“From my cold, dead hands”––Charlton Heston (actor, former president of the NRA)
You remember that quote right? While speaking at a NRA meeting, Hollywood vet Charlton Heston issued his manifesto on gun ownership and warned any non-believers that there was only one way they were taking his weapon from him.
Essentially, that’s what we’re up against.
We’ve been here before and that familiarity breeds a certain kind of contempt. There’s monotony to the movement. A stillness to the information. Only broken by the next horrific random act of violence. And then, for a couple of weeks, we are inundated by the tug of war between common sense and gun enthusiasts. Talking heads do what they do best, politicians pontificate with extra mustard and office cubicle conversations revolve around questions of “what can we do?” and feeling sorry for the relatives of whatever victim has now found fame down the most monstrous of alley-ways.
We just had one of those moments, with the terrible deaths of Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher – only the latest reminder that we are sternum-deep in this issue and nowhere near having a resolution. The issues of domestic violence and the proliferation of pro athletes with guns was only just starting to receive a smidgen of unraveling, before the public was presented with information that both Perkins and Belcher were seemingly gun aficionados. According to Sports Illustrated, there were up to eight guns in the household and both frequented shooting ranges.
Take that information and do with it what you want, but it speaks to a larger issue at hand. One that cannot be easily reconciled, as it sits on top of this nation’s soul, fixated like an appendage, so connected as to be unrealistic without its consideration. The phrase “as American as apple pie” should have long ago been replaced. Guns are what we do here. As a first world country, we lead all the major statistical categories for violence that you’d assume would be the domain of some third world outpost. Statistical information provided by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence states that over 90,000 people are killed every year by guns and that U.S homicide rates are higher than the rates of 22 high-income first world countries combined.
Just let that sink in for a minute. Not singular, but combined. That’s how dedicated we are in the country.
We all are aware of the major conflicts (Revolutionary, 1812, Civil War, WWI and II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and whatever you wanna call what we’ve done over in the Middle East for the last decade plus), but are you aware of the rest of the battles? We raised our fists, displayed our swords and pulled triggers against everyone from the Seminole to the Sumatrans to the Hawaiians. In non-military life we also exhibit a slavish dedication to the power of gunpowder.
Within these numbers, delineations aren't based upon creed, color or race. This is a number that includes all of us. We are all a part of this. That’s why the recent words of NBC radio show host Dan Patrick were so off-putting. His comments stating that guns are part of the “culture” (start at the 30:00 minute mark) in black communities, while whites have them primarily for “hunting” was an interesting comment. Mostly because someone like Patrick has such an extensive resume of working around black reporters, executives, players, coaches and such, that you’d think he would have picked up the nuances of Black Americana. This is not to say he’s racist or anything, just that it’s alarming because you’d hope to consider DP as someone who wouldn’t make such a blanket statement. This is not the hate-speak of a right-wing zealot; it’s only fair that we expect more.
There’s no doubt that segments of black culture are wrought with issues, but when it comes to violence, there’s an undying similarity to White America. What they do, we, for good and bad, have sort of always done in this country. One of the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow is the lack of a squarely defined "black" culture. The adoption of mainstream ideals goes deep and links the cultures in a very initimate way. We are the reflection in the mirror, only with the lights out. It's our violence, we own it. It’s like our skin. It defines us. Any assertion that white people have guns by and large only for hunting is silly. It’s a “water is dry” moment – so obviously wrong that your first thought is, “Somehow, he misspoke.”
There are any number of socio-economic issues and generational differences at play here, not to mention just the uber-masculine conditioning as it pertains to pro athletes. Race is an auxiliary issue in this situation.
This is where the stress comes from. The reason so many people think the term post-racial is just a new hustle. Those strides can be made, but then, when you peel back a layer or two, you see something else.
We’re talking about guns, man. You can’t even run for office in most districts of this country without talking about war or weapons or what you’d do to some so-called fascist regime on the other side of the world. Then when these guys get in office, they’re lauded if they participate things like hunting expeditions, in which they leave no doubt to their foolishness by hunting non-lethal animals. Earlier in the election season, Senator Paul Ryan bought his ten-year-old daughter a rifle and people responded like it was a normal rite of passage.
A lot of people didn’t grow up with guns. But they grew up with guns around them. The discussions were there. The back end of it was always in sight, always right at your doorstep. News of people getting shot or knowing that the threat of “going to get a gun” always lingered in the air. Guns are everywhere in pop culture and for a lot of boys with testosterone bubbling in their veins, the attraction is the idea of power. Guns have that in abundance. In and of itself, firearms can be tolerable, but in the hands of the wrong people they are literally deadly. For those who suggest any sort of reform, the backlash in many parts of the country can ruin you. Away from the Boston-to-DC megalopolis (or progressive locales such as San Francisco), there is a legit gun culture, fully equipped with people who have never listened. But in recent years, there have been some signs of change.
The election last month was a step forward for a lot of things in the nation. One of which is at least starting the conversation on reform. Just getting the ball rolling has been hell and most politicians look at it as a losing issue. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney stayed away from it as November got closer, because they know it’s a sparkplug. Talk about gun reform too much and people think you’re a pacifist, at minimum, a traitor or worse, at max. But with the Democratic Party now strengthened by November’s success, there is a moment to be seized. Because of the many tragic moments in the past couple of years (VA Tech, Gabby Gifford, the Colorado movie theater), citizens are galvanized in ways like never before. In hopes of collecting this energy, pro gun-reform organizations are launching new campaigns to bring the hammer down on such crazy things as bulletproof vest piercing rounds. One organization, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is ready right now and their Communications Director, Caroline Brewer, spoke with us about what needs to happen next.
TSL: Why in your opinion are guns laws so lax in the first place? How come we didn’t deal with this issue, decades ago?
CB: The NRA has done an excellent job of making large numbers of people fear that there is some boogeyman waiting around the corner. This person is here to take away your rights and property, so they get guns – the bigger, the better – and so there’s been a very slick campaign by the gun lobby. Right now, about a third of all Americans own guns.
TSL: Are you shocked that these gun lobbies are so successful?
CB: There is one main thing that has complicated the ability for people to see beyond the myths that the NRA sells and see the truth. The Second Amendment, the fact that the NRA has, again in it’s marketing, made it seem like that amendment in the Constitution cannot be regulated. That a right to own a gun in your home is absolute, that it cannot be regulated at all is, in fact, a lie. It can be regulated. It has nothing to do with the kinds of laws that we need to make us safer on all gun sales. Forty percent of all guns sales don’t go through background checks.
That’s a lot when you consider how many guns are bought every year. That means all the people who have felony records, who are dangerously mentally ill as determined by a court, people who might have committed domestic violence and who might have beat up a wife or girlfriend. These people can still get their hands on a gun.
TSL: How far are we from real actual gun reform?
CB: The American people have to stand up and demand that our laws be reformed. They have to make their voices heard. That’s the campaign that we’re engaged in now and we have been since the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Where we are inviting and encouraging all Americans to get involved. And people from all political spectrums, all races and all backgrounds have agreed. They’re saying we’ve had enough. You should not have to worry about getting shot at the movies, at the grocery story, when you go to see a congress person speak or while your sitting in your classroom on a college campus. We’ve seen enough. We’ve had tens of thousands of people sign petitions through the election. We have a site called wearebetterthanthis.org where people can go and learn more.
What we see happening with sad cases like Javon Belcher and his girlfriend is the result of the slick marketing campaign that says you need a gun to protect yourself. Athletes have been sold a bill of goods, too, about what really goes with having guns. They’re not safer, the reality is, having a gun in your home makes it more likely it will be used on a loved one or yourself. It will not be used to protect your property or on an intruder. It is more likely to kill you in a suicide or a child. We’ve seen children as young as three shoot their siblings mistakenly. This happens repeatedly over the course of a year in America.
TSL: What does your research say about gun attitudes along racial lines?
CB: I can tell you that Dan Patrick’s statement is patently false. There is no uniqueness to gun culture in black communities. Black people do the same things with guns that white people do. For instance, the actual rate of young people who die from guns is the same for blacks as it is for whites. The thing is, young blacks die from homicide more frequently and young, (especially rural) whites die from suicide more frequently. The common denominator is access to a gun. They are home and they grow up with guns around and it doesn’t matter if it's hunting rifles or handguns, they’re around them. This is not the same statistic that explains dying from hunting accidents.
This is an important moment in our nation’s history, or at least, it can be, if gun reform is taken with the same seriousness that we used when we had the economic collapse in ’08. That dominated news cycles for week and weeks. People paid attention and flexed their muscles at the ballot box both locally and nationally. Hell, gun reform would be served by just getting the same attention of the fiscal cliff, something that people care far less about, but the attention is so great that the average citizen can’t help but consider it. In 2012, gun reform in a civil rights issue, we just haven't defined it as such. We haven't elevated the conversation to that dire level. But it's time we do.
This is an above average, “if not now then when” moment. How many moments can we take, how many situations must we endure? This is not a “we” versus “them” standoff. These bullets don’t have names on them, they don’t discriminate. If someone lets off on a busy street corner, best believe that Democrats, Republicans and Independents will feel their flesh burn from penetrating metal. It will melt into your body and ricochet against your internal organs regardless of whom you voted for or voted against. Nobody is trying to ban guns out and out. People just want stronger regulations. Optimistically, a cognition test would one day see the light of day. But at the least, nobody should be able to walk into a store and walk out with a gun on the same day or be able to buy more than one gun per an assigned amount of time.
It still remains much more difficult to get a passport than purchase a firearm. Proof positive than the bar is much too low for a country as great as ours. So the next petition that comes your way or the next law that comes up for vote, pay attention and respond accordingly. This might be the last best chance we get.