Time to Talk, Time to Act
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 17:02
It’s a refrain that we’ve heard far too often in the past year, alone: “Now isn’t the time to talk about it.” We heard it after Aurora in July and again after Newtown in December. The idea of the saying is that the tragedy is too fresh, that we need to allow the nation time to grieve before we talk about why it happened. And by the time it is appropriate to talk about gun control, the NRA has skillfully stifled the conversation or another tragedy has overpowered the last.
Gun violence is a polarizing issue in the United States. People tend to take a strong fixed stance, the two extremes being some variation of “hands-off my Constitutionally-protected firearm” or “let’s rid the United States of guns, entirely.” Neither is the most rational response, although most people can identify in some way with one or the other.
Personally, I don’t believe that the average American citizen needs to own a gun. A gun gives a person the power to kill another person faster than they can say, “Whoops.” That a life, or multiple lives, for that matter, can be ended with the quick pull of a trigger, an action that requires so little thought, a move that can be carried out before a person even has time to think about what they’re doing, is appalling to me.
That being said, it’s irrational to believe that we could rid America of its firearms given the fact that it’s so heavily armed with both legal and illegal guns. So we come to America’s least favorite word: compromise. A compromise over gun control is especially tricky because of the parties involved. The NRA holds a lot of power over the U.S. government. They know what it means to defend a constitutionally protected right, and they do it well. They are consistent in their goals and actions, and manage to retain their influence even after horrific gun tragedies that should ruin their reputation. Those in favor of gun control, however, are more of a motley crew. There are different opinions and goals coming in from all angles – from the President, from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and from Gabby Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions, to name a prominent few. The only way for this side of the gun debate to gain traction is by creating a unified front with shared goals and initiatives.
Once both groups have clear stances, we could move forward on a national compromise. In my ideal world, this would include removing guns from the hands of those for whom they are not necessary – this means everyone but police officers, security guards, and members of the military. I know that’s unlikely given the Second Amendment and the fact that a majority of Americans support hunting. I understand why hunters are protective of their right to bear arms. To ask them to give up their guns would be like asking all drivers to hand in their car keys because of a spike in highway accidents. Hunting is a sport that requires skill and is governed by laws and regulations. Hunting of animals – no matter what your moral stance on the issue is – can be a legal pursuit. Killing people, however, is not.
Mass shootings obviously aren’t the only instances of gun violence in the U.S., but they are frequently the most talked about because they are shocking and frightening. They are often also linked to mental health problems. The state of mental health care in the U.S. is, frankly, a disgrace, but that’s a separate issue from gun control. Our solution can’t just be to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, because little children, teenagers in gangs, and rash-thinking grudge-holding adults have access to guns too, and they may fire without ever thinking about the consequences, about what it means to end another person’s life. When you own a gun, you are implicitly saying that you believe that you have the right to kill another person. And unless your line of work requires it, you are wrong.
A realistic immediate solution, then, would be to tighten the regulations surrounding gun purchases, and to ban the purchase of assault weapons that were designed for war. Long-term, we need to decide as a nation how we are going to react to the gun violence that permeates our culture. What is “the right to bear arms” really worth to us?
The instances of gun violence that we need to consider when we talk about gun control are the instances that we don’t hear about. The ones that are glossed over on the nightly news, hidden in a brief summary in the Metro section of The Boston Globe, written off as gang violence.
Do these deaths count for less because they don’t shock us? Have we become so desensitized to gun violence that when a 15 year old is killed while chatting with her girlfriends in a public park a mile away from the President’s Chicago home we barely take note?
Now is the time to re-sensitize ourselves to gun violence, to express outrage at anything less than legal gun usage, to refuse to accommodate demands on our government that put our families, our friends, ourselves at risk of careless death.