I've been thinking a lot this morning about guns, of course. I've been thinking about how I have family and friends who are gun owners, who I like a lot and enjoy being around. As far as I know, all of them are what we consider responsible gun owners—my uncle, for example, is an avid hunter, but I never feel any concern taking my kids to his house to visit him and my aunt because I know there is no chance at all that they will find a gun lying around. There are a good number of my gun-owning friends and family who I have no idea what their position on gun control is, because I've never talked to them about it. I would imagine that at least some of them are in favor of common-sense gun regulations. I know for certain that some have, at least in the past, been vocal opponents of gun control.
I don't think any of these people are bad people—on the contrary, many of them are people I respect and enjoy immensely. I'm sure that they all find each new school shooting to be as shocking and horrifying as I do, and for the same reasons. But I guess I don't know how relevant it is what people feel in their hearts. At least, it is and should be less relevant than the consequences of their actions.
The point here is not that gun owners are monsters, but that understanding how we are complicit in things that make us uncomfortable is difficult, even as it is necessary.
We all make choices in our lives. And those choices say something about our priorities and values. I don't think many people would say that they believe that it is acceptable for children to be murdered in their schools. I don't think that many people would say that those children's lives matter less than the right to own a gun. Maybe I'm naive, but I think the number of people who might say such things is so vanishingly small as to be irrelevant. I certainly don't think my gun-owning family and friends would say anything like that.
But I do think that the end result, the function of some of the things I've seen friends say about gun control is the same.
For example, when we say things like "this is a terrible tragedy but there's nothing that we can do about it," this just isn't true. We know that there is a strong correlation both internationally and within the United States between permissive gun laws and increased frequency of gun violence, and, vice versa, we know that US states and foreign countries with more restrictive gun laws have less gun violence. We know that we can make this happen less often. What we mean when we say "there's nothing we can do about it" is really "I am not willing to do the things that can be done about it."
We also say things like "gun control won't end gun violence." And certainly this is true—no law that I've ever seen proposed would end violence, because human beings are inherently prone to violence, and determined people will find ways to circumvent laws. But it's also irrelevant, because mitigating harm is worth doing even if it won't completely end harm. When we say "gun control won't end gun violence," this is in function the same as saying that reducing the number of lives lost to gun violence is less important than maintaining access to guns.
We say things like "if we criminalize guns then only criminals will have guns" or "why should we penalize responsible gun owners?" But this is, essentially, to argue that laws and regulations should not exist at all. We accept regulation in so many aspects of our lives in order to mitigate harm, reduce risks, improve safety, and allow us to live together in something approaching harmony. Why are guns different? What makes gun ownership more essential and less open to regulation than workplace safety or automobile operation or food safety or environmental protection or any number of other areas where people can cause harm to other people, and we have decided not to allow that?
I think the most honest thing I've ever heard a gun control opponent say was "I like my guns and I don't want to have to give them up." And I get that. To be honest, I enjoy shooting and I always have, though I haven't gone to a range since I was a teenager. When you come down to it, we all have trouble prioritizing other people over our own comforts and conveniences. I'm no different. But I think that the most important thing any of us can do is take a good hard look at ourselves and ask ourselves whether the way we are living is harming other people. To ask, "What would I be willing to give up in order to help others, and what wouldn't I be willing to give up?" To understand why we don't want to give up certain things. To ask whether it's worth it.
Nobody wants to think of themselves as part of the problem, and honestly few people will do so. But we all agree that problems exist and that they are mostly brought about by people. It simply can't be the case that it's always someone else's fault, that we are always blameless. If we are ever to solve the problems that exist, then we must be willing to look to ourselves first.
Perhaps we will choose to continue on as we are, accepting that other people will pay for our choices, sometimes with their lives. Maybe we will decide that that is acceptable, that those lives are worth it. Let's at least be clear about it when we make those choices, though.