The fact that I’m still a gun owner today demonstrates that I have been lucky to not lose a loved one or child to random gun violence. But is it just a matter of time?
I haven’t shot any of my guns since the Newtown, Conn., murder of 20 children with an AR-15 assault rifle over a year ago. That incident was so awful that it felt like change was possible. Yet here we are, a year later with another school shooting, yesterday at an Oregon high school on the heels of a shooting last week at Seattle Pacific University.
Just Saturday in my home state of Nevada, two “politically motivated” people murdered two cops in Las Vegas before killing themselves. Every week my community, state, and American society takes another literal shot to the face.
I have a dozen or so firearms, both pistols and long guns. The most “military” gun I own is a Beretta 9mm handgun that is the exact same model of pistol I carried when I served in the U.S. Coast Guard. I thought it would be smart to have a gun that I spent hours learning to shoot. I was also in the Army National Guard and learned to shoot an M16, the militarized version of the AR-15 that killed all those children in Newtown. I never, ever felt a need to own such a piece of hardware, solely created for mass murder and mayhem.
The first time I really started to rethink my own attitudes about guns was just after the Newtown shootings. I have a son the exact same age as those kids who were murdered so viciously.
Shooting guns is fun. Set up some cans and take a few shots at them. I also support hunting, vigorously, even though I don’t hunt anymore. I’ve developed other hobbies that take my time. Hunting is an important tool for maintaining healthy wildlife populations, and it is a good way to spend time outdoors. But you don’t need an AR-15 killing machine to hunt or to shoot cans.
It would be easy to better regulate guns, in an attempt to start to lower the body count. We could require firearm insurance, like car insurance. Gun owners could be required to carry a $250,000 bond in case his or her gun killed someone. Or, we could have strict registration of guns to an individual owner. If your gun hurts someone (and is not reported stolen), you are criminally responsible. We hold people responsible for all sorts of shit in this country—parking, speeding, and often the color you paint your house—but for some reason, guns are a free-for-all.
The biggest problem with guns is that they are not treated very seriously. People act like they are toys. People sneak them into movie theaters and accidentally shoot themselves in the ass (this happened). They fall out of pockets and go off, killing some unlucky bystander. Lately a bunch of idiots have been bringing assault rifles to casual dining restaurants, because “freedom.” They are ubiquitous and always loaded, as if gun nuts were instead gunslingers of the old west. It would be silly were it not so deadly.
I have guns, in theory, for protection, but I could never shoot someone in defense of my home. I’d be too afraid I was shooting at one of my teenagers or my kid’s girlfriend, sneaking in after hours. Guns don’t kill bad guys, studies are clear: They kill wives and kids, friends and neighbors, and very often the owners themselves through suicide or accident. Any logical examination of guns shows that they do much more harm than good. That is the reality. They make our society worse, and the calculation isn’t even close.
Yet I still own a bunch. To make myself feel better, I keep them locked tightly in a safe.
If one of my guns ever hurt a child, I couldn’t live with myself. For that reason, and many more, my guns don’t bring me much pleasure anymore. I think about selling them, but I wouldn’t be comfortable trading a few hundred dollars for a gun to some random stranger. No matter how you slice it, I’m still in the gun culture.
I never thought I’d be one of those people who support gun control, but as I age, shooting at aluminum cans has become less important for me than watching my children grow up. Guns are a barrier to keeping my family safe. If we had fewer guns in America and in my own home my family would be safer. It’s a basic mathematical formula.
Even though gun crime has declined in America in recent years, we still have a stubborn problem with gun violence. The more we collectively witness acts of senseless brutality and murder, the more one slice of America runs out to buy even more guns and ammo. The more evidence shows the danger of guns, the more one side fights even harder against sensible, small reforms in gun laws. As some point, the fight against reform will start to look like accessory to murder.
If I were one of the parents from the Newtown massacre, I’d never allow a gun in my presence again, ever. The fact that I’m still a gun owner today demonstrates that I have been lucky to not lose a loved one or child to random gun violence. I bet lots of gun owners would throw their guns in the garbage if it was their kid, lying there, dead for no reason.
In America, the act of owning a gun might depend on whether or not your own child has been murdered. It’s a terrible position to take, but it seems to be where we’re at, myself included.
Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.