While broadening this blog beyond the topic of writing, I don’t want to get into politics. I’m of the opinion that there is too much bloviating on that topic and it doesn’t need whatever hot air I could add to it. However, the President’s recent speech on his plan to use Executive Orders to put some gun regulations in place is a topic that is too near and dear to my heart to avoid.
I grew up in a hunting culture in Western Pennsylvania. It wasn’t until I moved east that I realized that the Monday after Thanksgiving (The first day of buck season for rifles) wasn't a universal holiday, only a regional one. I learned to shoot a pistol as a kid. I know people who, to this day, rely on the legal hunting and fishing seasons to stretch their food budget. Deer hunting also has the added advantage of thinning the herd so deer aren’t left with the choice of widening their foraging areas (causing them to die crossing roads and highways) or starving to death. Some say that’s nature taking care of its own, and that’s a valid point. I just find hunting to be less cruel.
I also recall my brother-in-law, an avid hunter, pointedly telling me that no one needs an AK-47 to hunt deer because it destroys the meat. I always suspected that he also felt it wasn’t sporting, that it was disrespectful to the animal, the sport, and himself; what challenge is there in firing more bullets than an animal can outrun? At that point, hunters understand, a person is no longer hunting, just killing.
What’s all this got to do with President Obama’s address? He’s right about sensible gun regulations and the way the majority of Americans support those restrictions. So why can’t we get this done?
It must be the demonic NRA. But the President was right about them, too. Hunters used to make up the vast majority of the NRA’s membership, and they had no problems with sensible gun regulations. They functioned as a watchdog group, making sure government didn’t infringe on the lawful purchase and use of guns while also signing off on regulations that made guns and gun usage safer as well as keeping guns out of the hands of those most likely to use them on people. Where and when I grew up, the NRA sponsored gun safety courses that teens had to take before they could be issued hunting licenses.
Today, hunters still support the NRA, but another demographic began to fill its rolls, get vocal, and move into leadership positions. These are folks filled with fear: fear that someone is going to get them – criminals, the government, or the “other.” Fear that, since the Cold War ended, the U.S. government is actually the enemy, not Russia or China or Cuba, or even for that matter ISIS or Iran.
Also, we live in a world where social media enables us to only trade views with people who think like us. Even the mainstream media is polarized. We can watch MSNBC or FOX. Rare is the person who watches both, who weighs two sides to make a measured judgment of a position to hold. For many, President Obama is either a Black Muslim tyrannical socialist attempting to destroy all that is good or holy in America or the last line of defense against a right-wing, militantly Christian agenda that is as repressive and apocalyptic in its views as any other terrorist group.
Greed has a hand in all this, as well. There are people making a lot of money from the manufacturing and the sale of weapons and all the accoutrement that comes with them. Films and television shows that feature guns keep weapons at the front of our consciousness and perpetuate the notion that everyone owns guns and that's the only way to stay safe.
And so, we elect politicians who block sensible regulations. Thirty years ago, protecting children was so important that any politician opposing registering sex offenders or opposing Megan’s Law was jeopardizing his or her career. Today, after children get gunned down in elementary schools, theaters, or homes, politicians speaking out for gun control are jeopardizing their careers.
It’s time to stop this. The President said that last year 30,000 people died from gun violence. Since no statistical source is challenging that number, let’s say it’s correct. What the President didn’t mention was if 30,000 soldiers had died last year in Afghanistan or Iraq or any other place on the globe, there would be full-scale marches unseen in this country since Vietnam. As it is, the total number of dead soldiers over the 15-year-long conflict in Afghanistan is fewer than 7,000. On September 11, 2,996 Americans died, and that was enough to change the country so radically that you have to be over 30 to remember how different America was before that tragedy.
The President was also right when he said it’s going to take the rest of us. All of us. And we can.
Liberals speak out the most against gun violence, so it is time for them to bring the same passion to this social justice issue as they brought to the various civil rights movements from equality for African Americans to equality for the LGBTQ community. Right to Life groups can bring their passion for protecting the life of the unborn to protecting the life of the born. Hollywood is perhaps the most powerful lobbying group in the country so simply by shifting a focus away from guns will resonate with the national consciousness as it did with smoking and race.
To those of you who believe that as soon as any gun control regulations are put into place we lose the ability to defend ourselves against those who would take our freedoms, your fear, not the government, has already made you a prisoner. And the rest of of the country can't afford to let your fear keep killing us.
And to the rest of us who don’t belong to a powerful group but who want to see this end, it’s time we change our attitudes about those who don’t agree with us. It’s time to talk and listen. It’s time to find common ground and good will. If that sounds naïve, I only remind you that that was how Americans solved every crisis in the past – by coming together. It can be no different this time.