Arming for the Good

CkgWhiteBackPeopleThere were no guns in the home where I grew up. My mom was a widow and had never felt particularly comfortable around weapons of any kind and so I never really thought much about owning a pistol or a rifle. I did, however, have a number of relatives who were rather casual about having and using guns. A bachelor uncle who lived with my maternal grandmother kept a loaded pistol on his dresser that fascinated me and all of the cousins, but we had been schooled in respect for personal property and so we never thought to even run our fingers over the the object that was a fixture in our uncle’s room along with matchbooks, cigarettes and loose change. Several other uncles were hunters who braved cold damp weather each year and enjoyed telling stories of their rifles and their adventures. My cousins who were their children eventually learned how to use firearms safely and tended to take it for granted that everyone felt as comfortable around them as they did. I suspect that I was most amazed in knowing that my paternal grandmother often hunted in the hills behind her farm. We were often treated to wild animal delicacies that she had bagged and then turned into gourmet fare. While my brothers enjoyed the tastes of wild game I was unable to erase the images of the animals from my mind, and so I was never able to bring myself to even taste those dishes. When my brothers and I were grown only one among us became an avid hunter in the tradition of so many of our relatives. I never developed a comfort around guns, not even when I married and learned that my spouse was as relaxed with the idea of owning arms as most of my kin had been. He had grown up around men who regularly hunted, but he actually disliked that sport and only enjoyed testing his weaponry on paper targets rather than living creatures. We installed a safe to lock his armaments away and forged a separate peace in terms of having them inside our home.

What I know is that every single person in my family always handled their guns with respect for their power. They understood and followed the rules of safety so well that I never felt threatened by the fact that they were hidden somewhere in their houses. I never had any fear of them being used in an evil fashion. My uncles and grandmother and cousins and husband were responsible in the way in which they handled the ownership of weapons, and so I took it for granted that I would be safe not because they would protect me with their arms, but because they had been well trained in the proper use and storage of them.

A great debate is raging in our country over whether or not ordinary citizens should even own guns or if there should at the very least be restrictions on the numbers and types of firearms that should be available. It’s an emotional topic with good and bad arguments on both sides. It is true that millions of people own guns and never even have the thought of harming another human with their weaponry. They are good individuals who take their duties seriously and can’t understand why they should surrender their guns simply because now and again some murderous and evil scumbag wreaks havoc on society using firearms. Even with the alarming rate of gun violence they argue that it is still a minuscule portion of society that misuses weapons in such ways. They further contend that if someone is intent on harming others they will find a manner in which to do so whether the laws are in their way or not. I suspect that there is some merit in their contentions, but I’ve never quite been converted to felling absolutely comfortable about the laxity of our gun laws, and in many regards I am bothered by the sheer numbers of them and the fascination of them by so many whom I do not trust as much as my relations.

As I attempt to become thoroughly familiar with our nation’s gun laws I see problems that create the potential for grave abuses and I can’t help but wonder why responsible gun owners are so against at least closing the most glaring loopholes. In the most recent carnage caused by a killer almost sixty humans were mowed down in a nine minute time frame. The first thoughts were that the mass murderer had used an automatic weapon because the shots were obviously fired more quickly than possible with a semi-automatic weapon. It was confusing because automatic weapons have been illegal since 1986, but we soon learned that there are ways to get around that dictate, and it seems that the evil doer had taken advantage of them. It seems that mechanisms known as bump stocks are legal and often used with semi-automatic guns to simulate the same effects as an automatic gun. What I want to know is why in the name of logic would our lawmakers allow such an item to even exist when the intent of the 1986 legislation was to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of ordinary citizens? The shocking truth of this matter is absurd.

We also have other glaring omissions that pro gun supporters continue to endorse even though they make no sense whatsoever. Most gun show dealers are heavily regulated and require customers to register for permits, but if someone attends one of those events and walks into the parking lot where a private citizen is selling arms from the trunk of his car the reach of the law breaks down. We also have no idea whatsoever who owns what and how many. We take a numerical counting of how much money people make, how many people live inside homes, what cars they drive and so on, but we are completely lax when it comes to an accounting of firearms. Some of the same advocates of voter ID cards contend that owning firearms should be a private thing that is none of the government’s business, and so once a citizen has passed muster to purchase a gun the record is eventually destroyed.

The most popular guns in the country are semi-automatic firearms that were illegal until the legislation outlawing them lapsed. They may be fun to shoot, but they are hardly necessary in our society, especially in light of the most recent information about how easily they are adapted to be more like automatic weaponry. I frankly can’t understand why anyone would ever need such a thing.

The most frequently expressed fear of gun owners is that if we tighten the laws here and there it will be just a matter of time until the government decides to confiscate all firearms. They further contend that criminals will always find a way to find weapons and that anyone intent on evil will be successful regardless of any measures we may take. They may be right, but I see no harm in taking a few steps to clean up the wild west feel of our laxity when it comes to managing the reasonable ownership of guns in this country. I am quite frankly appalled by the spread of open carry laws that are slowly but surely bringing more and more firearms even onto places like college campuses. The idea that we should just throw up our hands and surrender because nothing will work anyway is an absurdity. We have speed limits even though some people ignore them. We are required to pass a test before driving a car even though some people skip that step and just jump behind the wheel. There are rules of all sorts that are broken but we don’t toss them out. We have ten commandments from God that people continually sin against, but we still value those basic laws. So why can’t we at least attempt to slow down the manufacture and purchase of implements that are so dangerous?

I think that we need to do something to send a message to our society that we value human life so much that we are all willing to work together for a compromise that cleans up the gooey mess that gun legislation or lack of it has created. We don’t have to take away arms from the ordinary guy who means no harm, nor should we neglect to tighten up our rules just because we don’t believe that they will make a difference. There is a middle pathway that will begin the process of healing. I hear so many advocating prayer and saying that we need to unify. Why not use this moment as the time in history when we chose to become brothers and sisters once again? This is an opportunity to arm ourselves with a spirit of brotherly love. U fail to see how that is bad.

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A Knock at the Door

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It was nine thirty on a Saturday night. We were watching a Poirot mystery on television when there was a loud knock at our door. By the time I walked down the hallway to peek outside whoever had been there was gone. I had just settled back into my chair when there was another banging noise. This time I dashed to the entryway more quickly and turned on the porch light. I saw two young boys who appeared to be around fourteen or fifteen years old. One of them sprinted away quickly and the other stood like a deer in the headlights exclaiming his sorrow for bothering us and adding that he was just trying to sell Girl Scout cookies. Of course I understood immediately that we had been pranked. I sensed that the boy who didn’t manage to get away was someone I had seen in the neighborhood. He seemed very familiar and the more I thought about it, the more certain I was that he often plays basketball just down the street with a number of his friends.

There was a time when teenage mischief was almost a right of passage. My own girls wrapped houses with toilet paper and celebrated when our home was decorated with long strands of tissue as well. I did a bit of knocking on doors and making silly phone calls in my time. Such tricks are generally done with no ill intentions and I suspect that the young boys who visited our home were just continuing the tradition of being silly on a Saturday night. Nonetheless I found myself quite troubled after our surprise visitors had left, not so much because they had bothered me, but because I worried about what might happen to them if they continue their nighttime visits to other homes.

The world is not the same as it once was. When I was young we rarely locked the doors to our home until just before going to bed. Even then we slept with our bedroom windows wide open because our home was not air conditioned. The only thing between us and a home invader was a screen which might have easily been removed. In those days it never even occurred to us to worry that someone might attempt to do us harm while we were dreaming. Our world seemed so innocent and safe.

Now we live in times of uncertainty. We hear of criminals breaking into houses on a regular basis. There is fear in people’s minds. Many of them install cameras and alarms to warn them of danger. Others add an arsenal of guns and ammunition to their security program in case they need to defend themselves. Doors are now routinely locked all day long. In some ways we act as though our castles are under siege, and I suppose that it is rather prudent to be safe rather than sorry. The problem is that in such an environment individuals may act before they have all of the facts. Those same outrageous boys who came to my door might find themselves on the wrong side of a gun if they hit a home with a very nervous and excitable person inside. They might literally be injured or even killed all because they thought it was funny to scare people.

Years ago two of my daughter’s friends decided to pull a prank on her. They dressed in dark ninja style clothing and crept up to our back window and peered inside while we were watching a movie. Since I recognized them immediately their joke backfired. I was livid, not because I did not have a sense of humor, but because I knew for a fact that many of my neighbors were armed and would not have hesitated to shoot at strangers wearing dark masks while creeping through the dark of night. I scolded the boys for their stupidity while my heart raced at the thought of what might have happened to them had they been seen by someone who did not realize who they were. I was upset that they had been so unthinking.

I feel the same way about the two boys who were out having fun when they targeted our home. I know from an online neighborhood chat room that there have been several incidents of strangers knocking at night to determine if anyone is at home. So far nobody has been robbed or hurt but the comments that people make regarding what their response will be if anyone threatens their personal space make me realize that those boys are at great risk. Many of my neighbors insist that they will call the police. Others assert that they will shoot first and ask questions later. Such is the reality of today’s world, and such is the danger that the boys might encounter.

On that chat line I asked parents of teenagers to have a talk with their children emphasizing that they should not engage in reckless behaviors. I would be gravely upset if I learned that the young people were hurt or killed, but I would also understand why someone might overreact when they feel threatened. It’s up to teachers and parents to instruct the young on the folly of pranks that involve frightening people. What may have once seemed to be innocent fun is likely to be interpreted as a reason for defense in today’s environment.

Teenagers’ brains are still developing. They often do things that are more risky than they ought to be. I was the quintessential good girl and yet I also engaged in adventures that in retrospect might have resulted in great harm to me and my friends. I once crawled under the fence of a property where trucks were stored near my grandmother’s house. An armed guard roamed the area. I had no business in there but I thought it was exciting to be able to come and go without being caught. My antics were silly but they gave me a rush, made me laugh and felt liberating. It never once occurred to me that I might have been in danger.

It is imperative that we speak frankly to our kids before we let them lose on the world at large. Sometimes we shelter them because we do not want them to be fearful when we might be wiser to discuss the realities of various situations in which they may find themselves. We need to be frank with them about peer pressure and how to extricate themselves from situations that feel uncomfortable or wrong. We should discuss how to behave if they are stopped by the police. Just as most parents practice fire drills and show their kids where to go if a tornado hits, so too must we review the skills they will need when they are not with us.

Time and again experiments show that our children just don’t think when danger is lurking. They go with strangers to look for a lost dog. They follow other kids into strange places. They simply have not internalized the necessary skills for keeping themselves safe because we haven’t instructed them as well as we should.

We certainly don’t want to make our teenagers paranoid. Most of the time they will be just fine. What we must do is provide them with the survival tools they will need in those rare cases when things just don’t seem right to them. If we have practiced such things and given them the reasons why they should be vigilant and resourceful they should be okay.

I can’t help thinking about the two visitors to my home and wondering if they are still engaged in an activity that may one day end in tragedy. I hope that perhaps their parents will be informed by someone who knows them and that they will put a stop to their dangerous behavior. It’s sad that we have reached this point, but it is the new normal. It’s up to us to instruct our youth and then hope that they remember what we have taught them.