In the weeks to come, we will learn more about the shooter responsible for the Sandy Hook massacre than we ever wanted to know. Here’s what I know—the shooter and I were peers because he shot guns and I shoot guns.
That’s a tough pill to swallow for every person in America who, like me, enjoys the sport of shooting on a regular basis. No doubt, at this very moment, there are cries from gun owners saying, “that’s not me, that’s not who we are, I would never do that!” But the fact remains, he came from a gun-owning household. And the gun community must not shrink from that.
The gun community must also admit to the failings of the arguments it has continuously put forth. For instance, “It’s the criminals, not the law-abiding gun owners, who are the issue.” I just copy and pasted that off the National Rifle Association (NRA) website from a section called “Wayne’s Commentary,” where NRA president Wayne LaPierre holds forth with similar arguments on a regular basis. Of course the problem is that the most recent mass shootings, Aurora, Tuscon, Virginia Tech, were committed by individuals who did not have a criminal past and the guns were purchased legally. And this most recent tragedy began at the home of a legal gun owner, with a lovely house on a quiet street in an upscale neighborhood.
Immediately following the Sandy Hook tragedy, the pro-gun lobby was conspicuously silent on the Sunday morning news programs. The lone pro-gun legislator who stepped forward was Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas who offered this:
I wish to God she (Sandy Hook principal, Dawn Hochsprung) had had an M-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids....This is the old, “more guns make us safer” argument. But Representative Gohmert fails to note that the shooter’s first victim, his mother, was a gun owner who had the means to stop him with her Glock or Sig Sauer.
And then there will be those who will insist that regular incidents like Sandy Hook are the price we pay for living in a free society. To my ears that is just a handy excuse to throw up our hands and say the problem can’t be solved, and I refuse to believe that we can’t do better. The price for living in a free society should be along the lines of the Westboro Baptist Church and MTV’s The Jersey Shore, not a roomful of dead children.
This article originally began in the wake of the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide. The argument for more guns was made in that instance as well. But the truth is: no gun, no murder-suicide. The gun lobby was out in full force following that tragedy. But everyone, me, Wayne LaPierre, every law-abiding gun owner I’ve shared the range with, knows that this will not go away. The pain those parents feel, the shock the children endured who lived through that tragedy, the questions the survivors will ask for the rest of their lives will not go away.
The owners, retailers, manufacturers, advocates and lobbyists, we who collectively make up the “gun culture” of this nation, failed the children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the coming weeks, months, and years, people who are involved with guns must make some choices. It is not enough that we “advise” owners to secure their firearms. We must demand it. And when it does not happen, consequences must be severe. The law-abiding gun enthusiasts that I have encountered, who are sane, reasonable people and bear no resemblance to the “camo-clad, toothless, tobacco chewing, gun fetishists” that are the fever dream of every East Bay liberal who has never held, much less fired a gun, must make their presence known and be on the lookout for those who would cause grave harm to those we love. The NRA insists that better education is part of the answer. Fine, train retailers to look for tell-tale behaviors and ask questions that will assist in identifying individuals who seek to be gun owners for the wrong reasons. Revise the NRA curriculum to include a comprehensive course that deals with gun ownership—it’s responsibilities, consequences, and alleged benefits. Currently instruction regarding safety focuses primarily on preventing accidents such as, “I didn’t think it was loaded.”
Finally, our attitude must change. In 2004, while performing in a production of Assassins, I met a community college instructor and gun enthusiast who had this to say about gun ownership, “Everyone is this country has the right to own a gun, but not everyone should own a gun.” That sums up for me the attitude the NRA, the gun retailers, range operators—everyone in the gun community—should have. I have no desire to protect the rights of a few individuals who should not possess a gun so that I may claim victory in the preservation of some 18th-century ideal.
I am a teacher by trade. I teach theater at the college level. But I’m also certified by the NRA to teach firearm courses for pistol and rifle. These courses seek to teach students the knowledge, skill, and attitude necessary to safely use a gun at a firing range. And it is stressed that attitude is the most important of the aforementioned three. Without the proper attitude, knowledge and skill are meaningless. And if we were to engage all the gun owners in this country in a conversation, I believe that we would find that they share the same viewpoint. But for too long we have not heard this point of view. We have instead heard rhetoric that champions more guns and fewer attempts at ensuring that those who should not possess a gun do not.
Change must happen in the gun culture, and it will take time. But I believe the work must begin or the non-gun owning citizens of this nation will lose patience and demand that private gun ownership be banned. There are 40 grieving parents who have lost much more than just their patience.
Copyright © 2012 by James Knudsen