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One nation under the gun
Seven years ago I was working my
after-school gig at a convenience store
in Tuscaloosa, Ala. A man rushed
through the door and pointed a small
silver pistol at me.
“Open the register!”
I did what he asked and then hid
behind the counter.
I’ve thought back on that event
more than once since the school
shooting tragedy in Connecticut last
month. Carrying a gun wouldn’t have
prevented the robbery (it probably
would’ve placed me in greater danger),
but taking guns away from law-abid
ing citizens wouldn’t have prevented it
As our elected leaders discuss mea
sures to curb gun violence, it’s worth
remembering that many of us hold a
nuanced view of the subject. Guns are
a part of life growing up in the South.
My father owned a gun, but we
never hunted. Other friends and fami
ly members own guns. I’ve been shoot
ing once. A friend of mine took me to
a range and let me use his revolver.
I’m comfortable around guns, or
as comfortable as you can reasonably
be when in the presence of something
that can kill you. Where I differ with
my gun-owning friends is their belief
that Second Amendment rights trump
my rights to personal safety.
A right to a life without feeling the
need to arm myself everywhere I go
deserves equal consideration.
Guns are America’s drinking prob
lem and I believe we are being enabled
by people who equate gun ownership
with personal freedom. Guns are a
right but they’re also a responsibility.
They are not panaceas for crime or fun
Even the people who sell guns are
sensible enough to set some ground
rules. As I interviewed people at a lo
cal gun range for their reactions to the
school shootings, I took note of a sign
on the door that told customers not to
walk in with a loaded weapon.
Do guns sometimes deter crime?
Yes. Is it fun to shoot? Yes. But these
things are only small pixels of the
whole picture. Guns also kill people
accidentally, whether it’s a child find
ing one in a home or an innocent by
stander getting caught in the crossfire.
Sometimes, rarely, a maniac goes
on a rampage and commits an atroci
ty so horrific that even the stone faced,
hardened journalists are moved to
Another pixel of the picture in
volves mental health. There are too
many people who are uninsured who
are herded in and out of crisis centers
because there is no support for more
routine care. Other people are under
treatment for mental illness, but have
too easy access to guns. We have to en
sure people who may have a mental ill
ness that includes violent tendencies,
or are on
tion that can
a side effect,
ed or no ac
cess to weap-
illness as was
the shooter in Aurora, Colo.
Pundits and other paid windbags
present the debate as a simple ‘yes or
no’ question: you either want every
one to have guns or no one to have
them. Any suggestion of compromise
automatically gets tossed into the vast
wasteland between the two polar ex
Perhaps if we could look around
that terrain a bit we might find solu
tions that make sense for both sides.
We’ve never looked, or at least haven’t
looked too hard.
Guns do not solve problems. I tried
to explain this to my brother the oth
While he was visiting my mom on
Christmas, someone broke into his
apartment and stole his electronics.
He told me he wanted to buy a gun.
“What if I’d have been home when
the burglar broke in,” he asked.
Playwright Anton Chekhov cau
tioned that introducing a gun in Act I
meant at some point during the show
it had to be fired. We’ll never know
what could’ve or wouldn’t have hap
pened if our personal stories involved
a gun. The randomness of chance sug
gests that sometimes we’ll be armed
and ready. Sometimes we ’ll be caught
off-guard, with our guns hidden in an
other room. Sometimes someone car
rying a gun for self defense acciden
tally shoots us first because he or she
thought we were about to shoot them.
My brother is frustrated. I get that.
He wants control over an uncontrol
lable situation, but guns will only
give him an illusion of control. I also
can’t control whether he gets a gun or
not. We’re all responsible for our own
Guns, unfortunately, sometimes
make bad choices harder to undo.
I told him I hope he never has to
use that gun. Personally, I hope he
never buys one.
I hope I never have to carry one be
cause we’ve decided that every mall,
church and school house in America
should be the O.K. Corral.
If we don’t begin having a con
structive discussion about this, that
day may come sooner than any of US
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