Debating guns

There are guns in my house. My father was a hunter and liked to trap shoot. My husband has gone hunting. My mother claimed to be quite a deadeye. I have many family members and friends who own guns, hunt and target shoot. None of them use their guns for illegal purposes. They are good sportsmen and women. None of them fit the picture of gun owners painted by the side of the gun control argument who advocate the complete abolishment of gun ownership.

I have only fired a gun once. I was home alone and found a ewe that had been attacked by a coyote and was mortally injured. She was in extreme pain and moving her to the veterinarian’s clinic 70 miles away would have been cruel. In the past, I had asked my husband to show me how to load the rifle, but had never done any practice shooting. Since the sheep was not moving, I was able to euthanize her humanely. I didn’t see the coyote. It wouldn’t have made any difference if I had. The coyote was safe from me.

Generally, I am uncomfortable with guns because I do not know how to handle them. I understand the potential harm they can cause if misused or mishandled. I do not, in spite of my personal discomfort with guns, agree with those who would ban all gun ownership.

I am disturbed by the emotion evoked by the current debate about guns following the most recent tragic killings by a mass murderer. Extremists use the horror of the shooting and say, “Take all guns away and this kind of thing won’t happen.”  The far opposite position feeds on different fears and says, “Be afraid of everyone else and especially your own government. This is the slippery slope to losing all our democratic rights. The only solution is more guns.”

I don’t know if arming teachers would prevent such horrendous killings. I don’t know if banning the ownership of semiautomatic weapons would cut down the chances of this kind of random act of violence. Psychologists don’t seem to know if they can predict and prevent these kinds of attacks. Will increasing the availability of mental health care deter the sick plans of deranged killers? Will changing the requirement for background checks, licensing, and restrictions on the kinds of weapons that can be sold change the number of violent deaths in our country? Will restricting violent video games and movies have an impact?

What would we think if our child was one of the little ones who died in a killing spree that lasted less than ten minutes? How would the attitude of a parent whose child was accidently killed by a gun be different? What would our position be if someone we loved had been killed in a drive-by shooting? Would our attitude be different if our spouse was shot in a liquor store robbery? Has anyone asked first grade teachers if they want to carry guns on their hips every day? Do they think their students would be safer? Are there reasonable rules of gun ownership that might make access to some kinds of weapons more difficult? Is it our constitutional right to own a gun that can fire hundreds of bullets a minute?  Some argue that criminals will always have guns and the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. That sounds simple enough, but is it true? Do the bad guys still wear black hats? Should we all wear a holster like the characters in a 1950s Western movie? Is it valid to argue that because no solution is perfect that we should not try to change anything?

If we are honest with ourselves, I don’t believe anyone really knows the answers to these questions. Most of the arguments on both sides are based on emotions, not facts.

What I do know is that every option must be considered. No option should be considered off limits until it has been examined. Both sides must dare to question their beliefs. We have to be open to the possibility that what we believe might be wrong. This is not a game in which one side wins and the other side loses, nor is it about compromising and coming to a middle ground.

This debate must be about seeking to find a solution that works, not proving who is right.

Copyright © 2013 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains