Thursday, April 19, 2007

A not-so-brief editorial

In the last couple of days I've spent hours making notes and "writing" in my mind about the experiences that have made me believe we need better gun-control laws in this country. Each experience was a story that would stand alone, and I figured it would take several posts to tell you about all of them. As it turns out, between the constant news coverage and my own thought processes about the subject, I can no longer stand the idea of immersing myself in that dark place long enough to tell the stories in their entirety. Instead, I'll leave out the details to combine everything into one long post, and tomorrow I'll move on to focus on sunshine and fresh air.

Here are the short versions:

1. My grandfather, a WWI infantryman, kept his service revolver after the war was over. My mother, who was not supposed to touch it, remembered taking it out frequently to show it to visiting playmates. When she told me about it, she marveled at the fact that she'd lived through it to tell about it.

2. My own father, who fought in WWII, brought home a sword instead of a gun. I remember cowering in the corner of my childhood bedroom as my teenaged uncle took the sword from its sheath, pointed it at me and leaped around like a Samurai warrior. He was teasing, intending to scare me but not to harm me. I'm probably alive because he was teasing with a sword instead of a gun.

3. In the mid-'70s, a young man and his wife, not well known to me but related by marriage, were shot and killed by a friend of theirs. They left a three-year old daughter and two sets of devastated parents and siblings. The killer told the police that the three of them were "partying" together when the two men got into a friendly discussion about whether knives or guns made better weapons. The discussion never even escalated into an argument, because the killer, who happened to have his gun with him, used it to prove his point.

4. In the early '80s, I picked up my husband's gun, one that had been in our home throughout all the years we'd been married, to move it to a safer hiding place before an out-of-town trip. I was careful to hold it by the handle and not touch the trigger, but it didn't matter. Within two seconds after I picked it up, the gun went off and shot a hole through the bedroom wall, all the way through the outside brick. Thank God it was pointed away from me when it fired. And thank God my daughters weren't in the path of the shot that wasn't supposed to have fired.

5. In the course of the past 20 years, members of my family in Texas and Louisiana have mourned with three different sets of friends whose adolescent children, in separate incidents, killed themselves with their parents' guns. My own good friend, walking his dog in the woods behind his house one afternoon, stumbled across the body of his neighbor's teenaged daughter, who'd done the same thing. These four children all came from good families, familes who would have done anything possible to help if they'd only known help was needed. The children, unfortunately, were too young and inexperienced to understand that painful emotions usually don't last. They hurt, they had the means to stop the pain quickly, and they chose to bail out rather than talk about their feelings.

6. For two years in the late '90s, I volunteered as a crisis-intervention counselor on a suicide prevention hotline. Some of the people who called the hotline had given a lot of thought to the idea of killing themselves, and the individual methods by which they planned to do it covered a wide spectrum. Of all those callers, the ones who worried me most were the ones who had access to guns. Those were the people who, if they decided to set their plans in motion, wouldn't have the luxury of changing their minds at the last second and calling 911. Guns are too good at what they do.

I understand that guns can serve a useful purpose in well-trained hands, and I respect the rights of people to protect themselves. If guns were used strictly as defensive weapons, you wouldn't hear a peep out of me. What I don't understand is, if their purpose is protection, why so many of the guns being sold are called "assault weapons."

I totally get the concept that "guns don't kill people; people kill people," but the truth is that people with guns kill other people (and themselves) in numbers that are alarming in comparison to the number of deaths by other violent means. The statistics speak directly to the nature and efficiency of the weapon.

A gun in the hands of a curious child is a deadly accident waiting to happen. A gun in the hands of a despondent person may end his life before he can even begin to imagine a brighter tomorrow. Guns in the hands of street punks and drug dealers fill the ten o'clock news almost every night with stories of young lives ended abruptly and needlessly. And then there are the gun-toters who make the national news, the psychopaths who kill randomly at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and a peaceful Amish schoolhouse.

It isn't your gun I want to take; it's theirs. But promise me you'll be careful with yours.

14 comments:

  1. I knew you weren't finished with this subject. My opinion is I wish people didn't "feel" as though they need to own a hand gun. In the state of Michigan, you may obtain a handgun, and get a concealed weapons permit, only if you have not been convicted of a felony....no psychological testing required. These are my personal experiences with handguns through the years.

    At the age of 16, I worked at a local movie theatre, while taking a break in the managers office, two men barged through the door, ordered myself and two coworkers to the floor, I felt the circumference of a cold barreled handgun pressed against the back of my head, knowing damn sure this weapon of choice could end my life.

    In my late twenties I was in a abusive marriage, I laid on the kitchen floor after an ass whooping, FROZEN with fear, because I knew the 9mm loaded handgun was only 10 steps away from him, and I knew when he walked into the bedroom, he was contemplating whether or not to use it, on me, if he had, I knew I'd be dead.

    Recently, I was helping a friend at her jewelry store...an "odd" man entered the store, and my gut told me he wasn't there to make a purchase, he had a different agenda, as his back was to me, I visually searched his jacket pockets for a gun, and the rest of his clothing for the outline of a gun....IF he had had one, he'd have used it, no doubt in my mind. He no doubt had mental health issues. I quickly walked to the door of the store, flung it open, before my knees gave out below me, and told him to get the f*** out of the store. Police were called, and he was apprehended, but they can't jail you for being crazy, and not carrying a gun, hell, they can't jail you for being crazy AND carrying a gun, as long as you haven't been convicted of a felony.

    My point is, handguns have only brought fear into my life, they have never put food on my table. They have NEVER protected me. The only time a gun enters my home is when my brother-in-law comes to visit while on duty, he is a sergeant detective for the sheriffs dept., and believe me, he feels out numbered by the amount of handguns and assault weapons out there.

    Velvet, I am sorry to take up so much room, but that's just like me, I just barge in and plop my fanny down to talk ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think this debate has been going on since the first prehistoric man picked up a stick and beat another man with it, and the other man picked up a rock and beat the man with the stick. Even if guns were banned, the bad guys would still have them. I don't know what cna be done.

    My problem is with the escalating violence in TV shows, movies, and video games. We didn't have this crap when we were kids, and our generation turned out pretty well. If I'd watched something called Cop Killer instead of the Road Runner, maybe I'd be a violent person today. I think we need to clean up what passes for entertainment these days.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for this post Velvet...my father had a foot locker full of guns brought back from WWI and WWII. The trunk was kept locked at all times but he did teach us the dangers of guns and respect for them. Mike and I talk all the time about the legitimate need for a gun out here with feral dogs, bears, mountain lions etc but somehow in five years we haven't gotten around to getting one.

    At the same time, I agree with Janet that we have to look at our society as a whole and what is the source of all this anger, depression and acting out with violence. Carmon

    ReplyDelete
  4. I would love to know the statistics for people who have actually protected themselves against a robber or whoever, with a gun vs. those senselessly killed by guns, either by accident, self-inflicted or by a criminal.

    I have no personal experience with guns - the closest being a murder in a friend's office - where a disgruntled man came in and shot his ex-girlfriend, the receptionist and then killed himself.

    There is no excuse for selling high powered weapons to the public.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Growing up with guns, I always believed them to be for hunting. Period. We lived with a gun case in the house, glass front, key 'hidden' on top, bullets elsewhere. At the same time, I was always taught to respect guns, and even took a riflery course. All that in mind and I wouldn't have one in my house. When you have guns, then guns become an option.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Velvet, Wonderful and eloquent as always.

    I grew up like Duly... guns were for hunting. I never touched them except under supervision. I was one of those strange kids who actually listened to grownups! In fact, when I was home in July, my brother-in-law asked me to retrieve something out of his nightstand. I returned without it... it was under his gun.

    The other really sad thing about reading the stats you linked to is it doesn't talk about the "failure rate" - those who attempt suicide with a gun and fail. I did some research on this for an article once and was stunned to learn that a bullet to the head takes around two minutes to actually kill. Those two minutes must feel like an eternity to someone trying to end their pain "instantly."

    In the end, I don't know the answer but I do think the gun lobby in this country is impossible to face.

    I've started to think of these idiots as America's version of the suicide bomber...how do you fight that kind of hatred and stupidity?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Maxngabbie, your experience with handguns was the scary, up-close-and-personal kind most of us will never know. Thank you for sharing it. I especially like the point you made about how easy it is to get a handgun permit. I think it should be at least as difficult to get a gun permit as it is to get a driver's license. In addition to the criminal background check, there should be psychological tests and safety training. And if somebody showed anger because of all the red tape? Too bad, that response would keep them from getting the gun.

    Janet, I agree with what you said about violent entertainment. As much as I love a good mystery, there's a vast difference between exposure to one violent crime in the course of a book or a movie (which used to be the norm) and non-stop shooting and explosives in the movies today--or hour upon hour of violent-crime TV shows.

    As for your comment that the bad guys would still have guns even if they were banned, I'm sure some of the bad guys would. But I still think we could make it more difficult for them.

    Carmon, if anyone's lifestyle would justify owning a gun, yours would. I think each of us has to weigh the odds and determine whether we're likely to be in more danger from an intruder (human or animal) or from a loaded weapon in the house. (If it's not loaded, in my opinion, it's not ready to protect you when you need it anyway.)

    Sunflower, I've seen those exact statistics somewhere--but can't remember where. Those are actually the statistics I wanted to link to, but it was getting late and I was tired. I'll keep looking and post them if I find them.

    Duly Inspired, knowing your dad, I'm not at all surprised you had the kind of gun-safety training you did. And I know exactly what you mean about removing the gun option from your home. Excellent choice.

    Creekhiker, what an agonizing two minutes that must be. Horrible thought! Your comparison of these shooters to suicide bombers is a valid one. We are definitely living in strange times.

    ReplyDelete
  8. all the things you wrote about are just terrible and as i searched my mind i could not think of one such happening in my experince so i have decided that you and i though about the same age have lived in different area, i have lived most of my life in a rural area. the reason i fear gun control is in reading history the first step to dictator ship is removing guns from the common people. some people will argue that this is nonsence but i have always thought that getting the guns out of the people hands would be starting down a slippery slop to a dictator. i don't use a gun . i don't want a gun but i still want the right to own one. to me it's like the right to protest. i have never protested in a group for or against any thing or anyone but i want to right to do so. i want the right to express ideas that are different than other peoples ideas. to me this what freedom is.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Patsy, the incidents I wrote about took place in different parts of the country: Missouri, New York, Texas and Louisiana, but none of them was in a rural area.

    I want the same rights you do, including the right to own a gun. But just as there are requirements for exercising some of our other basic freedoms--the right to vote, for example--I believe there should be certain standards of responsibility attached to the right to bear arms. I also believe there are guns available today that are lethal beyond the imaginations of the folks who drafted the 2nd Amendment. To my way of thinking, there is NO valid reason for anyone other than law enforcement or military personnel to have access to these types of weapons. They're designed for one purpose: to kill humans, many humans if necessary (or desirable), in a short period of time. For the life of me I can't imagine any reason why the ban on these guns was lifted.

    And, for the record, I'm very glad we have the right to express ideas that are different from each other. We couldn't learn from each other if we didn't listen to different ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  10. this is an excellent post, thank you for writing it and presenting it. I hope a lot of people read this and think about it.

    ReplyDelete
  11. i will tell you what i think is wrong with our country, when i was young some people ran an experment with rats, they put two rats in a cage a male and a female and let them breed and keep all the increase in the cage also. Time came when thee rats became so crowded that they began to kill each other. I understand that this was a new thing they were doing.
    I think that is the reason we have these terrible happening now in the cities people are packed together like rats and they kill each other.
    When i worked at Tyson there were a lot of people and i can say since i don't have to go there any more my life has improved.
    i will say you are right about a lot of the guns, i read about.assulte guns are not necessary. i don't even like short barrel guns. one shot 22 rifles are my choice. i also don't like the law they passed in our state that says you can carry a concealed gun. i figure if you are carring a gun everone has the right to know.as for me i like to express my opinions and i like people who do the same.
    I think if the truth be told i also like to get on the other side of a discussion and go at it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Keepers, I'm so happy (and lucky) that the people who visit this blog tend to be those who respect others' opinions and think things through. Even when we ultimately draw different conclusions, we listen and seek to understand. If the rest of the world were as reasonable as the people in this tiny corner of cyberspace, there'd be no need to discuss the pros and cons of gun control.

    Patsy, you might be on to something with your population explosion theory. I know tempers are more volatile around here since Hurricane Katrina packed us all together so tightly.

    On the other hand, that wouldn't explain the wild-west phase of our history. There were plenty of shootings back then, even with all the wide open spaces.

    Hmmm. I'm thinking...do you know if a testosterone ban has ever been considered?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thinking about your last comment led me to this information:

    "Richard Hernstein has noted that the more heinous the crime, the greater the disproportion between men and women. This certainly holds true for homicide. According to statistics published by the U.S. Department of Justice, men committed 87.5 percent of murders in 1999. The ratio of male to female homicides was approximately nine to one. Almost three-fourths of male homicides and 80 percent of female homicides were perpetrated against men. Males were more likely to choose a gun as their weapon, but women preferred a cleaner means of killing, such as arson or poisoning (http://www.deathreference.com
    /Gi-Ho/Homicide-Epidemiology-of.html).

    ReplyDelete
  14. Annie, how interesting! Thanks for looking that up for us. This might explain the desire for assault weapons, too: with men, everything always seems to come down to which one has the biggest "gun."

    ReplyDelete

Your comments might just be the very best thing about blogging. I love it when you care enough to share your thoughts here, so go ahead and say what's on your mind. Toss your own spices into this pot of stew.