In light of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas two weeks ago, it’s difficult to ignore the topic of violence in relation to guns and the subsequent and highly politicized arguments that follow concerning the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
I grew up in a home where gun ownership was just “the norm,” even learning how to handle a .22 caliber rifle by the age of ten. Just after I began seventh grade, we moved to a rustic cabin in the remote mountains of southwestern Montana where we lived without electrical power or running water, and knowing how to use a rifle was an important part of our life.
While I personally have had the experience of using guns and believe in gun ownership, in light of the ongoing and increasing incidences of gun violence and mass shootings, we can no longer ignore the conversation about more effectively regulating the possession and use of guns.
When I’ve had discussions with others around this topic, usually I get the classic cliched response of “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and while there is a certain amount of truth to this statement, the fact is that in this country guns are often the primary choice of weapon involved in committing violent acts.
If we look at the Second Amendment from a historical perspective, at the time the U.S. Constitution was written, flint-type pistols and muskets were the guns of the day. In modern terms, these guns were single-shot weapons requiring a reload after each firing. Now before you jump all over this statement, I’m not suggesting that we should make a strict interpretation of current guns law based on this history. However, I don’t think the founders of these United States of America anticipated semiautomatic weapons and certainly not automatic guns or guns that can operate like automatic weapons being in the hands of civilians.
In fact, the Gatling gun was the first rapid-fire (automatic-like) gun, and it wasn’t even invented until 1861, long after the founders drafted the Constitution. Its inventor, Dr. Richard J. Gatling, wrote that he created the Gatling gun to reduce the size of armies and so reduce the number of deaths by combat and disease and to show how futile war is. Unfortunately, as history and recent events have demonstrated, rapid-fire guns can and often do inflict more civilian death and injury as opposed to saving lives.
Getting back to the “people killing people” truism, we also cannot ignore the zeitgeist of our times (zeitgeist refers to the beliefs that motivate the actions of the members of a society in a particular period in time.) In this context, I am speaking to the apparent and measurable increase in acts of hatred and hate crimes in recent times, especially since the 2016 general election. While hate crimes usually refer to crime motivated by racial, religious, sexual, or other prejudice and typically involve violence, we cannot dismiss the rise in the general energy of “hate” as evidenced within the current context of our society.
I have a friend on Facebook who recently, upon hearing about the Las Vegas shooting, attributed the violence in large part to the White House and our current administration. In response, they received a number of extremely unkind comments and reactions to this assertion. While the Las Vegas shooter is certainly responsible (mental illness or other unknown cause not withstanding) for his own actions, we cannot discount that there has been a noticeable shift in unkind, even vicious and hate-filled exchanges both in the political arena and certainly within social media. As these types of exchanges become commonplace, they also become normalized, increasing the underlying energy of hatred.
I recently learned of the release of a new book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.” This book indicates that we are seeing a perpetuation of “malignant normality” from the top and that this has an impact on all of us in the form of increased distress and anxiety. Increases in anxiety and stress, along with the normalizing of pathology, can and often does result in increased violence.
Therefore, when it comes to addressing the issue of gun violence in our society, we not only need to implement some form of common sense regulations around gun ownership and use but we also must also address the way we relate to each other regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or any other difference that would inspire us to see our human brothers and sisters as “other.”
Regarding responsible gun regulation, there is no reason for a person with a criminally violent past or a known mental illness to own any type of gun. There is also no legitimate need for any type of add-on that in effect makes a semiautomatic fire like a fully automatic firearm for civilian use.
However, responsible gun regulation alone is not going to solve the ever-increasing problem of gun violence and mass murders by guns in this country. We also must directly and compassionately address the racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and all manner of irrational and hateful speech and the subsequent behaviors they inspire that currently exist within our society.
This means that we as citizens also need to vote out of office all of those persons in political positions whose rhetoric and behaviors, both personal and political, evidence bigotry and racism in all their hateful forms. This requires us to have a healthy dose of skepticism and scrutinize new and incumbent candidates and to determine how they have voted or will vote on the issues. We must learn to recognize the level of narcissism and irrational thinking that exists within our political system and do all that is within our power to remove any individuals from public office who put their personal interests above those of the people in any manner.
While we want to protect our Constitutional rights, including the Second Amendment, we must become cognizant of the motives and ideological positions of politicians to determine who would choose to vote against any legislation that could harm the public, including responsible gun regulation. It is time to bring common sense to the conversation. We also must remove or vote out any person who inspires hatred and violence or puts their personal agendas and campaign contributions above the health and safety of the people.