusiasts of various stripe. One enjoys black powder pistols (think pre-1870), others enjoy distance shooting, hunting, competition or just another battle against the soda can army. Platforms run from the cowboy to the modern rifle. My own interests tend to run more towards the mechanics of it all (like your father), and old rifles of WWII or before. Many of us have carry permits, absolutely none of us have any interest in taking another human’s life. We train (3 are certified trainers), we practice, we avoid situations where we might be called to defend ourselves. We instruct our children on respecting the responsibility of firearms handling. We encourage others who seek our advice on guns that they should go get training, and it they are not willing, to not buy.

    One of the things that tumbles in our head is much like you propose, the _requirement_ of training. Remember, we’re big fans on education, and we encourage it. It’s the requirement of training to exercise what is encoded as a right that becomes troubling. There’s no training requirement for Free Speech (and the Internet sure seems to demand that, as well, some days). There’s no training requirement for a Free Press, even though examples of abuse abound from Hearst to Murdoch. There’s not a requirement for a class in Voting. Everyone can form their own thought there.

    Yes, one is required to be tested and licensed to drive. Driving is not a right, thus it falls outside those protected in the Constitution.

    The root of this attitude comes from background in personal responsibility instilled in childhood. One shouldn’t be _required_ to train, because one is responsible for what they do and how that effects others. It should be already be ingrained that one should go educate themselves. That includes any potentially dangerous activity, whether guns, driving, boating, or even voting. Anecdotally (for who has stats on responsibility?), it would appear that such instruction is not as pervasive as it should be. Whether that’s drinking and driving (or texting and walking), educating ones self on issues in an election, or who has access to your gun collection. I’m not sure this can be legislated into existence.

    And this is not a new, nor increasing, problem. Mass shootings have been steady, not increasing, for the last 3 decades or so. While our pain is currently quite raw, there’s not a need to rush in ill advised legislation just to say we’ve Done Something. That got us the PATRIOT Act, among other things. Calm, focused and thoughtful needs to be the response. If one is to contact their legislator, that needs to be the urging.

    All of us are the ones that have the responsibility of reviewing their ability to limit access to technology unsuitable to the person at hand. I decide every day how my kids access the Internet, television, eventually cars, and yes, weaponry. At some point, I may have to play that role with my parents as they age.

    An answer to violence in society? That answer would be within us that compose that society. Knowing your neighbors. Say hi. Raise kids to respect others. Get some help when you need it. Give some help when you can. This kid was known to have a problem. Jovan Belcher told his secret girlfriend of potentially murderous intent. We can go on with examples. We as a society must find ways to provide that help.

    • What a well thought out post 🙂

      I totally agree with you. In fact there’s much I can add to it.

      I acquired my carry permit a while back. My parents were quite nervous, but instead of demanding I not carry while I live under their roof they said, “Find a place that offers combat training and we’ll pay for it.” Mind you my parents don’t carry or own firearms, but they understood my fears after a shootout near my work. They didn’t just want me to take a hunters safety course, they wanted me to learn how to draw from concealment, how to take cover, fire from different stance, etc…

      We all knew what was at stake, but we didn’t like every trainer we talked to. My mom once said, “Why would this guy train you with a Glock in Condition 3 when you carry a revolver and an auto?”

      Here’s the thing, not everyone agrees with each other on how to handle a weapon in combat. My dad was taught very differently than me when he was in the service in the 80s, and he’s hardly a shining example of gun safety despite growing up with them and serving. If the government regulated our training we’d probably wind up with something fucked. Plus, how would they know you were practicing? A lot of ranges don’t even let you draw from a holster or shoot past 25 yards.

      I say we let our rights be and look to a reform in education and help for the mentally ill. It seems far more feasible.

  15. Where you hit the nail on the head is how most people have made up their minds and won’t listen to reason – most of the responses to people who read my post about guns were people who were just barking their own agendas or quibbling without even listening. It’s a shame.

  16. Gun control has already gone too far. Gun education, however, hasn’t gone past the toddler stage.

    We need to have guns so that we can protect ourselves from the atrocities that governments across the world have committed in this same decade. It’s a short slope from independent to internment camp, and our right to defend ourselves against tyranny shouldn’t be compromised in the name of safety. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.”

    And why should a matching of force to our military be legal? Well, as V put it: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

    All that being said, brainless and violent individuals with no respect for life need to be prevented from executing their designs. Whether it be a bullet in their head or a certification course and waiting period, I don’t much care.

    However, just as easily as someone entered a school with firearms and the intent to kill, that same person could have used an improvised explosive device strapped to his chest to render the same or greater devastation. A few bags of marbles from a toy store, some lye, and some lard (glycerin), some pvc water piping, and some fuses salvaged from 4th of July fireworks and you’ve got yourself a makeshift claymore bomb, capable of immense devastation. Especially considering that it’s much more expensive and regulated to obtain a firearm.

    Most of these shootings happen with stolen guns. Take away the guns and someone intent on making their final mark a bloody one will find another means. It’s a grim truth, but I think the answer lies in both sides compromising.

    Gun control advocates: You may have to tolerate the arming and training of administrators.
    2nd Amendment activists: You may have to tolerate taking a training course and submitting to a background check before you purchase your civilian semi-automatic HK 416 or SCAR-L.

    Just sayin’

  17. The “guns kill, but cars kill more” argument used by one of the commenters is silly. More people use cars, more frequently and consistently than will ever use (i.e. fire) guns.

    When gun owners in the US equal licensed drivers, and the gun owners start firing their guns several times a day, seven days a week, 365-days a year, in public and private places, and in close proximity of dozens or even thousands of other people firing their guns at the same time, THEN maybe you can make a serious argument about number of deaths.

  18. […] Anyone who buys a gun should be expected to demonstrate both clear knowledge of gun safety and an ability to use the gun appropriately. Additional, and this is something I think gets missed in discussions, everyone in their household should be expected to take a course on gun safety in the home.  And there should be courses on gun safety geared to children. Serious gun owners have been teaching their children for years how to respect firearms and over all it has worked. Some we make it a part of the system. For more on gun safety, check out the awesome Chuck Wendig’s take on the Gun Conversation. […]

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