To my kids-
I’ve written to you about outrage.
“We live in an outrage vacuum. Our angers are many, but they materialize and disappear like the vapors of a winter breath. The causes of the moment– political, social, economical or otherwise will demand your attention like opportunistic street market vendors working to free you of a $20 bill. They want to hijack your outrage. They want to siphon your passion. They know they can do it too, because we treat our energy and zeal like disposable income– and with no clear goal for our passion, others build empires with bricks formed from our displaced enthusiasms…”
I’ve written to you about privilege.
“May you never be ashamed of what you can’t control, and may you never fail to recognize and respect the same in others. You are privileged. There is no guilt in that. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. There is responsibility, however. You have the responsibility to recognize your privilege… I don’t want you to feel guilt. I do want you to feel SOMETHING. Gratitude. Empathy. Outrage. Hope. If you can feel those things than it means that you can recognize humanity. It means you aren’t wasting your privilege. It means the right kids got lucky.”
I’ve even had to write to you about the prejudice that leads to some of mass shootings that keep happening in our country.
“In the same way that we giftwrapped the internet, smartphones, Netflix and all the other things that make your childhoods infinitely more privileged than ours, we were supposed to hand you a racially harmonious country free of all the riots and police abuses we read about in textbooks. Maybe we assumed the fight for equality was a passive process that would rectify itself with the passing of each generation. It isn’t. We’re inheriting these ideals and biases as surely as we inherited eye color and height. Whatever the reason- things are still ugly, and they’ll stay that way unless everybody gets a little uncomfortable and admits there’s a problem. For skin color and culture and religion and ideology to eventually cease to matter, it needs to matter a whole hell of a lot more than it does right now.”
Today I want to write to you about guns, but I’m afraid I don’t know how. We don’t own guns, and even though I’m from a place that has the highest rate of gun ownership in the country, I’ve never even fired one. I’m no expert. All I know is what I grew up hearing others taught when they were first learning about firearms- “respect, restraint and responsibility.”
In our country, a long time ago, guns were used to defend what was yours. Some of those things were tangible, like your family, or your land. Some of these things were ideas, like freedom. Guns have also been used to take those same things away from others.
Last weekend, some incredible people lost their lives in another mass shooting. They were dancing at a club- the same way you all dance around in the kitchen, because you feel like it’s a safe place to have fun and be silly. Someone didn’t like how these people live their lives, and he decided to kill them for it. He used a powerful rifle- a type of gun that can fire a lot of bullets in a short amount of time.
Right now people are very upset. Many want the type of gun this man used to stop being sold to people. Others just want better ways to identify who might use one of these to do something bad, and keep them from buying it. We already keep kids, and some convicted criminals from buying them, and these people would like to add potential criminals to that list. They believe doing that will save lives. They might be right.
So why don’t we just do it?
Well, we have some things that our Constitution promises we’ll be able to do without being punished or limited by the government. One of them is freedom of speech. One is the freedom to own guns. Another is that we won’t take things from people without the due process of law.
So you can see, it would be hard to use something that someone says to take away something that they’re promised they can have without breaking one, or all three, of those rules.
Much more important people than your father have taken up the various sides of this issue, and my opinion, though I have one, doesn’t matter much. I want to share how I feel with you, though. Not in an attempt to shape your perspective, but just to show you the path of critical thought that led me here. For me, it all starts with what I’ve heard firearms trainers and instructors continuously drill into the minds of young people:
“Respect, restraint and responsibility.”
Respect is everything. Respect the weapon. Respect yourself. Respect others.
Sometimes disrespect hurts others, and sometimes disrespect gets you hurt. We just got back from Yellowstone, where every year, people are mauled by bears, gored by buffalo and trampled by moose. These people often fail to respect the power and unpredictability of nature. You won’t find a lot of sympathy in the world for those are injured as a direct result of their own lack of respect.
When it comes to weapons of war, like the AR-15 gun that has been used to injure so many people in horrific acts of civilian violence, the people who execute these crimes actually do respect the power of the weapon. They know exactly what it’s for. They know exactly what to do with it. They might not respect the sanctity of human life, but they do respect the effectiveness of the weapon they chose. This would be like someone with a clear understanding of the power of the animals of Yellowstone releasing a bear, a bison, and a moose into an enemy’s living room. That should, in some way, impact how we feel about the ease in which someone might procure one of these weapons.
“What good is power when you’re too wise to use it?” – Ursula LeGuin
Restraint is an uncommon virtue. Laws are often a reaction to a society’s need to have an appropriately defined level of restraint for our own vices.
A need for restraint is what forces us as a society to consider which of our presidential candidates is the least likely to punch in the nuclear codes and end the world as we know it. A lack of restraint is what causes some of society’s highest paid people to also be their most indebted.
On a micro-level, restraint is what keeps your mother and I from ripping our hair out by the roots when you take two bites of your dinner, push it to the side, and then have the audacity to ask for a damned snack 15 minutes later.
When it comes to personal weaponry, I’ve always been told by those who have concealed carry permits (so that they may holster a weapon out of view of the general public), that it’s the unfired bullet that means the most. Weaponry is about security, whether that’s from the government and their drones, or bad guys and their element of surprise. Ultimately, they say, a fighting chance is better than no chance.
We’ve allowed elected officials to determine that machine guns, grenades and poison gas are items on which we shouldn’t be trusted to draw the line ourselves. For eight decades, there haven’t been many voices who disagree. At this point, having an AR-15 only makes sense in the vacuum of the existence of other AR-15’s. If civilians weren’t allowed to own them, and the government funded a buyback of the millions that are out and about in society, the necessity of fighting semi-automatic fire with semi-automatic fire would decrease. The government would have to draw that line, though. The public won’t- for the same reason that people were driving 9 mile-per-gallon Humvees around suburbia when fuel was $5 per gallon…
Because military shit is cool.
At the end of the day I have one responsibility- to keep you secure.
This is where I stop thinking with my brain and start getting a little emotional. My job is to keep you warm, fed, rested and safe. I wish the people in charge of taxing, spending, judging, legislating and diplomacy had the same values, but history tells us that they don’t.
We’ve always waited for tragedy to enact new firearms legislation- but it’s never been tragedy that affects the American people directly, or the at-risk and disenfranchised groups within the American populous- only tragedy that befalls government officials.
- The National Firearms Act of 1934 was in response to Prohibition gang violence, but wouldn’t have been enacted without someone making an attempt on FDR’s life.
- The Gun Control Act of 1968 would only pass after BOTH John and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and it took 5 years to even come to a vote- on things as logical as not allowing people to order guns through the mail, or people convicted of violent crimes being allowed to purchase guns.
- Ronald Reagan’s attempted assassination led to the Brady Bill, which has blocked well over a million people from making gun purchases because their background check has disqualified them from doing so- but that’s a bill that the NRA fought, and eventually gutted through funding lawsuits that made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
I don’t think elected officials feel beholden to their constituents. I don’t think they see themselves as elementary school students in Newtown, office workers in Santa Bernardino, movie goers in Aurora, community college students in Umpqua, or people out to have a fun Saturday night in Orlando. You can’t buy a handgun, or even carry an AR-15 in Washington D.C., unless of course, you’re a Congressman- then you can keep an AR-15 in your office. as Colorado representative Ken Buck does.
We’re supposed to have elected representatives. Instead, we elect individuals set on representating themselves. Unless they don’t feel safe when they gather, we can’t expect them to make our security in churches, clubs, theatres or schools a priority. Not even when it comes down to limiting the availability of a vanity weapon. History has taught us that they aren’t going to feel responsible to us unless they feel that their personal security is in worse shape than their job security.
“Respect, restraint and responsibility.”
When I was somewhere in the neighborhood of four or five years old, I found a handgun. I palmed it, pressed the cold metal of what I assume was the slide against my forearm, transferred it from hand to hand, and felt the pressure of the trigger push back against my fingertip. For some reason, I looked right down the barrel. I can still remember being entranced by the tiny, dark circle. The reality of what I was holding ripped through my imagination and erased the cartoonish version of the cowboy I’d pretend to be during playtime. It was heavy. There’s no way I’d be the quick draw in real life that I had made myself out to be. I put the gun down, and never opened that closet again.
I knew that gun wasn’t designed or meant for me. I knew playing with it any more than I had could get me in trouble. I knew not to go back. The way I reacted to my first experience with a gun isn’t the way others might react, but I think anyone would agree that they feel I shouldn’t have had that experience at all. I know I wouldn’t willingly put any of you in that situation, even if it was a controlled environment set up to find out the choices you’d make. Had their been a lock on the closet door, or a safe inside the closet that restricted access, I wouldn’t have that story to tell, nor the opportunity to have made a grave mistake.
I think that it’s time our government considers locking the door on the closet that contains the AR-15. I think we’ve seen enough examples of what can happen when certain people in society, whether chauvanist, racist, jihadist, delusional or depressed can easily access this weapon of war. You may grow up to disagree, and you’d have plenty of Constitutionally sound reason to do so- but for now, with my only responsibility being your security, I’m hoping something changes.