Tragedy, Truth, Love, and Guns, part 1

This new year starts with mixed emotions. The events of December 14 are still on my mind, and they are painful and sickening. No reason or justification exists for the taking of innocent lives, and that the majority were children makes it all the more devastating. I think of my own daughter- her sweet face, her joy, her laughter, how much life she brings to a room- I can hardly imagine life without her, and the thought of losing her brings tears to my eyes.

A month has passed. No longer front-page news, the tragedy in Newton has given way to other stories. The media frenzy has died. The emotional responses have quieted. Perhaps it’s time to talk. Still too early? I beg to differ. In Washington, the conversation is well underway. It’s time for tough questions, it’s time to talk about violence, it’s time for uncomfortable truth, and it’s time for honest talk about guns.

Why did this happen? Allow me to back up a few weeks. In early December, my wife and I went to see a movie. In the previews alone, the amount of brutality on the screen made me physically uncomfortable. Violence, shooting, and brutal fighting seemed the order of the day. Our culture revels in it. We pay to watch men fight bare-knuckled. We wait for the next shockingly gory film. Most disturbing: there were children in the theater. Young children. We’ve grown up on violence. Even our games are violent; kids spend hours replaying death scenes and trying to improve kill ratios. Violence is common. Life is no longer sacred.

No, this isn’t a rant against any one industry, and pervasive violence is not the lone culprit. The problem is systemic but I believe there is still good in this world (and it’s worth fighting for). Our entertainment simply reflects who we are. So, then, who are we?

We are a nation no longer in control. We are a people with a grey moral standard, a public that no longer recognizes evil. We have asked God to leave us be, and He has granted our request. Oh, that this were not so, for in the absence of Holiness, evil creeps in. With each day, it creeps into our neighborhoods, our schools, our work, our play, and our lives, until it becomes a permanent fixture. The answer is uncomfortable, for it lays the fault- and solution- squarely at our own feet. No one person, president, or object is to blame.

The root issue is that we have turned from what is right. We have made truth a subjective matter. We celebrate power and attention. We ignore evil. We render God irrelevant, and in doing so we introduce frightening possibilities. It’s time to revive and see that evil does exist, that we are fallen, and that the absence of God, the absence of Truth, the absence of Love, is a terrible thing.

The sobering reality is that an immediate fix is impossible. How can we even expect effective, decisive action when ambiguity is the order of the day? No one person, president, or object is a cure-all, and searching for such is a waste of time. Claiming such is foolishness at best and willful misdirection at worst. Tragedy will happen. There is no fix- but we can turn the tide.

Love. Call me old-fashioned, but yes, we need a return to Love. And lest I be accused of submitting a feel-good answer to a huge problem, let’s define love, as we’ve replaced it with far too many lesser notions. Love is hard, and sometimes requires a lifetime of investment. Love takes responsibility, and we need to follow suit. Love sees a hurting, lonely person and gently heals. Love is not afraid to recognize someone in need of extra help. Love holds at bay the worst possible version. Love can soften tragedy, but even moreso, Love can prevent tragedy.

I don’t know an outright solution, but perhaps change comes from anything that opposes the root issue. What that means for you may be, and probably is, different that what it means to me, but we need to start. Truth is absolute, evil exists, and life is sacred. Love values life, and that’s a great place to begin.

Tragedy, Truth, Love, and Guns, part 2

So what about guns? It’s the issue of the day, and I’m compelled to join the conversation. The voice calling for action is loud, and we need an immediate solution! Well, actually, we don’t. Immediacy and effectiveness are not the same and tend to be mutually exclusive. Immediate reactions can often be short-sighted and cause damage long in repairing. Law based on emotional response is dangerous. However… the topic is breached and we must discuss guns.

The recent shooting at Sandy Hook has triggered a fresh wave of calls for more restriction, and understandably so. People want a solution, they want to feel safe. But, make no mistake: gun control is not the issue, and gun laws will not make you safe. If tighter laws or outright bans make you feel protected, you are misinformed. Behavior cannot be legislated. Law does not prevent. If a law had been given that could impart safety, then we would all be safe now, and that many times over. Do you think those who ignore law are worried about the passage of new ones?

We need real conversation. Not a day goes by that I don’t read false ideas and outright lies- and that is troubling. As a gun owner, it is incumbent on me to know the ever-changing firearm laws and regulations, both on a state and federal level. I am no lawyer, but I do have a firm grasp on what I can or can’t own and what makes a gun legal or illegal. My study has also exposed me to facts and figures concerning crime, and these facts are sometimes surprising.

But first let’s have a “Firearms 101” discussion, a quick overview of some key terms: Assault rifles, magazines, and semi-automatic firearms. I’ll begin with the assault rifle. Assault rifles are rifles used by military and law enforcement units. The defining feature of an assault rifle is it’s capability of automatic fire: firing multiple rounds with each trigger pull. In other words, a machine gun. All such weapons were banned in 1934 by the National Firearms Act, and legally owning one today is almost impossible. Truthfully, automatic weapons are wasteful, costly, harder to operate, and inherently not as accurate as their non-automatic cousins. If I had to defend my home, I would not choose an automatic weapon. The modern “assault rifle” terminology was part of an expired gun ban (the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994) which classified firearms based on certain cosmetic (not functional) features. Specific stock designs, accessories, and even certain words were outlawed. The new ban that is being pushed is even more restrictive. My favorite hunting rifle would be classified as an assault rifle. Even certain .22 rifles, the kind often given as a first gun from a parent to a child, would be classified as such.

Magazines. What’s the difference between high capacity and standard magazines? Nothing. There is no difference. Gun manufacturers never decided to make higher capacity magazines, in fact, magazine design hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years. Before the 1994 ban, there was no such term as a high capacity magazine. It’s semantics. Now, you can find a 33-round magazine for a Glock (a common hand gun), but they are prone to failure and generally not practical. Most serious gun owners see them as what they are: novelty. So when you hear someone talking of high-capacity magazines, know that, in reality, there is no such thing. A ban on “high capacity” magazines would render the vast majority of standard guns illegal.

Semi-automatic guns fire one round with each trigger pull. Most guns sold are semi-automatics. Don’t let the word “automatic” fool you: a semi-auto is not a machine gun, nor is it automatically (sorry; couldn’t resist…) a military weapon. The most popular sporting rifle in the US is a semi-auto. One of my favorite hunting rifles is a semi-auto. Olympic pistol competitions use semi-autos. Duck hunters use semi-autos. Ironically, semi-autos are generally less accurate than single-shot guns. For long-range target shooting, I do not use a semi-auto.

Mail-order and gun shows. Truth: Ordering a gun online doesn’t sidestep the legal process. No one can buy a gun online and have it mailed directly to them. Here’s how it works: any firearm bought online must be sent to a federally licensed firearms dealer (i.e. an actual gun shop). The purchaser fills out several pages of forms. The shop runs the background and legal checks and collects a fee for this service. Only after the background check comes back clean can you take possession of the firearm. In the same way, you cannot assemble a gun from parts to circumvent the federal check. Every gun has at least one part with a serial number and that part MUST BE purchased in compliance with the federal system. Gun shows are the same. Dealers at gun shows have laptops set up for running background checks. Sidenote: while gun shows are interesting, you have to pay to enter and the prices will disappoint you.

Guns, laws and crime. This is where it gets interesting. In regards to the The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, a United States Department of Justice report said ” should the ban be renewed, its effects on gun violence would likely be small, and perhaps too small for reliable measurement, because rifles in general, including rifles referred to as “assault rifles” or “assault weapons”, are rarely used in gun crimes.” The National Research Panel noted that the assault weapon ban “did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence” and noted “due to the fact that the relative rarity with which the banned guns were used in crime before the ban … the maximum potential effect of the ban on gun violence outcomes would be very small….”. The CDC found “insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed for preventing violence”. FBI figures say assault rifles account for 2.6% of all homicides. That’s less than knives and blunt objects.

In the UK, rifles and pistols are all but completely outlawed, yet according to the National Home Office Statistical Bulletin, the violent crime rate is more than triple than that of the US.

Another alarming fact that can’t be ignored: almost all mass shootings in the past 20 years have occurred where guns are banned: The Aurora, Colorado theater was chosen specifically because it prohibited guns. It was not the closest or largest theater. It was the one where no defense would be given.

Simply put, gun bans don’t curb crime. As I wrote above, those who intend to kill, steal, or destroy are not governed by law. They don’t care. It bears repeating: law affects the law abiding. Gun laws satisfy those who want to feel safe, those who want someone else to assume the responsibility, or even worse, those who simply want to one-up the opposing political viewpoint. But this will come at great cost.

The proposed law being discussed now will do nothing to prevent crime, it will do nothing to prevent tragedy. It will mandate hefty tax fines and make potential criminals out of most gun owners. You. Your parents. Your grandparents. Your kids. It is retroactive, meaning it not only covers any future manufacturing, but any gun or magazine in existence.

I believe the Founding Fathers knew what they were writing when they penned the 2nd Amendment, and there are provisions in the new law that would make them gasp: confiscation at death (no handing down to heirs), involuntary home searches, and a national registry of gun-owners to name a few. I also believe those calling for gun bans know what little real effect on crime a ban will have. How can a President sign a law which ensures lifelong armed protection for himself and then ask you to surrender yours? How can Senator Feinstein (champion of the ’94 ban and the current proposal) ask the same yet hire armed guards and sometimes carry a pistol herself? It’s not right. It is hypocrisy and an attack on a basic right. It will, if passed, undoubtedly lead to further restriction down the road. President Obama has also hinted at using executive order, bypassing the legislature (and by proxy the opinion of the people) to do what he wants, effectively changing the U.S. Constitution. Again, this is not right. It is dangerous, and to many, it is downright illegal.

Mass killings are tragic, but they account for such a small portion of crime and death. We are going about this the wrong way, and to use the latest attack as an excuse for ineffective solutions is dishonorable. What is the real issue here? If we really were that concerned with protecting life and preventing death, assault rifles would register as an imperceptible part of the problem. Does that mean those killed in Newton are insignificant? Not at all, but don’t let their memory be used as fodder for change that is wrong, unconstitutional, and ineffective.

I can’t stress the gravity of this issue. The proposed law has far-reaching ramifications and also sets a dangerous precedent for how much power a president holds.

So what can I do about it? I’ve been surprised at how many people- even other gun owners- have no idea what is going on, and also how many know but have done nothing. Now’s your chance to do something. Take part. If this affects you, your friends, or your family, start by contacting your elected officials. Call them. Write them. Join the conversation. An easy way, with a pre-written, editable letter can be found on the Gun Owners of America site here.

Or, if you want to start from scratch, go here.

Other steps: Join the NRA. I don’t agree with everything they do or say but they have a powerful presence in Washington. If you want an even tougher, no-nonsense stance, visit the Gun Owners of America Website. Send these links to others. If you’ve been thinking of buying a firearm, now’s the time to do it as prices are rising and inventory is getting scarce.

If guns make you uncomfortable, that’s understandable (and ok) but don’t let discomfort or fear render you speechless. Be informed. Take action. If not for yourself, then for your friends, loved ones, or family.