Trying to see both sides of the debate is necessary for our country to move forward.
Idaho is an interesting state. I live in its capital, Boise. It’s an urban center surrounded by foothills and mountains to the North, high desert plains to the East and South, and sprawling farmland to the West. Most of Idaho’s population lives in small- to mid-sized towns nestled throughout the countryside, but Boise is one of the few liberal oases in a largely conservative state. We have a couple of gay bars here, multiple centers representing a myriad of religions around the world, a pretty large refugee population, and native inhabitants that sport more than just denim, camo, and plaid. I’m more representative and reflective of this open, diverse culture–but I’ve always held a conservative stance on gun ownership, something that my liberal contemporaries, especially in other urban centers around the world, just can’t seem to comprehend.
You have to understand, some of my fondest memories consist of going out into the foothills with my step dad, taking a couple boxes of clay pigeons and shotgun shells, and spending all afternoon obliterating them. I played a lot of popular first-person shooter video games when I was a kid, so I felt like a natural when I first started shooting real guns. I already knew intuitively to lead the target so that I wouldn’t shoot behind it, and I knew to follow through with the swing of my shotgun for the same reason. I ended up getting pretty decent at shooting moving targets, and I eventually took hunter’s safety courses and went upland bird hunting a couple of times. I was 16 then and haven’t gone hunting since.
I’m 25 now. I still go out target shooting with my pals. I own two pistols myself expressly for that purpose, and some people might think that’s somewhat out of the ordinary–but here in Idaho it’s not. I was raised with firearms, taught to always treat a firearm like it’s loaded, and never to point it at anything unless I intend to kill or destroy that thing. I definitely enjoy discharging firearms, under the right conditions. Plenty of my friends share similar experiences and sentiments toward guns, views shaped by the red state that raised us on one side, and the national culture of violence the U.S. has become so famous for on the other.
Unfortunately, it’s this culture of violence and our country’s mortal obsession with firearms that has me questioning gun control and what-is-right vs. what-I-want. When you look at the death of Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed because he possessed a toy air pistol that appeared real, or the shootings in Aurora or Newtown, you have to wonder if it’s the culture we’ve created that has caused these events. We’ve had 165 school shootings in the U.S. since 2013. In the first two months of 2016, about 1500 people have died due to gun violence, and twice that many people have been injured. About 400 of those victims have been children under 18. At least 600 incidents involved police officers. All told, the U.S. is a world leader in gun deaths, and I personally feel like I can’t be pro-gun and ignore that fact.
So let’s look at the arguments here. Opponents to gun control will debate a range of different topics. They’ll mention that a criminal will commit crime with or without a gun, or that a determined cavalier can and will obtain contraband anyway (look to drugs for a real-world example), while your average Joe will be left essentially de-clawed and unable to protect their homes and families. Plenty will bring up that gun violence is an urban issue, and that rural culture teaches country dwellers to accept and handle guns differently than your average “city folk”. Others will mention the 2nd Amendment, and a citizen’s need to be able to defend him or herself from tyranny in all its forms.
I pretty much agree with all of those things, but also recognize the inherent flaws in them. I do believe that having a gun in my house for my protection is my right, even though I never want to and doubt I will ever have to use that gun. I believe that the most determined of criminals will still obtain firearms, whether they’re legal to obtain or not, but that tighter regulations would still be a benefit to society. I believe that most people that live in urban centers have different, usually more devastating experiences with guns and violence, and plenty of legislation is fueled by those experiences, much more so than in rural areas. Finally, I trust big, faceless governments about as far as I can throw them and think that the protections laid out in the 2nd Amendment, specifically those regarding a well-regulated militia, are good ideas–with an emphasis put on “well-regulated”.
Here’s the thing though: there’s a middle ground that nobody seems to want to see. While I think that home security is extremely important, I see no reason for people (even here in Idaho) to be carrying around loaded weapons within city limits, as concealed carriers don’t actually deter crime. We live in an open-carry state in Idaho, and out in the country I don’t mind seeing a gun on somebody’s hip at all. While I’m at Best Buy, on the other hand, I don’t need or want to be distracted by a man with a big revolver hanging out of a shoulder holster he’s wearing like an overcoat–and I have been before; it’s weird. I don’t want to feel like my safety is at stake just so that somebody else is able to feel like theirs isn’t. Guns should stay at home or be transported in gun cases in vehicles, unloaded.
For some reason or another, nobody can seem to respect that both sides of the gun control debate have good points, and that there’s going to have to be some give and take on either side. I don’t think anybody needs an assault rifle, just like nobody needs a Lamborghini. Nevertheless, I don’t have any problem with people owning and registering either one of them legally. Yet, when Lamborghini owners are asked to register their cars (just like everybody else does) and to pay higher premiums on their insurance for owning a sports car instead of a sedan, nobody gets up in arms over it. You’ll see the opposite effect in the face of assault rifle registration–people literally do get up in arms over that.
To continue with the car metaphor, you have to properly study and pass exams to get a license. It’s important to recognize that, yes, accidents do still happen, even with the proper training and precautions. However, I was taught at a very young age that guns, like cars, are not toys. It didn’t matter if it was a toy gun with an orange plastic tip or a real firearm itself, it was drilled into my head, you do not ever point guns at people. These instruments can be enjoyed, but they deserve your respect because they do not suffer mistakes. That alone has stuck with me since, and it’s my firm belief that educational requirements should be levied on those that want to handle firearms. Knowledge is a life saver.
There’s a new issue for us in Idaho, as our state just passed a law that allows anybody to carry a concealed weapon regardless of whether they have a permit for that weapon. I can’t say that I agree with this law. I expect people around here generally know when, how, and why to use guns–but I’m not the type to leave that up to chance, and don’t want to feel like I have to carry a concealed weapon to feel safe
Another thing that worries me, honestly, is the recent string of deaths caused by police officers nationally, regardless of race and gender. How will the men and women in Blue react knowing now that any Average Joe, whether they’ve received proper training or not, might be packing heat? Will I end up shot over some misunderstanding, begging for my life like Daniel Shaver?
The reason I bring this up is because the driving force behind the polarity of the gun control debate is fear and emotion. People in favor of gun control are just as much afraid of the James Holmeses and Adam Lanzas of this world as they are afraid of the rogue police officers that irresponsibly kills civilization, as they are of the Cliven Bundys and the exhibitionist open-carry-crusaders that walk around with their American flags and assault rifles. Many have lost loved ones to gun violence, and these brazen open-carry displays by mainly white, middle-aged men show no finesse in the face of tragedies. These sidewalk parades aren’t helping the pro-gun cause.
On the flipside of that coin, 2nd Amendment advocates fear Big Government, but many truly simply fear losing their traditions and values they grew up with. Not all of them are crazy. I’m not. But I do have a sentimental attachment to the firearms of my past, and I’ll admit that. I was raised around them, taught to respect them and to take the utmost care when using one, and I wouldn’t trade that past for the world. I’ve never had an accident with one, and I honestly don’t go out shooting all that often anymore–but I don’t want anybody to take away my ability to go out and do so in the future. The reality is that the world around me is changing, and I might have to make some changes to fit that world.
For anybody to get anywhere with this gun debate, we have to stop looking solely at what we want as individuals, but also at what other people want and what they need. People in rural areas like to imagine that big city problems are simply big city problems, but in the connected world we live in, big city problems are everybody’s problems now. Conversely, urbanites need to realize that not everybody against gun control is a gun-nut–but some of us have had legitimately positive experiences with guns our whole lives. I’m not sure if gun control really would ensure health safety of the masses, but I’m willing to entertain the idea and give compromise a legitimate chance.
I don’t have the answers, but I like to think that rational Americans would be okay with the idea of making gun usage safer, especially in urban environments. What I do know is this: as time goes on, eventually we’re all going to have to give up a little bit in the face of the firearm debate–but if it saves lives, won’t that little bit be worth giving up?