Last night a gunman opened fire and killed over 50 people, injured over 400 and once again brought the discussion of (among other things) gun safety into the public dialogue here in the US.
Today, in the midst of everyone’s grief and expressions offering their thoughts and prayers, some have spoken out for increased gun safety (which yes, means increased gun restrictions). The response from some has been, “Today’s not the day, that is a political debate.”
Today IS that day.
Public safety is NOT a political issue. How we achieve it may be, but NO. I don’t accept the argument that today we should not talk about gun control. Today is totally the day to talk about it. Let’s stop having mass shootings, and then sure, any day would be a good day to NOT have this discussion.
I do know that we all come from varied perspectives on the use and possession of firearms. Those perspectives are informed by many things, including how we were raised, the type of area we live in, what we think guns are used for (personal safety, hunting, fun, whatever).
Many people have their story—why they believe what they believe about guns. I believe guns should be harder to get, require more in depth background checks, and be easier to take (from, for example, those dealing with mental health issues or those maybe accused of and certainly those convicted of domestic violence).
My brother Dan, the second of the four of us (I am the oldest) did not grow up with guns. A few family members had some, for protection (and some worked in law enforcement), but we were not raised shooting guns or generally believing a normal person needed a gun to be safe.
As an adult, Dan became a pastor in the Baltimore suburbs and one day his house was robbed by what turned out to be the druggie son of a church member. His back, basement door was broken during the break in. His church did not fix the door for quite a while. At that time, my sister also lived in the house with Dan. Dan was scared. At first they didn’t know who robbed him, and finding out didn’t make him feel safer. The door was still broken. It would have been easy for someone to get in.
That was when Dan bought his first gun.
In college, Dan had struggled with depression and once had called campus security because he was feeling suicidal. They came, and he voluntarily checked in to a mental health bed at the local hospital for a few days. Then he was released, put on anti-depressants, and he got better.
For years, he seemed well.
That was when the break in happened. By the time (or soon thereafter) that the church finally fixed the door that the robber had broken, Dan owned two guns—for protection. Two guns legally bought.
I later found Dan’s copy of his gun license applications. He had answered everything honestly. One question asked if he had been involuntarily committed to a facility for mental health treatment. He answered no. That was the truth.
Then things started to go horribly wrong for Dan. Our father died suddenly and unexpectedly in his mid-fifties of a heart attack. Dan’s life began to spiral out of control.
And he still had two guns.
There are many, many things I regret about the months leading up to June 2014.
So many things I wish I (and others) had done differently.
But if there was just ONE thing I could have done differently, it would have been this: I would have asked Dan if I could take his guns until he was feeling better. Or even whether, since his door was fixed and he house that much more secure, he could just get rid of them.
I don’t know how he would have responded.
But I wish I had tried.
After Dan’s suicide—using one of those guns he had bought to keep himself safe, the police asked my sister (who was on the scene, supporting my mother who faced one of the most horrific experiences any parent could face) if she wanted the guns. She said no. They pressed, explaining that the guns had some value and that if she didn’t take them, they’d have to be melted down.
She told them to melt the damn things down.
My brother was less safe because he had guns in his house. Guns he bought for just the same reason so many people claim they own their guns—and for a reason I think anyone would be hard pressed to think was illogical (if you’re of the mind to think guns are ever a reasonable safety measure).
There are tons of statistics out there about the risks of guns in the homes of those with mental health issues. Statistics that flat out demolish the argument, “Well, someone who wants to kill themselves will find a way to do it.”
Nope. You’re way less safe if there’s a gun. It is far too effective a tool to end human life.
A little while later, my husband and I, with two young children, were talking about our own safety after some thefts in our area. We were scared. It was the first time we ever had the discussion, “Would we be safer if we had a gun?”
We talked about it. We researched it. We kept in mind we had small children. We decided our family would be less safe with guns than without them.
I don’t know how I could live through what my family lived through, know what I know about gun statistics (what little we do know, since the gun industry has successfully prevented detailed statistics even being kept), I cannot help but conclude that widespread, poorly-limited gun ownership makes each person, and our entire society, less safe.
This is not a political debate. Maybe it’s a family argument. And we each have our own stories. But there are too many stories like mine.
This needs to stop.
We need common sense gun laws which limit people’s ability to buy guns, restrict what kind of guns they can buy, make it easier to take a person’s guns when public or personal safety suggests it, and we need to lift ANY restrictions on the kinds of statistics and research officials can do related to gun usage, violence, injury and death.
By the way, I don’t know WHY anyone would oppose any of these (many gun owners support these) but I especially don’t know why we are afraid to study gun violence. After all, if it’s not really a problem, what are we hiding?