Thousands of people are steeped in grief after losing friends, parents, and children who were shot and killed last Sunday night in Las Vegas. Coincidentally, exactly one year ago today, I too was steeped in grief after losing my mom. My compassion for those suffering great losses after Sunday’s attack is deep and – just like you, I’m sure – I feel a burning, righteous anger and sadness about what happened and I want to help.
Truth? I’m not an ideal citizen. Although I’ve voted in every presidential election since 1996, but probably less than five midterm elections in my lifetime. I have never written my Senator or Congressperson. I have never participated in a protest, peaceful or otherwise, and I am chagrined to confess that I have to re-learn the branches of the government and how they function each time I have to explain it to my kids.
So it should come as no surprise that I am woefully uninformed about gun legislation, which laws I agree with, and what I – an ordinary, not-so-awesome citizen – can do to help change the laws I don’t.
This week, in an effort to be a better mother, a better American, and a better human being in general, I’ve been trying to educate myself about our laws and understand what can and can’t be done about gun violence.
Before I continue, let me state for the record that I am not opposed to private gun ownership. I am not a radical liberal opposed to the Second Amendment. My parents enjoyed hunting for sport and I was taught how to hold and shoot a shotgun as a girl. Other than being out of reach, well-hidden, and safely stored, guns were not treated any differently than fishing poles in my home: Sporting equipment for a fun and occasional diversion.
I have no interest in owning a gun, personally. I made a decision as a child, after a friend of mine was accidentally killed by her brother with their father’s handgun, that I would never own a gun or have a gun in my house. But I have several friends who are open about owning one or more guns (and maybe more who aren’t as open) and I don’t judge them for it. My dad, who now resides in Arizona, owns a handgun and freely enjoys Arizona’s open-carry laws. Guns are not for me and, thankfully, they’re not for my husband. But I respect these friends’ and my dad’s right to own guns and their reasons for doing so.
I’m not opposed to responsible and safe gun ownership, however, I am disturbed and confused by the legal availability of semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15, which Stephen Paddock used to kill 59 people (as of 10/4/17) and wound hundreds more and which appear to me to be neither for sport nor for self-defense.
Feeling motivated to flex my puny citizenship muscles, I decided to find out what practical actions I can take to help change the laws around ownership of semi-automatic weapons. One google search lead to another, and another, and another, and before long, my mood went from passionately motivated, to moderately hopeful, to downright depressed.
For one thing, none of the changes to our gun laws currently being proposed and debated would have prevented Stephen Paddock from legally acquiring the tools he needed to unleash hell on the lives of tens of thousands of people. He was not mentally ill (at least, not clinically), he had no criminal record, and he participated in – and passed – legally-enforced background checks. Based on the evidence reported in the news thus far, the people who sold guns to Paddock did so in accordance with Federal and State law. Until Paddock did what he did last Sunday, he was a law-abiding citizen who, by all accounts, appeared to be reasonable and harmless.
Also, the government has a poor track-record of supporting laws that limit our access to semi-automatic weapons despite overwhelming evidence that guns make us more vulnerable to violent crime, not less. No laws have changed, even after mass murders like those that occurred at Pulse nightclub last year and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. In fact, the Senate has been preparing to advance the so-called “sportsman bill” which would make it easier for American’s to buy gun silencers. (As of this past Tuesday, plans to move the bill forward have been temporarily halted.)
But what makes the issue of gun control so intensely complicated and divisive is that the spirit of the Second Amendment is highly, highly subjective. Until recently, I assumed supporters of our current gun laws and our legal right to own semi-automatic weapons did so because they were afraid it would be only a matter of time before the laws would encroach upon them more and more tightly and eventually take away even their single-shot rifles or shotguns. But this thoughtful and articulate – albeit slightly paranoid – article by the President of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network, Marty Hayes, helped me better understand why so many gun-owners passionately support and protect the private ownership of semi-automatic weapons. (Cliff’s Notes Version: So that citizens will never lack the weaponry to fight their own government in the event of tyranny or counter criminal violence, which means citizens should have access to the same weapons as the government.)
“What the Heck are Bump Fire Stocks?”
The news has reported that Stephen Paddock modified his semi-automatic riles to behave more like machine guns by using bump fire stocks, which, if you’re anything like me, this is the first time you’ve heard of bump fire stocks. So what the heck are they?
Essentially, bump fire stocks, also known as bump stocks, are devices that can be attached to a semi-automatic gun in order to fire multiple bullets in rapid succession like a machine gun (or, as this article from The Trace puts it, they’re a way to get “fully automatic thrills” from semi-automatic guns.) Unlike machine guns, which are illegal to own in the U.S., bump stocks are legal.
This video demonstrates how an AR-15 can operate like a machine gun with a bump stock:
When viewed through the lens of an avid Second Amendment supporter, the statistics about the number of Americans killed each year, correlations between gun ownership and successful suicides, the actions (or lack of action) taken to change gun laws after Newtown and other violent, gun-related tragedies, stop being tragic and become unfortunate but nonetheless necessary evils to endure for the greater good of giving citizens the freedom to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government and violent criminals; a small price to pay for freedom.
I don’t share this view. But unless those of us who don’t share it try to at least understand it, nothing is going to change. For some, the Second Amendment is as sacred and fundamental to our identity as Americans as the freedom of religion is to others. I confess, I can relate to a certain romantic, sentimental attachment to our history as cowboys, rebells, and pioneers – the fierce independence and will to survive that shaped us, for better or for worse – and I respect our right to fight against a tyrannical government, should the need ever arise. But at the end of the day, AR-15’s and Sig Sauer MCX’s are anything but romantic and I have faith that Americans and our own flawed government are capable of preventing tyranny without them.
Gun laws are not going to change anytime soon and they may never change drastically. I hate to be cynical, but as much as I admire those who are firmly committed to the dream of a gun-free nation, it doesn’t seem like a very realistic dream. And while it may be more realistic to aim for a ban on all semi-automatic weapons, that too seems unlikely to happen given the numbers of Americans who want them (or at least the right to have them.)
What is realistic and possible, however, is that the government ban bump fire stocks. In all my research this week, the one and only thing making staunch supporters of the Second Amendment sweat is the possibility of bump fire stocks becoming illegal. So, in the interest of keeping hope alive, obeying my conscience, participating in my own citizenship, and aiming at a target within range (pun intended!), I decided to set my sights on banning bump fire stocks.
I found my representatives’ Twitter handles using this website, and sent them – as well as @POTUS, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and the the ATF – the following message:
Please protect American lives and make #BumpFireStock illegal. #GunSense #GunControl Now
Want to Learn More?
Here are a few helpful articles and videos I came across this week that are worth checking out.
All about the 1994 ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 (what worked and what didn’t)
Will my tweets amount to anything positive? They already have. When I told my kids what I did, their reactions ranged from curious to impressed, but also lead to a great conversation about what it means to be an American, freedom of expression, the value of understanding a point of view that’s different from yours, and the importance of civil service, among other things.
I don’t want to make gun control my mission. I am not so far left on this issue as to be completely blind to the benefits of the Second Amendment. But I also don’t like feeling helpless to change laws I disagree with, laws that seem destined to perpetuate unnecessary death, violence, fear, and destruction like what occurred in Las Vegas this week. I am a hopeful person by nature and, for my kids’ sake, I want to continue to be hopeful. If putting my hope in something concrete like a ban on bump fire stock breeds more hope in me and my family, that alone will be a good outcome, if not exactly a perfect one.
Thanks for reading,