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.)

Anyway.

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.