(Ed. note: Seed Sing is a community of voices. The author is expressing his opinion and invites any questions and criticisms. Write for Seed Sing.)
It saddens me to think about the number of times President Obama has had to address the nation after a mass shooting or a race related death. We have nine people dead because in the killers eyes they were a problem. This killer was a racist, a terrorist, and a monster. His motivation was hatred, his tool was a handgun. The same motivation and tool can be attributed to the majority of mass killings in the United States. A large part of my sadness stems from the actual violence and loss of life, but there is another part to my sadness related to modern American gun culture.
I spent a few years working as an advocate to stem gun violence, or in other words I was a lobbyist working against the NRA. I was somewhat unique in the gun violence prevention movement, I did not have a gun violence victim profile and I was not very interested in banning guns. The primary reason I worked on the issue was the allure of the challenge. I am very socially liberal, but libertarian in my view of personal responsibility. The gun issue stood on the intersection of personal responsibility and social consequence. I approached the guns as a public relations problem. People either were yes or no on guns. I wanted to make people on the no side become yes on something reasonable. It is always better to argue an issue from the yes perspective. The particular issue I was brought in to manipulate was carrying a concealed weapon (CCW). I would use polls, business testimonies, and advertising to convince the legislators that CCW is not wanted. Never was there a mention of guns, death, or violence. There was some success, and some failure, but the narrative of gun violence prevention was changing.
So I thought. My career did not last long in the gun violence prevention movement. Many of the primary players have been there for years, and the majority were victims of gun violence. More states were passing laws that loosened restrictions on gun ownership. The old guard went back to their old methods. New gun violence prevention groups would rise up after the latest shooting and come up with "new" ideas on curbing the violence. The debate resorted back to yes and no. The media would treat any gun violence news as a debate between an old white guy from the NRA (or the US Congress) and some non-media savvy victim of gun violence. The idea of working to stop gun violence was the most pure Sisyphean task one could image.
My ambivalence to guns changed on December 12th, 2012. The deaths of twenty children and six school staff members at the hands of a person wielding legal weapons caused me to take a side in the gun debate. I started to firmly believe something needed to be done by our government to regulate and ban most firearms. With my professional experience I set out to have a discussion with people on the dangers of firearms. What I received in return was mostly anger from the pro gun people. The debate quickly turned into why these 26 (28 including the killer and his mother) died and evolved into a discussion about not limiting guns.
On Wednesday nine people, who were in church, were killed in Charleston South Carolina by a monster with a gun. It is now Friday and I have heard little about the victims and more about why guns need less regulation. I am confused and pissed off about the society I live in.
The pro gunner's arguments have not changed in the ten years since I left the gun violence prevention movement. Here are some examples of their arguments followed by my hypothetical responses.
GUNNERS: Guns don't kill people, people do.
ME: The famous comedian Eddie Izzard famously said "Well I think the gun helps".
GUNNERS: If someone in the church had a gun, this would not have been as bad.
ME: How many times have you heard about a "good" CCW license holder stopping any mass shooting, zero?
GUNNERS: You are using this tragedy to push your liberal agenda.
ME: I am sorry, tell me once again when we had any kind of reasonable gun control legislation in the last twenty years. Also when should we talk about gun violence? When everyone has been killed?
There is no way to have a rational discussion with people who use innocent deaths to protect their beliefs. I will admit that guns may not be the problem, gun culture is the problem. Why do we give the gunners a rational position in our society. What is a gun used for. I will give the gunners credit for the hunting argument. Their are a lot of hunters who use rifles. What about assault rifles and handguns? Those weapons are not used by serious hunters. What in the world are people using assault rifles and handguns for? The answer I normally get is that those guns are for sport shooting and protection. First, you do not need to have those weapons in your home if they are used for sport shooting. Second, what do you need protecting from. Statistics are numbers and have no political motivation. The incident of accidental death and suicide is a lot larger than the number of people who have successfully used these weapons for protection. We have trained police who can protect you from the "bad guys". I lived in the urban core for most of my twenties and thirties. I know of more people in the suburbs with handguns and assault rifles than I ever knew in the city.
The best way to approach the problem of gun violence is to marginalize the gun culture. People who make guns a religion need to be treated as non-rational beings. I love Star Wars, yet I do not demean people who do not like it (I privately judge them). You can love guns, but you do not need to be obnoxious about it. Many people love expensive sports cars, even if they cannot afford them. One does not need to own a gun to enjoy them. Do you really love guns. Go to a regulated shooting range, play a first person shooter. You do not need to have the extra ability to kill someone with your hobby.
Once the gun culture is marginalized in society, spineless politicians will stop bending over backward for the NRA. Gun manufacturers depend on the NRA to continue a campaign of misdirection, lying, and fear mongering. The fact that the media does not marginalize the NRA makes our congress even more ineffectual. The gun violence prevention movement is way too emotional and fractured in their beliefs to be an effective counterbalance to the NRA. Bringing the gun violence prevention movement together as one voice is a non-starter. Pushing the same boulder up the same hill is going to give you the same results.
The best way to honor the people killed by guns is to do whatever possible to not add new gun violence victims. Forget about the guns and focus on the culture. Once everyone truly sees that the narrative states we honor the dead by demanding more guns, people will wake up and see the insanity. We will demand real discussion, from rational people. Change will start to happen.
Be kind to each other.
RD Kulik is the founder and Head Editor for Seed Sing