The Gun Crisis In America: Misunderstanding “Freedom”


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Human beings are a tribal people. We have always separated into groups within groups, both physically and psychologically. In the big picture, we are part of a galaxy, which is part of a universe, of which the Earth is one of the planets within that universe. On that planet are many forms of life. One of which is the human being. But it’s difficult to gain a true sense of identity as an individual when you are one of over seven billion people. So as a species, we break up into smaller and smaller groups: continents, nations, countries, states, regions, counties, neighborhoods, communities, schools, work, political leanings, religious affiliations, circles of friends… It’s easier and quite natural to feel “special” as part of a group that represents something we have in common, choices we’ve made, what we want out of life,. The people who “get” us and who we “get.”

As part of a group known as “Americans,” it is — like in many if not all other countries — near impossible to feel “connected” to all individuals comprising that group, even when we may feel a sense of “national” pride. So we continue to break into smaller factions as we whittle down our similarities and differences. And more than I wish, those smaller groups do battle with one another. Either over an inability to allow for other schools of thought and belief systems, over a need to feel superior or “important,” or over injustice, whether real or perceived.

In America, one of these many smaller groups, but large enough to be of considerable consequence to our daily lives, has chosen to define their freedom in a manner that works directly against many of the other values this group espouses. Why is this? Well, partly it’s an aspect of behavior of that larger group mentioned above, human beings. But it also belongs to a group that has a more difficult time comprehending the results and consequences of their actions. There are people out there, perhaps even a majority, whose internal, emotional needs outweigh logic, science, facts, reality, truth and common sense. I suppose most groups say this about opposing groups, but I think in some cases, it may well be true. Certainly one human trait is destructiveness. Destruction not only of others, but of ourselves.

I have had many conversations with many people on both sides of the gun-control debate/argument. As guns are not an important part of my life, it would be easy for me to dismiss their importance altogether. But I will not. Guns are important to the people who appreciate them and therefore have value. However –and there really IS a “however”– guns are — though not exclusively — widely used by human beings to kill other human beings. One group killing another group. One individual killing another individual. One individual killing a group. Let’s face it, guns were created for the purpose of killing, be it man or beast, despite the fact that they can also be used for other purposes: target practice or sport, for example. And, like cars, there are many different makes and models of guns. There are different levels of performance and quality and, for a gun owner, collecting guns can be exciting. Make no mistake, the creation of different guns is an art form and collectors are collecting creations they admire. Guns and the various levels of talent associated with using them, can say something about who you are, a form of self-expression. ALL of these things are valid and important and I would not want to see that devalued.

And…

While I am certain that for the average person, pulling a trigger and shooting another human being is most probably a very difficult and painful experience, one that many simply could not follow through with, it is far easier by comparison to shoot someone than engage in hand-to-hand combat and drive a knife into your “enemy.” It is certainly less personal. You don’t have to touch them, smell them, go near them, or even be seen by them. And let’s face it, for some people, killing another human being is simply far less difficult than we’d like it to be. And guns make it easier. Of course we all know inanimate objects do not often kill people (unless you’re REALLY standing in the wrong place at the wrong time), but guns are a very strong means with which to kill. And by the very nature of many guns, killing in larger numbers is made easier and more “practical” via gun use than knives. The other part of the equation is that knives have a place in our day-to-day lives. Food preparation, eating, whittling, cutting rope, etc.

Cars can and have been used as weapons. As have planes. But they, too, have other, more practical purposes. Purposes they were created for. None of these things were created for killing. Guns were created to be weapons. Like I said above, they don’t “need” to be used as weapons, but that is their primary purpose.

Lately there has been a “movement” by many American gun-owners to publicly display their love, admiration and commitment to their guns by taking them out into public places. Malls, shopping centers, restaurants… In a culture that is in the midst of seeing an overwhelming rise in not only gun deaths but in mass shootings, strapping a gun or guns to your back and strutting your stuff in public is less an act of enacting your rights and more an act of terrorism. The average American citizen is not comfortable with the public presence of guns. Unlike some other countries where this is the norm, America is no longer that place and hasn’t been for a very long time. In this day and age, anyone carrying a gun in public who isn’t a police officer is seen as a potential threat (and even some police officers are seen as potential threats).

Those who enjoy “enacting their legal right” to carry unconcealed weapons with them into places where doing so will very likely induce fear, anxiety, and unease, where there are children present, where people expect to go with some sense that they are not endangering their lives by doing so, is an act of terrorizing. You don’t have to point that gun in order to induce fear, agitation, alarm. The potential for something to go horribly wrong rises exponentially in such an instance. Anyone who does not understand this concept and acts out in such a way as to cause distrust and worry for one’s wellbeing, is already someone that the average person would consider worthy of concern.

I know that many of the people behaving in this manner do so with the notion that it actually makes a place more safe, not less. Someone is there to protect you if need be. Unfortunately, most people do not feel safer in a world where weapons like guns are that easily accessible. Oftentimes, if not MOST times, these public gun-toters do so under the guise of enacting their “freedom” under the 2nd Amendment.

That greatly misunderstood word: Freedom.

It sounds an awful lot like other countries and schools of thought that many Americans would deem, well, unAmerican. We live in a country of laws and we do so for a reason. They are not there to limit, but to protect, to create a life and a community wherein we can feel safe and secure, at least as much as is possible. And those laws are constantly changing with the times and the needs of the people, as we evolve, individually and as a nation. Using the excuse that it has always been so so it should continue being so is not a concept this country was founded on. Laws are changed all the time. Our nation was designed to do this. It is what, theoretically, allows it to function and continue on into the future, to grow. For instance, it is no longer illegal to sell and consume alcohol, slavery is now illegal, interracial marriage is now legal, gay marriage is in the midst of becoming legal country-wide, murder is illegal…

The 2nd Amendment, its creation and purpose, may not only no longer be relevant to modern-day America, it may be holding us back or, worse, sending us backwards. Australia’s staunchly conservative Prime Minister John Howard (11 March 1996 to 3 December 2007), a gun advocate, close friend of George W. Bush and a vocal supporter of the war in Iraq, wrote about America’s obsession with the 2nd Amendment:

“The Second Amendment, crafted in the immediate post-revolutionary years, is more than 200 years old and was designed to protect the right of local communities to raise and maintain militia for use against external threats (including the newly formed national government!). It bears no relationship at all to the circumstances of everyday life in America today. Yet there is a near religious fervour about protecting the right of Americans to have their guns — and plenty of them.”

After a series of gun massacres culminating in a shooter in the town of Port Arthur, Tasmania, who went on a rampage and killed 35 people in what is considered the worst episode of this kind of slaughter in Australian history, Howard instituted a comprehensive set of gun-control laws, much to the vocal opposition of many of his right-wing counterparts. The result? According to Time Magazine:

The results have been tangible: A widely cited 2010 study in the American Journal of Law & Economics showed that gun-related homicides in Australia dropped 59% between 1995 and 2006. The firearm-suicide rate dropped 65%. There has been no mass shooting in Australia since the Port Arthur attack.

I have heard many argue that the problem is not actually guns, but mental illness. It’s absolutely true that mental illness is a problem in this country. Since the Reagan era, help and resources for the mentally ill and their families has been horrifyingly limited. I know too many families with children who are mentally ill and potentially dangerous in the same ways many of our mass shooters turned out to be, who cannot get the proper help for their children UNTIL their children act out in such a blatant way as to get themselves committed for treatment and evaluation. They must PROVE through ACTION that they are a danger to themselves or others. For most, as we have seen with so many mass shootings and suicides, this can already be too late. At the same time, there must be a great level of protection for all people so that they cannot be “committed” simply because their family thinks they should be. There must be a strong and detailed process for this. And that process should not be decided on by Legislators, but mental health professionals from lawyers who specialize in mental health to the doctors who treat patients suffering with mental illness.

But that’s just a start.

Gun-control laws also need to be in place so that anyone who has been committed or arrested for actions that may be attributed to mental illness cannot acquire a gun without going through a very serious evaluation by the above-mentioned professionals. This, like those who have been incarcerated for violent crimes, should be red flags against gun-ownership. In order for things to change, in order for this country to become a safer place, both sides of the argument need be addressed. Suggesting one without the other is only going to prolong results and that means more deaths. The gun-culture in America still needs to change.

There was a time in U.S. history when the mentally ill didn’t simply reach for a gun to enact their dysfunctions. No, that is learned behavior. And distinguishing the mentally ill from the mentally stable is sometimes a very large grey area and, in some cases, quite subjective. If you can’t “cure” mental illness today, then other actions must be taken. And those actions are within our grasp.

As for the notion of guns and freedom, there are already many countries in the world where anyone can obtain, carry and use a gun with no laws barring them from doing so. Equating carrying a gun around in public with freedom is, well, not unfamiliar…

The following is a comment made by a recent Syrian national who had been living in Britain (which has tough gun-control laws) who recently left the U.K. to return to Syria to join the ISIS call for Jihad:

“I don’t miss a thing, you know? I felt like I was in prison in that country. And I am here, I feel free, you know? I can drive, I don’t need a license, I don’t need insurance, I don’t need this and that just to watch TV. You don’t need a TV license. All of these things — you know, you feel like you’re in prison, you’re being punished… Here, it’s freedom. Totally freedom. I can walk around with a Kalashnikov if I want to, with an RPG if I want to.” –Abu Sumayyah, Idlib, Syria.

Freedom.

The following images are American men and women enacting their “freedom” in well-attended, family-oreinted, public places.

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Luckily for many of us, the “freedom-displaying antics” of those pictured above and others like them has resulted in guns actually being banned from places they previously had not been. This should — at the very least — suggest that the actions of these folks and their intended results are not really in sync with reality or practicality. Might I suggest a reevaluation?

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If freedom for you means the right to carry high-powered weapons around without restriction, without having to pass a test or even knowing how to use your weapon, do you also think the government should not demand that you have a driver’s license and insurance to drive a car? Do those notions feel too restrictive for you? Are they tantamount to being in prison? Do you feel they unfairly limit your freedom? If so, then there are countries that already function without restriction or regulation for such things. I’m not saying “leave America.” I’m saying “Be careful what you ask, wish and fight for.”

The countries that mirror the freedoms described above are universally considered dangerous places to live. And for good reason. Many of their citizens often live in fear. And despite the fact that many of the groups and individuals carrying guns do so for their own protection and/or to stand up to a corrupt government, the consequences are always, without fail, bloody, lawless, terrifying and supremely damaging to the entire nation and its inhabitants.

These are very unstable countries with shockingly high murder rates. If every gun owner were a responsible, self-reflective, empathetic, sympathetic human being, maybe this course of action would work. But the human race does not function as such. That particular group is made up of so many smaller opposing groups, as mentioned above, that dependance on guns as a means of protection and a realistic solution to a nationwide problem is simply not realistic. It is pure fantasy, the proof for which is there for the taking in countries and scenarios being acted out across our globe. Syria and Iraq today, for example. Fear and instability are what these countries have in common.

On the other side of the coin, many countries that have strong and responsible gun-control laws have among the lowest murder rates on the planet. And mass killings are almost unheard of; they are a bizarre anomaly and not the rising daily event it has become in our nation. These results can be witnessed in countries like the above-mentioned Australia, which has a large gun-culture (and, like America, was a country “tamed” via gun-violence), but has seen massive reductions in homicides and mass killings since enacting strict gun-laws. But there are reports and findings that suggest simply enacting gun laws alone is not enough. The data changes from country to country and here in the U.S. from state to state. The culture itself needs to change. This happens through gun-regulation laws that directly link responsibility with gun-ownership. It means a higher awareness in conjunction with direct educational practices on the potential negative repercussions of gun use and abuse. It means teaching history. Accurately. It means looking to other nations and their laws and practices as examples of what works and what does not, and who we would like to hold up as an example, and who we would not. In this arena, America is NOT currently leading the way. Far from it.

Here’s a chart outlining countries with the largest firearms ownership per person around the world. America, of course, is on top:

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The following chart shows the homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 people in those same countries. Again, America leads.

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So what is it that America is and isn’t doing that led to such staggering numbers? If these were the statistics on ANY other crises in our country, be it bridges collapsing or buildings imploding or deadly gas leaks in schools or terrorist attacks, there would be a universal uprising by all citizens to be protected. We simply could not ignore or excuse the numbers. So what is it about our gun-culture that allows so many people to push it aside, blame it on something else, or simply demand “more proof?”

Then there’s suicide, the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. According to the Harvard School of Public Health:

“In 2010, 38,364 people killed themselves. In more than half of these cases, they used firearms. Indeed, more people in this country kill themselves with guns than with all other intentional means combined, including hanging, poisoning or overdose, jumping, or cutting.

“Though guns are not the most common method by which people attempt suicide, they are the most lethal. About 85 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death. (Drug overdose, the most widely used method in suicide attempts, is fatal in less than 3 percent of cases.) Moreover, guns are an irreversible solution to what is often a passing crisis. Suicidal individuals who take pills or inhale car exhaust or use razors have time to reconsider their actions or summon help. With a firearm, once the trigger is pulled, there’s no turning back.”

Currently, the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS) is comprised of men, women and children who feel that their government has systematically alienated and abused them, subjected them to lesser freedoms and treated them as second-class citizens. They are fighting for their rights. So why is it that ISIS is also synonymous with murder, terrorism, fear, insanity, irresponsibility and deemed an untrustworthy and unstable group? How about the following:

Here, a boy crouches, machine gun in hand, moments before the two blindfolded men seen below were shot. (Image source: ISIS video via MEMRI). The shooting of ISIS “opponents,” their hands tied behind their backs as they are shot in the back of the head by masked “executioners” has become an official mark of the group.

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Here, another boy waves the black flag of ISIS in celebration and solidarity (Image source: ISIS video via MEMRI).

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The dead bodies of the executed men were paraded through the town in front of children who had come to watch the “festive public execution,” as it was promoted. This happened in the main square of Manbij outside Syria’s largest city of Aleppo. The executioners then hanged the bodies crucifixion-style in the town’s main square as a warning to others. This is NOT an unusual or singular experience in this region. It has become part of the culture. Guns, violence, executions (outside of any law, I might add) and random acts of terror, humiliation and outright murder is commonplace. The examples of gun culture and its effect on both human beings and the many varied groups they belong to is well-documented and all of recorded history since the invention of the gun bears out the same results.

So why are there so many people in America who believe that, somehow, we can make the same choices and observe a different outcome? Why do they believe the desire by many for gun-control laws stems from the media “taking advantage” of tragedies like the Newtown, CT. elementary school shooting to further a “political agenda?” I would guess, in part, that some people are more interested in getting what they want and attaching themselves to any belief system that bears out their desires than in actually taking a breath, trying to understand the far-reaching effects of particular schools of thought and actions, and making the hard decision to do what is best for the safety of innocent human lives, our fellow citizens, our neighbors, and agree that the freedom for any human being, any American citizen, to easily obtain and use a weapon as potentially deadly as a gun, and most especially semi-automatic weapons, oftentimes with the purchase of high capacity magazines, is NOT what is going to make America more safe.

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Take a look at the recent standoff at the Bundy Ranch. Hundreds of armed men and women gathered to defend a man, Cliven Bundy, who had broken the law by not paying grazing fees on his property for over 20 years.

The basic history of the land fees goes like this: In 1933, Edward T. Taylor, a Representative from Colorado, reintroduced a bill which became known as the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA). It was intended to regulate grazing on public lands to improve rangeland conditions. This service later became the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which managed about 167 million acres of publicly-owned rangeland. As a result, farmers with cattle grazing on these federal rangelands are required to pay a fee.

Bundy claimed that he inherited “pre-emptive grazing rights” on public domain land since some of his maternal grandmother’s ancestors had kept cattle there. Bundy took his case to court and lost since there is no such thing as “pre-emptive grazing rights.” The court ruled that Bundy needed to pay the same fees as thousands of other ranchers throughout the U.S. Bundy and his family had actually been paying the grazing fees until 1993, after which, due to refusal-of-payment, Bundy’s grazing permit was cancelled. In court, Bundy failed to prove that he had special rights to grazing privileges that others did not. So, not getting what he wanted, Bundy decided he no longer acknowledged that the United States owned this land and therefore the laws were not valid and, as a result, he would not recognize or honor them.

BundyStandoffRight-Wing organizations and media outlets from Fox News’ Sean Hannity to the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity made Bundy a celebrity and egged on protestors to show up and stop the “tyranny” and “intimidation” of the Federal government. The circus that followed saw a well-armed group protecting Bundy’s “rights” and “freedoms” via threats of violence. Even Bundy himself acknowledged that he was not interested in a peaceful resolution. “You gonna be a peacemaker,” said Bundy, “you’re gonna be on the BLM’s side.” 

A protester aims his weapon from a bridge next to the Bureau of Land Management's base camp where seized cattle, that belonged to rancher Cliven Bundy, are being held at near Bunkerville

These men and women took an actively armed stance to defend a man who simply did not believe he needed to follow the same laws as others and, when he lost that battle in court, decided that they would defend Bundy’s personal lawless vision through threat of gun violence. Was this a last resort? No. Were there more legal channels to go through? Yes. Does this example of defying the law through violence work toward a safer country? No. It continues a culture of violence as a means to an end.

It wasn’t until Bundy revealed some of his other beliefs, such as his comments about black people in America, that some, though far from all, of his media supporters backed off. “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” stated Bundy. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.” Less freedom than slavery? Really? Is this who we are meant to follow? Is this the incarnation of the future of America we’re meant to take up arms and fight for? The ones the media agitates us to support? You want to talk about dangerous media manipulation? Here it is. Don’t believe the media is helping fuel fear and misinformation as well as a call for violent resolution that leads to misguided and potentially bloody standoffs? Check out Fox News’ “Judge” Jeanine Pirro’s Opening Statement on “diseased” immigrant children and about Iraq and ISIS and how we need to bomb them. And then bomb them again. All in the name of “Justice.”

Getting back to that grey area between mentally ill and mentally stable, I would suggest that Jeanine Pirro’s mental stability is seriously in question. Is she who we want calling the shots? Is she who we want to listen to and follow? What percentage of the American public does she represent? To me, she is an extremist as dangerous as any terrorist organization spreading propaganda and calling for violence.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against taking action. I’m not suggesting we simply trust the government and not speak up to support our beliefs and to protect our freedoms. No, our country was created to allow for protests and free speech and for change to be made possible. But not through armed-response. Once again, that misguided course of action is something that is currently being showcased across the globe and throughout the Middle-East, and the results are universally catastrophic.

There is a dangerously fine line between the mentality and media propaganda that allowed the Bundy ranch fiasco to come into existence and the “festive execution” of Syrians detailed above. Both saw themselves and presented themselves to others as individuals fighting for “Freedom.”

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And both promoted a “festive” and celebratory gathering. With children. And guns.

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Waving flags in celebration and solidarity. Remind you of anything?

Protesters gather at the Bureau of Land Management's base camp near Bunkerville, Nevada

Now understand, I have a deep distrust of the U.S. government. Particularly in this day and age when corruption and lies have become trophies for many in public office so long as they don’t get caught. America is a country of bullies. We like to see and present ourselves as saviors and those defending justice, but more often than not, self-interest is at the heart of our actions as a nation. And that example trickles down from the top and into the hearts and minds of potentially every citizen. It becomes our defining culture. It has proven to be the enormously ugly side of Capitalism and highlights many of the very real weaknesses inherent to all human beings and, more often than not, it backfires and we end up paying the price for our own lack of insight and our inability to take a step back and see exactly who and what we have become.

Take the deadly lawlessness under the guise of responsible American Business of Blackwater, which had a $1 billion contract to protect American diplomats in Iraq, and was later termed “an environment full of liability and negligence” by the State Department’s chief investigator. Despite the State Department’s initial evaluation, Blackwater became so powerful that, after Blackwater employees fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007 and a State Department investigation was initiated, they managed to force the inquiry to a quick close after Blackwater’s top manager threatened “that he could kill the government’s chief investigator and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.” The result? American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators, who were asked to leave the country because “they disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor.” 

Violence and bullying over law and morality. This is an American-made beast. It is a part of who we are and what we breed.

But these weaknesses are no excuse to not strive for growth, to not attempt to leave a world for the generations to follow that is a bit better than the one we lived ourselves. Publicly arming ourselves and educating that Might is Right is in no way, shape or form, going to move us forward. Only back.

There is a big difference between being responsible and honoring and respecting the lives of fellow Americans, fellow human beings, regardless of similarities or differences, by enacting laws that limit gun ownership, the types of guns available, the ability to obtain high-powered semi-automatic, high-capacity magazine wielding weapons, and having the “freedom” to do what one pleases and desires regardless of the danger to others, not to mention the stability of the country itself.

Guns are not going away. Know that. Embrace that. But creating and enacting laws that prevent mass shootings and high public death-rates, is not the enemy, nor is it imprisonment or taking away freedoms. It is being responsible and facing the truth of the dangers of a society with a strong gun presence and easy access to them.

The only reason these laws are being fought against is because there are powerful lobby groups (the NRA being one of the strongest) who stand behind those for whom the sale of guns is a colossal money-making endeavor. And for those people, those companies and organizations, bringing in that level of money is so far-reaching, so deeply embedded, that human lives, American lives, are not a higher priority. So they prey on those who love guns, who understand guns, and who are ready to fight, even spill blood, in an ironic attempt to defend that right, that “freedom.” No matter what the cost.

These people are not our enemy. They, too, are our fellow Americans. And they are systematically being compromised via fear-tactics and misinformation by those who have made it an art with a sense of pride and identity to manipulate others into fighting against their own well-being by preying on their needs, their desires, their history with and their love for that which has become a part of their identities, their guns.

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No one wants to strip you of your identity or that which you love. They only want to create laws that make our country a safer place, a more civilized, humane place to live. It’s one of the very things that separates us from so many other countries and makes us potentially “special.” It is one of the ways this particular group, Americans, can lead by example through our willingness to be self-reflective, to make difficult but necessary choices, to consider the safety and well-being of our fellow Americans, our fellow human beings, to be important above all other things.

Anything less will result in a country that does not resemble the America our forefathers envisioned. Nor that of any honest human being desiring to move forward by learning from the mistakes of the past, as well as the mistakes of the present.

The Gun Crisis In America: Misunderstanding “Freedom”