I’m one of those guys who isn't really into sports. I didn’t play any in high school and took just enough gym class to meet the minimum required to pass. (Only around 1994 did my wife and I acquire an interest in hockey, just in time to see the Red Wings start winning Stanley Cups for the first time since before I was born!) My first cherished piece of sporting equipment came in the form of a .22 revolver that my mother bought me when I was about 12 or 13 and introduced me to target shooting. In those days, it not only wasn’t a crime, but never raised an eyebrow. She took the time to teach me safe gun handling habits that serve me well to this day. Shooting has been the one and only sport I’m good at. In fact, it had always been a recreational pursuit until much later on in my life when I got involved in a very high-profile line of work. As a result, the occasional kook has crawled out of the woodwork. I decided it was time to take the necessary training and obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon before one of them became dangerous. Thankfully, in the dozen or so years I’ve been doing so, I’ve never come anywhere near needing it.
In sharp contrast, my wife isn’t a shooter at all. She’s never had any interest and, in fact, is a bit uneasy around firearms. Beyond patiently and almost heroically learning how to clear my handguns and make them safe in case anything ever happens to me, she’s otherwise happy to ignore them. (Although she does agree with my decision to carry. I wouldn’t have pursued it without her consent.)
Besides being Red Wings fans, she and I are news junkies. We have a nightly habit of pigging-out on various cable news programs during dinner and discussing them. From time to time, as is inevitable, some horrible crime triggers a discussion about firearms and prompts my wife to ask me questions, since I’m the “gun guy” of the house. She’s thoughtful, emotional and extremely intelligent, so when she asks me a question, I make a point of answering her as completely as I can. If I don’t know something or am unsure of my facts, I’ll take the time to hit the Internet, or crack open one of the many books on firearms and firearm law that I have around the house. The conclusion of these sessions often ends with her asking, “So why don’t I hear this stuff from anyone but you?”
That question at first left me at a loss. For one thing, my wife is a cable television producer with a degree in broadcasting from Central Michigan University and I’m a professional disc jockey and part-time writer, which makes us both a part of the media. Therefore, neither of us buys into the “liberal media” myth. Sure, there are going to be plenty of liberal TV personalities and editors, yet there are arguably just as many of the conservative variety, too. (The biggest explosion in talk radio and cable news has been in the conservative sector!)
I wasn’t at a loss for long, though, since it dawned on me to ask my media-savvy wife why SHE thought this information might be scarce. It seemed to come easy for her; the national mainstream media has tough time constraints, ratings considerations and advertisers to appease. Less spectacular stories of a grandmother thwarting a carjacking with her revolver get sidelined for bigger, more attention-grabbing pieces. The old “if it bleeds, it leads” line isn’t a joke! Combine that with the fact that news people don’t generally use or carry guns and don’t understand the culture, it sets up an automatic informational deficit. In their haste to put together a story, they will often go to the wrong sources for their information. Instead of experts, they find activists.
This leads to another, more insidious reason that the general public is deprived of a better, more balanced picture of the firearms issue: it has become politicized. Somewhere in-between the time that my liberal mother, a life-long Democrat, gave me that pistol all those years ago and today, when Republicans lay sole claim to being the “pro-gun party,” gun use and ownership have become political lines in the sand for some. TV news talking heads often yell past one another and zealous lobbyists, whose job it is to gin up support for their agendas, come off sounding radical. Opinions become entrenched and activists take an “us vs. them” attitude, effectively shutting down any meaningful dialogue.
Luckily this doesn’t happen at home. My wife and I both share an important common ground: we abhor violent crime. So we can have a discussion, without any heat, and any jargon is kept to a minimum. I try to take the same approach when talking to other non-gun-owners as well. I look at it a lot like talking to people who don’t build and fly radio-controlled airplanes or don’t ride horses; they have some ideas about it, but in reality might know very little. I find that most people want to learn more and will readily ask questions. Answers prompt more questions, and soon you’ve built a dialogue that is far more edifying than any talking head cable TV show.
The first time this happened to me was one summer night when my local Representative, Sander Levin, decided to hold a “town hall meeting” close enough to my home that I couldn’t resist attending. Looking around the hall, I noticed that there were more women than men, and there were also a lot of senior citizens in the group. I decided to just sit and listen, as the biggest concern for most of the crowd was jobs, the worsening economy and Social Security. Yet unknown to me, a gun rights activist was in the front row. When it came time for Q&A, he took the Senator to task for some of his votes. While I might’ve agreed with his sentiments, he made the mistake of using the term “anti-gun,” which prompted a woman sitting next to me to say, “Well, I’M anti-gun!” This was an opening I couldn’t resist.
“Are you really anti-gun,” I asked, “meaning that you oppose a senior citizen from having protection in their own home or a divorcee with a restraining order against a bully ex-husband being able to have a gun, or would you more accurately describe yourself as anti-violence?” A few people nearby heard us and turned their heads, expectantly waiting along with me as she considered her answer. “Yes, I suppose that’s a better description. I’m just sick of all the violence.” I shook her hand and said, “So am I, and I’m an NRA member.” She and our onlookers seemed genuinely surprised, and it touched-off a friendly side-conversation after the meeting that had more people gathering around me than the Senator! There was no yelling, but some very sincere questions posed by people who, up until then, hadn’t thought much about firearms beyond the bad stuff they saw paraded by on the nightly news or in action movies. A lot of them thanked me, shook hands and uttered words that were all too familiar: “Why haven’t I heard this anywhere else?”
It was that sincerity and open-minded inquisitiveness that struck me the most. Whether you’re a member of the “Million Mom March” or the NRA, everyone wants their kids to be safe in school, their neighborhoods free of gangs and crime, and not feel like walking up to the corner store is a risk to life and limb. That’s a huge patch of common ground!
In this spirit, I write these paragraphs to begin a process of sorts; a coming-together of our collective concerns and brainpower. Political agendas must be set aside in favor of progress. To have a real impact on violent crime, while at the same time preserving our hard-won rights and freedoms, we must focus on what works and dispel any false assumptions or misinformation that is readily supplied by those with other agendas. We need to carefully distinguish between fact and opinion, and the impossible from the fanciful. We need to acknowledge that the fears of both sides of the debate have merit: we are ALL responsible for the safety of our children and our neighborhoods.
Hopefully we’re all in agreement thus far.
The big disagreements seem to come from ideas on how to combat violent crime. Let’s go through some of those ideas and consider their efficacy…
Although there are some 20,000 different laws on the books regulating firearms, from manufacture right on through shipping, advertising, sale, use and storage, there seems to be an idea among some groups that our gun laws are “lax” or lacking in some regard. They call for more laws. Yet when asked, those they suggest are either already on the books in some form making them redundant, or they might be impractical or even illegal. Even if a great new law could be created, isn’t the definition of “criminal” that of someone who BREAKS the law? Do gangs or the mentally ill stop their behavior because of what the law might say?
Obviously they do not. Good laws do have their place, of course. They can give police and prosecutors the tools they need to catch, convict and jail violent offenders. Penalties for committing a shooting or other assault should be harsh enough to both give the rational person pause and the criminal a good, long and perhaps permanent stay behind bars. Still, we need to face the fact that laws have their limitations, one of them being that they cannot prevent a crime.
Another common idea is to “get rid of the guns.” After all, there can be no shootings if there are no guns, right? It seems simple! Yes; too simple to be true. The U.S. Census bureau reports that there are about 150 million cell phone subscribers (as of 2003). The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that as of 2005, there are 62 million registered vehicles on U.S. roads, along with another 6.4 million that aren’t registered, for a grand total of just over 68 million. In comparison, it is estimated that there are some 200 million guns in circulation in the United States, or nearly one for every other American household! Not only is it very hard for the average person to truly comprehend such a number, but also reveals the immensity of the undertaking. By sheer number alone, guns would be nearly impossible to totally cleanse ourselves of!