mossbetweentoes – adventures in homesteading, with brief forays into politics, geekery, parenting, crafting, and design
22Dec/123

Difficult Questions, with No Answers

As I write this entry, I realize I am but one small voice in a sea of bloggers who have felt compelled to author a post about the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting over the past week. Like parents everywhere, I have been brought to tears many times, especially when dropping my four-year old off at pre-school, or when tucking him into bed at night, kissing that warm forehead… thinking it could have happened here, it could have been his school, I could have LOST HIM. And then, thinking of how those 20 children were probably just like my child—so innocent, so full of joy, so naïve to the incomprehensible violence in this world.

But in addition to the paralyzing sadness, I have also felt exasperation, frustration, and anger with the rhetoric I’m seeing all over Facebook and the media. I am lucky enough to count friends who span the gamut of the political spectrum, and to live in a “red” town within the “blue” state of Massachusetts. This affords me a unique perspective as I watch my neighbors and friends react to the Newtown tragedy in a myriad of ways. However, so much of what people are saying, specifically about guns, is so polarizing, so black and white.

Growing up, no one in my immediate family had a firearm. I wasn’t exposed to hunting, or to enlisted servicemen (or women.) In fact, we were often scolded for playing with water guns or for pointing a “finger gun” at someone. As a teenager, I would have identified as “anti-gun” for sure. If I was at L.L. Bean I would have steered clear of the shotguns and averted my eyes as if they were Playboys or men’s underwear.

Now I am in my thirties and I have changed. As we try to live a more sustainable life (and our property seems to be teeming with deer intent on eating my shrubs and fruit trees) I have taken an interest in hunting. For the first time in my life, I am having to think about gun ownership in a nuanced way, without preconceived notions and knee-jerk reactions. I know people who own guns. Heck, I might own one myself someday. I will go so far as to say that I agree with the second amendment, and the thought of a country without armed citizens is a little scary to me. Not because I envision a future where we need to form militias to overthrow our government, but because an unarmed populace completely dependent on the State for self-defense is a little too passive for my taste. That being said, I don’t think “a chicken in every pot” mentality can be applied to guns. Certainly there are plenty of people who should NOT have access to firearms. And responding to the Sandy Hook tragedy by arming each teacher and guidance counselor at our schools is not addressing the underlying causes of violence in our society, and in fact might even exacerbate it with a miniature arms race of sorts.

That being said, it does seem like the general public (and the media) ought to be more educated about guns, even if they have no plans to own one. I am certainly no expert in firearms myself, but have spent enough time looking into hunting to have learned that many of the media stories about Adam Lanza’s weapons have been pretty disingenuous. We’ve heard that he used a “high-powered .223 caliber rifle” or “semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle” – both of which sound pretty scary. Until you realize that .223 is actually pretty small (considering most hunters who kill deer possess rifles that are larger, such as a .28 or .30) and AR doesn’t stand for “assault rifle” but comes from the ArmaLite name, the company who originally designed the gun. Also, “assault rifle” isn’t a standardized term within the firearms industray, but was defined by the government based on mainly cosmetic features.

For example, can you identify which of the following is an “assault rifle”?

Most people would guess the second, since it “looks” more dangerous. And you would be correct. However, would it surprise you to know that BOTH are semi-automatic rifles? And the one on top actually fires .30 caliber ammunition, larger than Adam Lanza's gun?

Speaking of semi-automatic weapons, it seems like when people talk about "semi-automatic" rifles they picture a “machine gun” – when in reality all it means is that the spent cartridge is automatically ejected, and a fresh one loaded into the chamber. You still have to press the trigger to fire another bullet. Aside from the obvious selling point (being able to fire a subsequent bullet faster) the other “feature” about semi-automatic rifles is their reduced recoil. This makes a semi-automatic weapon desirable for a small-framed hunter (women and youth) and the disabled.

So, as you can see, if we are going to have a national conversation about guns, we need to increase our literacy about guns before doing so. It might certainly be valid to restrict high-capacity magazines, or to require more documentation prior to purchasing a gun. Given that Adam Lanza appears to have had access to his mother’s guns, it certainly seems that some gun owners need re-schooling on how to properly store and lock-up their weapons.

One of the most inflammatory things I read this past week came from UniteWomen.org (a group I typically support:)

Could it be any more clear who is really pro-life than on a day after 20 kindergarteners are shot dead and HALF the country’s first thought is “How can we keep this from ever happening again” while the other half of the country’s worried about “How can we keep them from taking away our guns???”

Could they be any more divisive? As if, you can’t be both. As if, you can’t be pro-choice and be a gun owner. As if it’s a right-wing versus left-wing issue. As if there is a “pro-gun” group and an “anti-gun” group. As if gun-owners weren't saddened and heartbroken over the death of innocent children.

To talk about guns as if they are the enemy, or that all gun owners are violent and irresponsible, or that entire categories of guns are murderous tools of evil is not productive. At a time when we have more in common with our neighbors than ever… what purpose does it serve to polarize the issue, start finger-pointing, and perpetuate myths?

In addition to weeping for those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook, I also weep for us all, for we have a long road ahead us.

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Superb commentary,…….this REALLY should be submitted as an editorial entry in the Lawrence Eagle or Andover Townsman (?).

    Your commentary is exemplary information and your writing ability should be shared. Education of society starts one person at a time.

    I am always sooooo proud of you. Love, Mom

  2. “if we are going to have a national conversation about guns, we need to increase our literacy about guns before doing so”

    I agree wholeheartedly, and would add that we also need to talk about gun crime and some statistics surrounding that. As I try to do with most issues, I’ve been reading a lot of pro- and anti- gun sites, and doing my research on statistics. I prefer to look at data and try to form my opinion from that instead of from a gut reaction.

    As logical as it seems that banning guns outright would decrease gun crime, statistics in these cases (such as in Chicago and D.C.) don’t necessarily support that conclusion. Furthermore, in 2010, 62% of all gun-involved deaths were suicides. Banning “assault rifles” or high capacity clips will likely not yield the desired outcome. Then there are all the cases where someone with a gun DID stop a crime (like perhaps in the Clackamas Mall shooting) but those instances are rarely reported.

    I wonder, though, if guns are an easy “out” for us as a society? If we blame the weapon, and act to have it banned, will people sleep easier thinking it won’t happen again? Is it easier to take out our collective anger, confusion, and sadness on an inanimate object than to examine other factors in our culture that could have been a contributing factor?

    While I did not watch any of the media coverage surrounding the incidents, I was still plenty aware of what was going on. Children from the school were interviewed within hours of the shooting. Photographs were splashed on websites depicting families in varying stages of worry, relief, or grief. The media got a name of the “believed” shooter, found him on facebook, and were displaying his picture everywhere…before there was confirmation from the police of his identity. The picture originally distributed was the gunman’s brother, not the gunman. This same thing had happened with the Aurora, CO shooting – a name was released in connection with the shooting, FaceBook was consulted, and an innocent (and unconnected) citizen had his “15 minutes of infamy” as the guilty party. Is this really what we want and crave from our media? What does this say about us as a society? For me, it calls to mind “The Hunger Games” and the people of the Capitol who were so eager for the games and viewed the horror of them as entertainment.

    I know there are more factors at play here – attitudes and treatment of mental illness to name one – but the media one is the one that I find myself mulling over quite a lot. What if places like FaceBook locked down the gunman’s profile, so that law enforcement could review it for possible motives, but so that the media couldn’t draw viewers in by promises of “What was in the gunman’s diary? Coming up next!”

    Anyways, I hope this is quasi-coherent. I’ve been meaning to reply for days, but have struggled to find the time.

    • Sonja, I definitely think the way news of these horrible crimes is consumed plays a huge role in how we handle/prevent/punish violence. While on one hand I hate the standard “the gunman played violent video games so that’s why he did this” blame game, I do think that our society’s infatuation with violence is a cause for concern. But instead of the cause of violence, is it a symptom of something greater?

      I almost wonder if, in this ultra-connected social networked reality that we live in, our experiences with real terror, real sadness, real happiness, etc. have been supplanted with vicarious experiences or pseudo-relationships that still leave us yearning for more. Because of that, do we tend to immerse ourselves in fictional violence (via movies, video games, etc) in order to feel more real? Do we have adrenal fatigue or something? And is that why, as much as we as society say we abhor violence, we just can’t seem to tear ourselves away from the sensationalist news stories?


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