Monday, March 26, 2018

Armed Only With Signs and Their Convictions

I smiled at the picture. Three of my co-workers holding signs and smiling proudly as they participated in a local March for Our Lives event. I felt a little guilty, sitting at home still in my pajamas, writing on my computer about my morning, while they were out there standing up for what they believed in. If I had known about the event, would I have gone? Probably not. Even though I believe fervently that something needs to be done to fix this broken society in which problems are handled with guns and violence, I abhor conflict and avoid anything the least bit controversial if I can.

Basically, I’m a coward.

But I admire those who take that risk and promptly added my “like” to the chorus of others who applauded these women’s efforts. It became clear as I read the comments that these women and countless other people like them, armed only with signs and their convictions, were striking fear in the hearts of people with guns. I’ll admit I was baffled. I read in disbelief some of the comments made, mostly by one man who seemed to have nothing better to do than hang out on Facebook all day, cutting down the efforts of people willing to go out and take a stand. My blood began to boil and the urge to respond became overwhelming. I knew, though, that a heated, emotional response would do no good. When I spoke, I needed to be centered and calm. So I waited, and while I waited, I educated myself on some of the facets of the gun issue that make it such a contentious subject.

Let me just say that I know I only scratched the surface in my research. I could study the issue for years and by no means ever be an expert. Unlike some, I don’t proclaim to know what the answer is. All I know is we have a huge problem and we need to try something, most likely a lot of somethings, to fix it. I also know that we need to loosen our grip on our tightly held beliefs if we are to work together to achieve what we all really want: a society in which active shooter drills are no longer a necessity. If we are going to do anything to address gun violence, then it seems that we need to be willing to spend at least a little of our time looking at gun laws and guns themselves.

“If you want to see school shootings stop, it is very simple place armed men and/or women at every school and these shootings will stop real quick. . . .”

But is it really that simple? Somehow, the issue of school shootings doesn’t seem simple to me and I strongly doubt that the solution will be either. On the surface, armed guards seem like a reasonable solution. Dig a little deeper, and the reasonableness wears away a bit. Just look at the two most recent school shootings: Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida and Great Mills High School in Maryland. In both instances, an armed guard was present. In both instances, it did nothing to deter the attackers. Some will argue that Scot Peterson, the sheriff deputy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas failed miserably at his job, taking cover outside while 17 people died inside. True. But Nikolas Cruz had no way of knowing that would be the case. He undoubtedly knew there was an armed guard, and he went in anyway. The same is true in the case of Great Mills High School, albeit there was a different ending to that story. The presence of an armed deputy was not enough to dissuade Austin Wyatt Rollins from entering the school with a gun and killing a 16-year-old girl. Deputy Blain Gaskill is to be commended for engaging the shooter and possibly preventing the loss of more lives. I say possibly because the circumstances of this shooting are different: the shooter gunned down a girl he had recently broken up with. There was an identified, personal target. Who’s to say if there would have been more lives taken had the deputy not shown up? How many lives lost are we willing to accept anyway? Are we really okay with living in a world where a school shooting only results in one or two dead? I suspect that Jaelynn Willey’s parents wouldn’t agree with that. Any life lost is too many. As we see in both of these cases, armed guards didn’t prevent school shootings, and isn’t that really the goal, to stop them before they occur?

“. . .if these people want a gun they will get a gun and there will never be a thing that can be done about that.”

This is simply defeatist thinking at its worst. Even if that were true, should we really be making it easy for them to get a gun? According to a 2004 report from the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education, as reported in this Baltimore Sun article, 68% of guns used in school shootings were obtained from their own home or that of a relative. Austin Wyatt Rollins used his dad’s gun to shoot his ex-girlfriend. Nikolas Cruz used his own. Adam Lanza used guns legally purchased by his mother. They didn’t need to go out looking for weapons, they had easy access to them. Even though the guns used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were illegally obtained, they were done so with relative ease, purchased from a gun show and a private party. It would be difficult to prove what they might or might not have done had they not been able to lay their hands on powerful weapons with very little effort.

As to “there will never be a thing that can be done about that,” that too is questionable. When Australia enacted tougher gun laws in response to a 1996 massacre, the country saw a 74% decrease in gun-related suicides. Similarly, in Israel, once they began prohibiting soldiers from taking guns home on weekends, that country saw a 40% drop in the suicide rate.  This disproves the notion that if someone wants a gun, they will get one using any means possible. As the drop in suicide rates suggest, guns are chosen in many circumstances simply because they are readily available. Interestingly, in the case of Australia, there was no increase in other types of suicide, countering the argument that they will just find another means of achieving their goal.

“. . .more gun laws is not the answer to stopping people from getting killed by guns. . . .”

Maybe. Maybe not. Looking at the statistics, though, makes it hard not to argue this point. The United States has the highest guns per capita in the world. Perhaps unsurprisingly we also have the highest gun homicide rate among developed nations.  If our goal is to prevent death from guns, it stands to reason we would all be a little safer with fewer of them around. In addition to the decrease in suicide rates noted above, research has found that kids ages 5 to 14 are 11 times more likely to die accidentally by guns in the United States. If more guns lead to more gun deaths, then it stands to reason that fewer guns would result in fewer deaths. This is not to say I am advocating for taking away all guns. I most definitely am not. Rather, I am merely pointing out that gun laws might very well reduce the number of people killed by guns.

“. . .a criminal or a mentally ill individual will always be able to obtain a gun. . .”

Perhaps it would be easier if the perpetrators of mass shootings fell neatly into these two categories. And while I agree that anyone who would do something as heinous as open fire on a crowd of people is clearly not in the best mental health, mental illness has been found to be a contributing factor in 3-5% of violent acts and most of those acts do not involve guns. Of greater significance seems to be alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence.

That being said, I do believe that more needs to be done to address the mental health of our children.  I agree with Sue Klebold who said, “I’m convinced that by recognizing the signs that a child is struggling early on, we can get our children the help they need -- before another Columbine takes place.” Ask just about any elementary school teacher, and I’m willing to bet she can tell you of at least one child she worries might one day resort to violence. We see an awful lot of angry, anxious, confused, and isolated children. Sometimes their internal struggles far exceed our capabilities, but all too often there is no one to answer our calls for help. Additional resources in this area might very well be part of the solution to school shootings.

And let us not forget, that in many cases of mass shootings, both the mentally ill and criminal labels came after the fact. Before that, they were just ordinary citizens.

“. . . we have a ton of common sense gun laws and none of them or any potential additional gun laws are going to stop a criminal or a mentally ill individual from obtaining a gun. . .”

I’ll admit, I really didn’t know much about these “common sense gun laws” I kept hearing referred to but never saw explained. I did suspect, though, that given the current state of affairs the gun laws weren’t doing a whole lot to prevent gun violence, particularly mass shootings. After doing a little digging, I began to see why.

As I stated before, the majority of guns used in mass shootings are purchased legally. This, I believe, is wherein gun control advocates’ greatest concern lies. Why would anybody need a semi-automatic weapon capable of mowing down a multitude of people in a matter of seconds? Many believe no one does.

In 1994, the federal government instituted a ban on assault weapons. By definition, an assault weapon was determined to be one with a detachable ammunition magazine. When the law was passed, however, banned weapons were also required to have at least two additional features, such as a flash suppressor or folding stock. It didn’t take long for gun manufacturers to modify their guns to get around the ban. For example, Colt modified its Colt AR-15, banned by the law, by removing the flash suppressor and bayonet mount and renamed it the Colt Sporter, now perfectly legal but with the same basic functions as its predecessor. The 1994 ban was allowed to expire in 2004.

I was surprised to learn in this Rolling Stone article that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is limited in their ability to enforce what gun laws we do have. They are prohibited from inspecting licensed gun dealers more than once a year and they are not allowed to compile a registry of gun owners or gun data. There is no database of gun purchases and no federal limit of the number of firearms or ammunition any one individual can purchase. Therefore, when someone like Stephen Paddock begins stockpiling weapons, ammunition, and bump stocks, no red flags are raised.

The same Rolling Stone article stated that only about 60% of gun transfers happen in legally licensed stores. The others occur either privately or at gun shows, which are largely unregulated. This is how Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were able to attain some of the weapons used at Columbine. Unlicensed dealers do not have to perform background checks. Given that both Harris and Klebold were minors, age doesn’t seem to be a concern either.

Gun control laws also vary from state to state, and even from city to city. While California and New York City regulate the frequency with which an individual can purchase a gun, 30 and 90 days respectively, Nevada has no such laws, and in fact, does not even require a permit to purchase. Nor do they have any regulations on assault weapons. The lack of consistency greatly hampers the effectiveness of gun laws. Guns can easily be purchased in a state with lenient laws and brought in to states with much stricter ones. Such seems to be the case in Illinois, where a 2015 study, as reported by National Public Radio, found nearly one-fifth of guns used in non-gang related crimes and one-third used in gang-related crimes came from the neighboring state of Indiana, where permits and licenses are not required and there are no waiting periods.

Also perfectly legal is the purchase of bump stocks, which transform the semi-automatic into the equivalent of an automatic. At least 12 of these bump stocks were found in Stephen Paddock’s hotel room in Las Vegas, along with clips holding 50-75 rounds. His legally purchased weaponry gave him the power to murder 58 people and injure dozens more.

It would appear that those “common sense laws” aren’t actually all that common.

“. . . how could you possibly think that anything other than placing armed guards/school resource officers at schools will stop a school shooter from killing people??”

How? Let me tell you. By doing a little research and entertaining other ideas. By keeping an open mind and looking for alternatives. By believing that there has to be a better way than turning our schools into a battleground.

We cannot afford knee-jerk responses. Neither can we afford to sit on our hands and do nothing. We need to look long and hard at all the factors that contribute to gun violence, look at all the ways we are failing the members of our own society. And then we need to come up with a plan to address each and every one of those factors and implement it.

The arguments presented by gun advocates typically fall along two lines: we must protect our 2nd Amendment rights at all costs and we need to protect ourselves from the bad guys. Both arguments are driven by emotion, and that emotion is fear.  Is this really the way we want to live? Ruled by fear?

I said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t have the answer. But I do believe that if we can let go of our fear, if we can listen to each other and keep an open mind, if we can admit that this is a complex issue that yes, is about guns, but also so much more, then maybe we have a fighting chance to solve the problem.

Next time you see a group of protesters, armed only with their signs and their convictions, stop a moment and listen to what they are really saying: We believe our children should be safe. We believe we should all live without fear. We believe we can do better.  We believe.

I hope they have an extra sign for me.


  1. I commend you for informing yourself about this issue, taking the time to seriously reflect on both sides, and being brave enough to take a stance on every statement you differ with. You are not a coward at all; you are a thoughtful person willing to engage on issues...not just hiding behind slogans and anger. Well done!

  2. I am glad that you steeled your nerves and posted your piece. It is very thoughtful and gave me information on some of the questions that I also have about the responses of those who fear gun control. I think researching, educating yourself, thinking critically about the issues, and sharing the information with others is every bit as important as marching. Thank you.

  3. Very impressive! Thanks for taking the time to learn about what you are hearing. I don't take the time to do that, and I should.

  4. Well said! Thank you for taking the time and energy to research a very complex issue. I too read the Facebook post and comments you mentioned. I had the same reaction you did - anger, frustration and a sense of “what are we coming too?” Your article has inspired me to start my own research.


Your comments are welcomed and appreciated!