Can we take action for today, knowing our work will be imperfect?
Violence, unemployment, homelessness, the economy, full civil rights for gays, education, medical and mental health care, the deficit, deteriorated infrastructure and immigration reform are complex problems. Each intertwines with others, but they all demand our attention.
Violence, particularly gun violence, has claimed much of our attention since the horrors of Newtown, Conn. Gang shootings and other armed criminal activities have not engrossed us. Maybe they seemed too separate from our daily lives.
The number of suicides with guns has crept up and now outnumbers murders with guns in areas where guns are readily available, but that receives little attention. Our military now has an alarming suicide rate.
Children should not be shot. News stories about drive-by or accidental shootings resulting from loaded guns not being locked up sadden us. Newtown horrified us with its blatant needlessness and brutality. We think about it again whenever we have children around us.
We would like a simple solution to gun violence, the kind that demands a straightforward modification of someone else’s behavior. Life doesn’t work that way.
We have heard the usual voices from both extremes of the gun question, expressing opinions that range from variations of “Do nothing!” to “Do everything!” We are bombarded with opinions and statistics that conflict and require sorting.
This sorting requires careful attention to small details demonstrated in a recent PolitiFact.com article about a Facebook posting by the National Rifle Association.
The posting states, accurately, that rifles are not the most-used weapons in murders. They are even outnumbered by hands and feet used as weapons. The catch is that statistics on handguns have been left out—no small omission. The article says, “Handguns were used in 6,220 cases, or 72 percent of all firearm murders in 2011 and slightly under half of all murders using any kind of weapon that year.”
Guns have played a part in American lives and lore throughout our history. Schoolchildren sometimes memorize the poem about embattled farmers at Concord Bridge in 1775 who fired “the shot heard ‘round the world.” Guns made the Wild West wild. They are not going to disappear. They are part of too many lives.
I was raised in a home where there were guns. One was mine—a .22 calibre rifle.
My father, most of his friends and male members of his family hunted. Hunting seems partly male bonding, but it also put food on the table during the Depression. Hunting had not yet been dubbed a sport.
I enjoyed target shooting. Speed wasn’t important. Accuracy was. The target was a traditional bull’s eye, not shaped like an animal or person. Putting two consecutive shots into the center circle would be a real high. Three was once-in-a-lifetime.
We were living in a rural area, and the rifle team provided a challenging activity. Library services were slender. I had read my way through the local library.
At that time, the NRA emphasized training for gun safety. They provided educational materials and rifles both to high school rifle teams and to teen teams sponsored by gun clubs. At meetings, there was instruction on gun safety and maintenance. I don’t remember mention of the Second Amendment. The focus changed in the mid-50s.
There is no simple solution—not mine and not yours. We can agree that children should not be shot. Depressed and disturbed people need appropriate treatment, not a carelessly stored firearm.
As I read and listen it seems that grounds for debate are shifting. Reliable polls show gradual shifts in opinion with growth in the middle ground. Compromise might stop being unpopular. Maybe the shift is to discuss rather than debate. Maybe we can begin with the question, “How are we going to keep our children safe?” That is a complicated question that is part of a number of problems we face.
The President’s inaugural address encourages us to take action for today, “knowing that our work will be imperfect.” Can we live with that?
Copyright © February 2013 - The Fig Tree