On Newtown. On Guns.
On Friday, a dad received news that a lone gunman walked into an elementary school and murdered twenty first grade children and six adults. His heart fell to the ground. Tears welled in his eyes and he asked himself, “How can someone be so evil? How does a man look at these beautiful children and want anything but the best for them, let alone want to kill them?” He walked through his home and found his own children, two beautiful daughters, and squeezed them as hard as he ever had before, reveling in the fact that they were safe. He vowed nothing would ever happen to them if there was anything he could do about it.
I hugged my children for ages. I gritted my teeth. I wished I had been there to stop it. I wished evil did not exist, even though I know better. I wish I could give those parents back their children. I know many of you did as well. And then I asked myself, “What could we have done?”
I’m writing this because the debate around this topic is about to get stupid. One contingent is about to ignore history and claim that guns are the problem and we should ban firearms and the other contingent is going to put their head in the sand and claim there is no problem. My intent here is simply this: to do what I think is right and try to get people to understand where the other side is coming from so we can have the right debate.
Our country is at a precipice right now, and I believe in order to successfully navigate it, we need to be realistic, shed partisan ideas, and have a serious discussion about weapons and such incidents, and then take appropriate, reasoned action.
First, a caveat: I like guns. I am a lifetime member of the NRA. Moreover, I believe the 2nd Amendment is likely the most important element of the Constitution as it is, in the words of George Washington, our nation’s “Liberty Teeth”. I realize many who will read this article do not like weapons, think the NRA is made up of a bunch of rednecks, and think that the 2nd Amendment was written with muskets in mind, and not “assault weapons”. For you, I want to explain why I think weapons are so important.
Personal safety. Firearms are the great equalizer. I am a 205 pound, former infantryman that has spent his whole life in combat sports. Unless you are a professional fighter, a collegiate wrestler, a BJJ Ninja, or a defensive end in the SEC there’s a good chance that if I decided to assault you, rape you, or hurt you or your family in any way, there isn’t anything you could do about it. You’d be left with really only one option: hoping that I would have mercy.
Does that make you comfortable? It doesn’t make me comfortable. Conversely, you could be a 95 pound, seventy-five year old female with a handgun and training, and suddenly my 205 pounds is meaningless. That bullet will work just fine on me as it would on any other assailant.
But do we really need guns in this day and age of civilized society? There’s a belief out there that there is no need for weapons; that these assaults are mere fabrications. FBI statistics, however, show that 42% of Americans are the victims of a violent crime in their lives (assault, robbery, rape). To add to that statistic, an FBI poll of incarcerated criminals shows that in nearly one third of all robberies the perpetrator was armed with firearm. In this instance, if I was the victim, and someone broke into my home and they were armed and I was not, they could be the scrawniest, weakest person in the world, but my 205 pound frame isn’t going to do anything against 9mm hollow point. My family and I would be at the mercy of criminals, a mercy that in many cases is not forthcoming.
Benefit to Society. An armed society is a polite society. When people know there is an imminent threat to their lives if they attack person or property, they tend to do it less. In almost every situation where guns are banned, the crime rate spikes, and in particular the homicide rate by firearms grows. It is true in Chicago. It’s true in Washington, DC. It’s true in Michigan. It’s true in England. It’s true in Australia. You’ve heard it so much that it sounds cliché now, but the reality is that two-thirds of all the firearms that have ever been made reside in the United States. If you outlawed all weapons tomorrow, two-thirds of all firearms ever made would still reside here. The only difference would be that law-abiding citizens would no longer own them and criminals would have free reign. A poignant example is that of Florida. Despite the bluster of the Martin Case, since Florida became a “right to carry” state in 1986, the homicide rate has drastically and steadily declined. Florida’s homicide rate has averaged 36% lower since 1986, while the country at large has averaged 15% lower, a massive differential that should not be ignored.
But what about all these fatal accidents? I’ll admit that it really bothers me viscerally when I hear about a kid getting killed at home because his dad left his weapon out, or hear about teenagers playing with unsecured weapons and one of them, thinking the weapon is not loaded, kills his friend. Each one of these incidents was avoidable with a gun safe and some basic firearms safety. Nevertheless, context is important. We have about 125,000 accidental deaths a year in the United States. 0.5% of them come from guns. You are 30% more likely to die by getting caught in heavy machinery than by an accidental discharge. You are three times as likely to get hit by a car while walking. You are seven times as likely to burn to death. You are ten times as likely to drown. You are thirty-five times as likely to die from falling down. You are sixty times as likely to die from poisoning. You are seventy times as likely to die in a car wreck. The fact of the matter is that firearm deaths simply aren’t very common and are all avoidable with proper gun ownership.
But Why Assault Weapons and Not Just Home Protection Our Constitution differs from every other writ of law because it does not give the government power, but rather limit government power. Its intention was to allow man to live in the freest condition possible within the confines of a nation. The government serves us. We do not serve the government. In order for that to be the case, we must have the means to defend ourselves against the government should it attempt to take power that is not given to it by the body public.
Now, let me be clear. I do not hoard food or ammo. I do not think a government collapse is likely or imminent. I do not think that President Obama or any President on the horizon is going to attempt to overthrow the rule of law and create a modern day military state, but I don’t think we should be forced to hope for the best either. Historically, whether we’re talking about Armenia, Cambodia, Germany, Russia or any number of other places, disarmament is followed by genocide. Policy detractors are ostracized, separated, imprisoned and ultimately killed. The interesting thing is that these things tend not to happen all at once. The governments continue to infringe on rights, assuming they are no longer necessary because they, the politicians, know best and are doing what’s right for the people, even if the people don’t agree. Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, U.S. Citizens are under observation without warrants. Citizens can be imprisoned without a trial if they are deemed a terrorist threat. Do I think that President Obama is abusing this power? I absolutely do not. Do I think future Presidents might? I absolutely do.
I honestly believe that we live in the best country in the world, that all of our problems are surmountable, and that an armed large-scale encounter with the government will never occur. That being said, I am not willing to abdicate my freedom in that regard. A great many Americans have died for our inalienable rights. Our framers had great foresight in drafting the 2nd Amendment and they were clearly not talking about home defense. You need look no further than their letters to each other in these matters and you can see that they plainly meant that man must protect himself from those who would be his keeper – a corrupt government.
But that isn’t the only the reason for Assault Weapons
During Hurricane Katrina things went insane. Power was lost. Police could not control the citizenry. Anarchy ruled. People were beaten, raped and murdered. Homes were looted. And it could have been much worse.
What happens if we get hit with an EMP and lose power on the East Coast for months? Or an even larger natural disaster occurs resulting in the same? What happens if we can’t readily get a steady food or water supply? Civilization devolves quickly when our supply chain and way of life is thrown aside. In that moment, when the wolf is at the door, do you want to stand there with a bolt action hunting rifle or an M-4?
Is this a likely reality? Perhaps not, but it is definitely possible. I fail to see what is wrong with a trained law-abiding citizen transporting an AR-15 from his or her gun safe to the range and back. With 99.999% probability, there will never be a need to use this weapon for any other means. But again, why should we have to give up our inalienable rights that our military has bled for over two and a half centuries just because the possibility of either a dictatorial government or a criminal looting public is a low probability scenario?
So gun rights win and we should do nothing right?
This is where I think we need to honestly evaluate our practices and elevate our discussions. I grew up in Massachusetts where guns were not popular and most people, including me in my youth, did not understand why a person would even want to own one. I can tell you, as a guy who never fired a weapon until Basic Training, that guns are very scary things to the uninitiated. Many people are calling for arming our teachers. They cite Israel as an example. Bad example.
First, most Israeli teachers are not armed. Second, Israel has compulsory service and therefore have trained with firearms. Every man and woman can fight. They are hard people that are always on the brink of war. Muslims on all sides literally want to eradicate them from the face of the Earth. That is not us. So what can we do that makes sense and gets the desired result?
School Security. If you wanted me to stand in a school armed and protect our kids, I’d feel good about my chances. I’d feel better if you had a bunch of Tim Kennedy doppelgangers a la Jenga Fett. I’d feel comfortable because I know I am going to react quickly, hit what I shoot, clear the area behind my shot before pulling the trigger, and not spazz and accidentally shoot someone else. I do not feel remotely like that about the average Kindergarten teacher. Random teachers without training in a MOUT environment with thin walls and kids everywhere is not my idea of setting anyone up for success.
I do, however, love the idea of having a few ARMED sheepdog police officers on each campus. The schools in my community do this, as they do in many communities. Our police officers are trained for these situations and it is their job to stay vigilant. Furthermore, having even one police officer in the building brings the chances of a successful armed assault to almost zero. Having two essentially makes it impossible.
I’d also be very comfortable with select teachers or administrators who VOLUNTEERED for such roles and passed intensive combatives courses to be armed on school property as well. It’s important to note that some schools do this now, and there are documented cases where an armed principal has prevented similar violence as occurred in Newtown.
Mental Health. You can look back twenty years and assess every shooting of this sort and the one thing that each scenario shares is that in almost every case the patient was on some form of anti-depressants to combat a mental disorder. Furthermore, parents, friends, and neighbors always highlight years of aggressive behavior of the assailants after these events occur. There is clearly a common thread, and yet currently, mental health is not considered as a gate that must be passed through to obtain a weapon. While I am not an expert in this regard and more investigation and analysis is certainly needed before making rash blanket policies, there is certainly a way to identify those that should not have access to weapons. I’d rather err on the side of making a handful of people jump through a few more hoops to obtain a weapon than hand the Adam Lanzas of this world weapons of any kind.
Better trained people. Universal conceal and carry.
I recently took my eight-year old stepson to his first paintball event. I’m not a “paint baller” but he really wanted to do it, so I dadded up and we went. We spoke at length the night before about gun safety. I had him practice not putting his finger in the trigger assembly unless he was going to shoot with one of his nerf guns. When we got there, I had him practice target shooting for a while. When we finally got on the course and the other team started shooting at us, the first thing he did was forget everything I told him and accidentally shoot me at point blank range in the back of the head.
I am a graduate of the gun safety course North Carolina requires for a Conceal and Carry license. It was painfully easy course that required one to shoot a stationary target at 7 meters with something like forty rounds. You were allowed to miss four times. I was the best shot that day and I am a competent, not talented pistol shot. Some people missed several shots…at seven meters. I literally could throw rocks and hit a man sized target at that range 40 times. Missing with a pistol is inexcusable, and yet these people can walk among us in public places with a loaded weapon.
Don’t misunderstand me. I believe in conceal and carry. I believe we should have Federal Universal Conceal and Carry Laws and I do not believe we should allow “Gun Free Zones” for these individuals. I do, however believe that an intensive combatives style course is necessary for these individuals. Stress inoculation is essential if you expect people to either make good decisions or hit their targets in a real environment. I don’t want someone who can’t easily hit a stationary target drawing down on an attacker in a crowded place. Why? Because I don’t want to get shot in the back of the head, while I’m trying to get the bastard.
So that will solve the problem?
Unfortunately , no. The problem will never be completely solved. Some people are born wanting to see the world burn. In the case of Newtown, the killer had a genius level IQ, murdered his mother in order to get legally owned weapons when he was denied the ability to get them on his own, broke a window and snuck into the school and murdered defenseless children before taking his own life. If we had police in the building, with near certainty fewer would have died. If his mother had locked up her weapons, maybe his insane fancy would have subsided, but most likely, no matter what, whether through legal or illegal means, the killer would have obtained a weapon and hurt at least some of those kids. And if not him, someone else, somewhere else. We don’t like to admit that because it is uncomfortable. It takes the control away from us and it is easier to try to legislate the problem away or yell at each other than it is to admit that evil exists and prepare for it.
The worst thing we can do is pretend the world isn’t a dangerous place. The best thing we can do is be trained, prepared, and vigilant for those that would do us and ours harm.
Please consider a world where there are no “assault weapons” or even any firearms at all. Imagine the killer is built much like I am. He breaks into the school with a machete, which is currently the weapon of choice on the African continent. The primarily female elementary teachers try to stop him. What do you think would happen? There is no doubt in mind the results would be the same until the police arrived to kill him. The school was unprepared for the wolf, to borrow from LTC Grossman’s famous essay, and our children paid the price.
My inspiration to write this article was a conversation I had with a friend from California on Facebook. During our discussion, her friend chimed in with an ALL CAPS MESSAGE shouting that I should be ashamed of myself and that I was an enabler of a gun culture. I instantly grew aggravated and told her to grow up, and discontinued the discussion. I fully admit it was childish on my part, but that discourse is the type we have today on many issues. We tell similarly minded people things we know they will agree with us about and feel good when they agree with us, all while demonizing those with opposing thoughts. It gets us nowhere.
I began this article with a story about a dad. That man was our President, Barack Obama. He is moved by what has happened, as we all have been. He is duty bound to solve this problem of violence. He is trying to do what he feels is right.
Let’s help him get it right. Consider what you really believe about the issue and write your Senators and Representatives and for that matter, the President. My viewpoint may not be the right answer, and I’m sure many of you have serious issues with many things I’ve said, but I believe it is closer to the right answer than just yelling “You’re an idiot” at those who disagree with us. Let’s protect our children as best we can while simultaneously protecting our Constitutional Freedoms. It isn’t only the right thing to do. It is now absolutely essential.
If we leave this to our politicians, without promoting a guiding voice, the debate will be about weapons and magazines and nonsense. Either the pro-gun crowd will “win” and nothing will change or the anti-gun crowd will “win” and criminals will once again be the most armed citizens. Neither option does anything for the nation or our children. Let’s do something meaningful for a change.
Thank you for listening.