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South Carolina & Gun Control: A Commentary

JaredStrangeCourtesy of Jared Strange

Like many, the recent attack on a historic AME church in South Carolina touched me in a very dark way. Not only did it sadden me to see so many taken in such a violent fashion – in the House of the Lord, no less – it called my attention to a certain numbness that is creeping into the minds of many, including myself; it stems from the grim truth that these acts of terror are becoming commonplace, and will very likely continue for the foreseeable future.

The bulk of the discussion about this horrid event has so far been concerned with the racist nature of the crime, and rightly so. The perpetrator, seen in a photograph sporting symbols of long-dead nations like Southern Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, clearly has some sick and thoroughly baffling thoughts (seriously, how is the failed model of apartheid going to help you now?) about what makes a good nation, and he is not alone, for the specter of racism still looms large over us. Yet my mind is drawn to the issue of gun violence. A wise man once pointed out to me that these shooters – self-styled executioners or even revolutionaries at a movie theater in Aurora, at Virginia Tech, at Sandy Hook Elementary, and now at Emanuel AME, among others – are trying to top each other. Their efforts have grown sophisticated and methodical, their bodies spurred on by warped ideologies. It was an observation that chilled me to the bone because it was, and will continue to be, prescient.

No doubt, the national screaming match, or “dialogue,” about our various crises will turn towards gun control, if it hasn’t already. And it should, and I hope against hope that this time, there will be a shift in our understanding.

I was raised by responsible gun owners. Many members of my family and many of my friends are responsible gun owners. I spent a portion of my Thanksgiving with blood and adopted family doing some recreational shooting in a safe and knowledgeable environment that established utmost respect for each weapon as the base requirement for participation. I was taught from a very young age that guns are not toys and it didn’t take malicious intent to hurt someone with a gun; being even a little bit careless is more than enough to change or even end a life. My father, the kindest, humblest, gentlest man I know, never explained to me exactly what punishment I would receive were I to ever be caught abusing a firearm, and that’s because explanation was quite unnecessary: the rules he laid down, the tone with which he handled safety discussions, and the mere look in his eyes told me that the consequences would be grave. And I thank him for that.

I appreciate the appropriate role guns have in our history and in our society. I appreciate that they are sometimes a grim necessity. I appreciate responsible gun owners and their rights. But more importantly, I appreciate, I understand, I respect, and I fear the power of a firearm as one who has been so raised must.

Unfortunately, not everyone is like that. And we get more proof of that every day.

I don’t have all the answers to the gun problem; in fact, I daresay I don’t have any. Sure, I would like to see some sort of legislation, but I know better than to put my faith in mere law, especially since this issue goes much, much deeper than what’s on the books. What I do know is that men (and women) who abuse firearms – even if it’s just play-acting with an unloaded piece – are dangerous fools, and those who turn their weapons on others in anger and hatred are utter cowards without so much as a shred of honor; fold racist ideologies into that and you have a potent cocktail of destruction. That kind of behavior, aside from being utterly reprehensible, is an affront to anyone who truly understands guns.

What I wish I could see more of during this round of gun control talks is a new voice of outrage from responsible gun owners, not one that reacts with fear of what they might lose with regards to their possessions, but one that reacts with utter horror at the mere thought of a firearm being so much as brandished in the direction of an innocent. What I wish I could see more of this time around is responsible gun owners taking an active role in changing our society’s understanding and perception of guns, powerful weapons that should be handled with the utmost care and respect, and should never, ever, ever be used with even a grain of malicious intent. I wish I could see more responsible gun owners acknowledge that, frankly, owning and operating a weapon should be a privilege, not a right, something that is earned, not simply bestowed.

In some ways, I hope against hope, for I know that this is but one small Facebook post, and the national “conversation” will, for good or bad, move on without me. But that’s hardly a reason not to hope, at least, not in my exceedingly humble opinion.