So here we are. Almost a week ago, something terrible happened in Connecticut. Sorrow, heartbreak, loss. Bright young faces never to be seen again on this earth.
The man who did it… gah.
It’s been a rough week for gun owners, and especially for visible gun owners – bloggers, firearms instructors, podcasters and broadcasters, rights activists, writers. Anyone in the public eye. Among my friends in that world, I know very few who haven’t received a hate-filled letter or twelve this week. Some of those letters have included threats of violence. Or murder.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today. Today, what I wanted to talk about is where we go from here. What I am doing, and what you might want to do.
Let me explain first that I’m not a gun-rights activist in any normal sense of the word. Like most gun owners, I do throw an occasional dollar into the pro-rights pot, especially toward the Second Amendment Foundation, which has done such awesome work with court cases in recent years, including the Heller, McDonald, and Ezell cases. Like all good citizens, I write and call my political representatives whenever it needs to be done. But I’m not one of those people on the front lines of the gun rights battle. My work lies elsewhere, in educating people about how to use the tools they’ve already chosen to own. My passion drives me to teach people how to protect themselves from violence. And that’s where my work will stay.
With that in mind, I do think it’s fair to educate new gun owners about one surprising and important thing. If you haven’t owned guns for very long, you may not realize just how quickly your right to protect yourself using an effective, modern tool can be snatched away from you. This isn’t hyperbole, and I’m not selling you anything by saying that. It’s just a simple statement of fact.
Don’t believe me? Here are some examples from recent history.
In Australia, in spring of 1996, a scumbag walked into a public area (Port Arthur) and began killing people. Terrible, awful tragedy. Less than two weeks later, all state and territory ministers in the country had agreed to heavily restrict the ownership and use of semi-automatic rifles, and semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. Within weeks, nearly all firearms in the country had been confiscated by the government.
In Scotland, in spring of 1996, a madman walked into a school and slaughtered 16 children and one adult before killing himself. Driven by that incident, within one year, it became effectively illegal to own a handgun anywhere in the United Kingdom.
Ah, but those are overseas, you say. Something like that couldn’t happen here in America. But it could. We know this because in 1986, federal law makers completely wiped out one small but thriving corner of the gun world with a back-room deal that took only a few hours to put in place. That was it. From suggestion to passage, slapped as a last-minute amendment to a basically pro-gun law, it took less than one day to completely destroy one corner of the gun industry, killing a number of thriving businesses. Now, you can think that was a good law or you can think it was a bad one, but regardless of how you feel about that, it was definitely a fast law.
So, if you value your right to own and carry tools that you can use to effectively defend yourself and the people you love, you should keep an eye on gun politics even though it’s unpleasant at times. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring politics entirely, no matter how much we might want to. Despite the tremendous strides we’ve made toward freedom over the past two decades, we know that all those gains can literally be erased overnight when people are upset enough. And right now… yeah. They are upset enough.
We’re not immune to those feelings, either. I’m certainly not. What mother, what parent, could be? We want the world to be a safer place for our children – for all our children. We want to protect them and keep them from harm. This is a driving need for any decent human being.
An anti-gun friend of mine (yes, I have them too) wrote this on Facebook: “I am more than happy to sacrifice my own individual rights for a greater good…” The implication being, of course, that in order to protect our families and our communities, we must give up some of our rights, including the right to own and use effective tools for protecting ourselves and our loved ones. What I wonder is, would this person be equally willing to exercise her rights for the greater good? Because, you see, when we choose to protect ourselves, our families, and the people we love, we are acting for the greater good of our communities. By being prepared to stop violent acts, we are helping the people around us stay safe, and we are lowering the risk of violence happening at all.
“Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean,” wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Let each responsible adult prepare to protect herself and the people around her, and the violent crime rate drops. Make it illegal or difficult for ordinary people to defend themselves, and violent crime rates go up. We don’t carry firearms to protect the whole world, but our willingness to defend ourselves does have a protective effect on the people around us.
And that brings us to the nasty little implication hidden in my friend’s sentence. It’s an accusation that you and I own firearms only as an act of selfishness. We only want to keep our rights because they’re ours, and we don’t care about the people around us. You know that’s not true, I know that’s not true, but … this person doesn’t know that, just as most anti-gun or even neutral people don’t know it. What she “knows” is that gun owners are more concerned about their gun rights than they are about the 20 children laid to rest this week in Connecticut. She “knows” that, and frames her argument based on that wrong idea.
We have to tell her, that’s not true. We can say it kindly, factually, passionately, bravely, or with our knees knocking together. But say it we must. Here’s what is true: we own guns because we are deeply concerned about the safety of our families and our communities. We support the right to own firearms—all types of firearms—because we believe that gun ownership saves lives. We believe in the right to carry guns because we believe that carrying guns helps good people stay safe from acts of evil. We hate gun-free zones because they make it easier for violent criminals to murder innocent victims. We support human rights as they relate to firearms not because we are selfish, but because we love people and want to see good people able to defend themselves from murderous madmen such as the one who slaughtered a classroom full of little children at an elementary school in Connecticut.
So yes, I’m concerned about our gun rights in the wake of this awful event. But my concern for gun rights is not an act of selfishness. It’s an act of love. I love the people around me, and want them able to stay safe.
Last night, I talked to a friend of mine. This woman teaches at an elementary school in California. Like most schools in that state, her school has many entrances and exits, multiple buildings, and a campus that would be a nightmare to truly secure. My friend was sad, even angry, that neither she nor anyone around her would be able to protect “her” children in the case of a copycat attack. She would be expected to cower, and hide, and perhaps die – simply because there was no legal way for her to vigorously defend the children she loves. We talked about some of her options, including improvised weapons that would raise no eyebrows if she kept them in her classroom. We talked about making the decision to protect yourself and others. We talked about … the murderer.
Not that one.
The next one.
The one that she knows. That everyone in her district knows. The smart, manipulative teenager with a hair-trigger temper and absolutely no empathy. The one whose own mom thinks he will kill her someday. The one who has been bounced from school, to school, to school within the system, who can’t be kept in an inpatient facility, and whose violent schizophrenic tendencies are getting worse. That kid.
“What can I do about him?” she asked me. “How can I keep him away from my school and out of my classroom?”
I have no answers. Within the system as it is right now, there is literally no way to stop that kid from committing murder. His own parents can’t get him into a treatment facility that will keep him longer than a few days. Even though literally every person in that teenager’s life knows that he will kill someone someday, he cannot be locked up. Not yet. Not until he snaps and kills someone… or a whole classroom full of someones.
We should do something about that. That’s a conversation our society needs to have. But meanwhile, let me point this out: Not every potential murderer gives such clear warning signs.
Shouldn’t the intended victims have a way to fight back, if and when?
Believe me, I’ve heard all the answers about improving school security. “Lock the door.” In a classroom with a wall full of windows, that’s less than reassuring. “Have all visitors to the campus check in a the office.” Like the shooter in Newtown did. “Metal detectors.” The first person shot would be the person manning the metal detector. “Text message alerts.” Then what? Schools should be safe, and yes, some of these measures might slow some types of intruders. But they won’t stop the worst of them, the kind we’re talking about here.
There is literally nothing we can do that’s guaranteed to keep the next madman out of our schools. Some campuses would be easy to make more secure than they presently are, but none of them can be entirely secured. So there will always be a risk of a criminally insane attacker getting inside the walls.
Shouldn’t the people inside be equipped to protect themselves and the children they love, if and when that happens?
That’s the question we should be asking. We should ask it with compassion and concern. And we should keep asking it until we get a positive answer.
Because it’s not about our gun rights. It’s about love.