I have had several weeks to sit with the raging debate about gun safety, control, freedom, armed guards, and assault rifles. I happen to believe that much of the problem is relatively simple, that 80% of the problem can be solved with a 20% solution. Specifically, controlling access to guns (background checks and closing loopholes), and eliminating the “rights” to high capacity ammo clips and assault-style rifles (a partial ban). There is enough good data to support this partial remedy. The other 20% of the problem is more complex – the obvious need for better mental health services, which have sustained drastic cuts for decades, and a look at our American “gun culture”. We should implement the first part of the remedy without waiting for all the answers to the second part. Reduce easy access to dangerous weapons and outlaw those that have no use other than to spray bullets wantonly.
Beyond this current policy debate, I have been mulling the deeper issue for me. That is, the idea of freedom being equated with carrying guns. That feels oddly upside down, as if we are so steeped in our own narrow cultural view that we can’t see the bigger picture of what freedom means.
We can see throughout the world that cultures living with gun violence as an everyday problem are the least free, whether they are suffering through a war or not. I remember as a young woman spending time in Guatemala to learn Spanish, and getting used to the guards on every corner in military dress with rifles slung across their backs or held in their hands. I felt claustrophobically constrained. What might set them off? What if there was a gunfight? What if I did something wrong? They were all men. I was a single American woman. What might they be able to coerce me to do, anytime, anywhere? Guns around me did not make me feel free. They made me feel trapped and unsafe. Packing my own shapely pink pistol would clearly have been useless, not that I would have wanted to.
The proliferation of guns does not make us free, it imprisons us. It causes us to live with fear and impending danger. As a woman, I also see it as a tool of abuse and coercion. Who is to say he is there to protect me? Violence occurs most often in the home, among friends, even among the troops. No-one who carries a gun in a civilized society is my friend – I cannot afford to see them that way. We are not a militarized society, living in a state of war, and such protection is not what I need. It takes me back to what I imagine as our primitive past, and I want the freedom and choice to NOT live that way.
The conversation is trying to happen in the media about the fact that young white men are the greatest abusers of guns. The sputtering and timid conversation about this would be loud and clanging if data showed that men of any minority were packing more than white men. And what if women were the biggest gun abusers? What if women had reached a level of intolerance regarding men’s abuse of them and their bodies, as one faceboook meme has suggested, and decided to keep the men of the U.S. in line by carrying assault weapons? All of this makes my stomach turn. Violence begets violence. Guns are never an answer, they are a symptom of the disease of violence.
Samuel Hendel said; “The fact, in short, is that freedom, to be meaningful in an organized society must consist of an amalgam of hierarchy of freedoms and restraints.” This is how it works to allow guns in a country not at war. Guns get allowed, and restraints keep them controlled. My freedom from the prevalence of guns is of vital importance to me. It is not trumped by your paranoia about an impending government take-over of the states. I will fight for my freedom with the tools of a civilized society – rules and laws. You can live in a state of gun-toting fear. I refuse to do so.