It’s Surely Not Easy – But It Actually Is Uncomplicated – and Doable
America and Guns
It has been my great privilege of living all over this country, have travelled through almost all of it, and have lived and traveled around the world. As will surprise no one, I can say definitively, there is no other country, certainly no other advanced country, with so demented a relationship with guns as the good old US of A.
I have spent time in other countries in which guns have a long history intermixed with society – France and Switzerland come to mind foremost. But none seem to have the fixation that has taken hold of some of our citizens and (thanks to money and power) even more of our legislators at state and national levels.
The reality is that the vast majority of Americans, including most gun owners, want logical and common sense laws and procedures in place. What is needed is not hard to define. But more than a few seem unable to envision anything but an all or nothing position. We have about 100 million more guns than we do people, and sales are still brisk.
This is bad enough in and of itself but coming on the heels of the conspiracy tales of Trump, QAnon, et al, it raises the risk of lethal violence even further. We already “lead” the world by orders of magnitude in both murders and suicides. The only factor that logically explains this is that we are awash in weapons, and it is far too easy to legally obtain them.
We are Stuck in a Loop
That a young man turned 18 and that week bought two semi-automatic weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition legally should strike anyone as odd, to say the least, even in Texas.
But it happens here in America, over and over. This year alone, in the first five months, 27 schools have had shootings. Since Columbine, over 311,000 students have been subjected to gun violence. Anyone who tells you the answer is more guns and fortifying our schools and public places is a menace to society themselves.
And so, it seems this is hopeless. So long after Sandy Hook, we are no better off than we were then. We may even be worse off than we were, given recent legislation in places like Texas. You can still go to a gun show, walk out to the parking lot, and buy a weapon – any weapon – from the trunk of a guy’s car. No questions, no paperwork, no record. How does that make sense to anyone?
There are Three Parallels with Lessons For Us
At first, the three social issues I am about to note seem very different from each other, and from gun violence. But bear with me – the connection is coming.
The first of these is drunk driving. We killed thousands of each other every year, decade after decade. The problem still is certainly with us, but at much lower levels. Laws are now in place that bring down the hammer for such choices as driving drunk. Still, lots of exceptions and lax enforcement of laws, but orders of magnitude better than years ago.
The second of these is smoking in public. I was raised in a tobacco state, by a three pack a day smoker. I was stunned how fast, once a head of steam was built up on the effort, we turned the corner on this one. Two keys to this success are relevant to the gun problem. More on that shortly.
The third issue was (and still is, I know) the matter of LGBTQ rights. Ugly voices are making noises again about trying to retrench in this area, but most Americans now get it. How that happened is another important lesson.
How Did We Conquer These Other Three?
One, largely through grass roots efforts (thank you, MADD and others) we made drunk driving socially irresponsible. Remember the comedian Foster Brooks? His whole career was playing a drunk guy. When MADD brought us to our senses (dare I say they made us woke?), no one laughed at drunk behavior anymore.
And even a hint of deciding to drive drunk got the treatment it deserved. Designated Drivers became heroes. In short, we as a society and as individuals called out irresponsible conduct at every level. Over time, the change took hold – because people spoke out and called it out.
Two, we used good science that most everyone could understand. Once the truth got out about cancer and smoking, and what the tobacco companies knew all along, society began to change. As we spread the word and the clear data on secondary smoke, the transition was complete. Public smoking has almost disappeared in the US now.
Anyone who wishes to smoke in public is promptly called out and shunned. Any calls for individual rights are quickly drowned out with pointing out this is not about individual rights but individual and societal responsibility. The idea of wide scale public smoking is gone for good – because the social standard took hold.
Third, gay rights turned the corner when gay people began self-identifying in large numbers. The stories became personal, about people we knew or were related to, often closely. Putting names, faces, and voices out front changed our society (well, most of it) faster than I ever thought possible.
Would This Work on Guns? Yes, But One More Element is Essential
Yes, all three of these elements would work if really used all the time, at all levels. Clearly showing our murder and suicide rates compared to EVERYWHERE ELSE will eventually sink in, if we say it loud enough, clearly enough, often enough. Having pictures of the children murdered in public places -especially around legislatures – will have an effect.
Calling people out for selfish addiction to obscene weapons and ammunition over every other priority will take effect if enough people do it in enough places. Watching Senator Cruz and Governor Abbott squirm when confronted this past week shows the way. Ensuring those who have suffered through this are seen and heard often, everywhere, telling their story, will wear down the resistance eventually. Where are our “Children over Guns” lapel pins we should all be wearing?
But for this one, we need one more step – breaking the money chain from the NRA and its cohorts to politicians. Only two things will do that. One, alternative money for politicians who do the right thing. Two, one issue voting – going forward, if you take any money from the NRA, I vote against you – nothing else matters until we isolate the gun nuts and their lobby.
Sending out holiday cards with your family armed to the teeth? Not getting my vote. Supporting fund raisers that auction guns? We are done. Telling people we need more guns and to fortify our public spaces? You are a shameful person who deserves obscurity.
Will We Get There?
I have every reason to think not. If we have not moved yet, what could possibly get us to do the right thing.
But we might. I thought the same about the other three issues discussed in this blog today. It seemed we would never get it right. But we did. At some point enough people said No More and began to act on that righteous anger.
As I said at the outset, this really is not complicated. We know the truth; we know how to break the chain. It just takes more of us willing to help pull the wagon. I wonder if we will. It is doable, if we so choose.
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