A plea to responsible gun owners

Note: The following was penned by my friend and former colleague Tobey Williamson who now lives in Hawaii. It is provocative, and I thought my readers may want to consider his point of view.

police lineDear Responsible Gun Owners with Good Hearts:

I know more than a few of you, and I want you to keep your guns and buy more of them. Buy as many as you want. Keep them locked up. Safe from the [mentally ill] and from the kids. Keep them ready in case we really do one day have to organize a militia to fight against an extremist government that knows everything about its enemies and employs drones to kill us remotely. At least we’ll be able to shoot a few of those fuckers out of the sky before we run out of bullets.

In the meantime let’s teach our kids to hit a target at 1000 yards in a gale force wind with their hearts racing at 100 beats per minute. Teach them to respect these weapons, these tools of food security, these protectors of our freedom. Make sure they know never to point them at any person unless they intend to pull the trigger—and that they understand the inevitable consequences of such a decision. Bring them hunting and show them the proper reverence when the spark leaves the eye of the animal we take to sustain our own through the winter.

However, I implore you to look into your heart and consider that it is only flesh and that it beats for your loved ones. Who are themselves flesh and blood that can never be put back together once torn apart by bullets. Think of them when you begin to change the conversation we are having as a country, when you become the voice of reason that leads us away from this chaos. No one else has the credibility or the common sense that you have. Nor does anyone else shoulder the same responsibility.

Rights do come with responsibilities; at least they do in a world that makes sense. So, as a rightful owner of as much firepower as you can buy, it is your responsibility to speak out and take real action against this mayhem and senseless violence that can strike any of us at any time. This is a deadly serious issue and at the moment not only is the violence insane, but so is the conversation about it.

The vast majority of people just want to go about our business without fearing for our lives. When we hear that new laws are not the answer because we do not enforce the ones we have, or that its because we have poor mental health services we say, “ok, lets fix all of these problems.” When we hear that a person intent on killing another person will find a way with or without a gun, we say, “ok, lets make it as hard as possible for them to do that.”

When we hear that the only answer to the problem of gun violence is more guns, we are incredulous. This is the same absurd logic that created the nuclear arms race. Must we all endure escalating shootouts started by the heavily armed people everywhere in our midst who eventually draw at the slightest crooked glance? Is that when we can decide that this default strategy is not working?

Seriously, think through the scenario of the “good guys with guns” argument. It is not like the bad guys are all wearing black and white-striped jumpsuits or something. If everyone has guns out, who knows whose got a good heart then? Just imagining the situation in the comfort of your heavily armed home should give you pause. Within the chaos, will you really know who to shoot at? Are you sure the other guys packing heat would know not to shoot you? The rest of us caught in the crossfire don’t want any part of it, thanks.

End the insanity. Stand up for your rights. But for fuck’s sake, for our kids’ sake, take care of your responsibilities. Come to the table and be a part of the solution.

Sincerely,
A non gun owner who does not hate guns but hates gun violence.

Time out

mourningWe are all, it seems, struggling to come to terms with what happened yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut.

As the awful news began to unfold, I urged friends and family members to pause and refrain from using this tragedy to further support political/policy agendas. I was unable, –am still unable — to comprehend what happened. It seems impossible to shoulder the weight of this horrific tragedy.

“Today is not the day to have these conversations,” I wrote on my Facebook page yesterday. “Today is a day to grieve and to support one another.”

Those words strike me as empty, hollow. . .meaningless. Over the last 24 hours, our nation has experienced a range of emotions: rage, grief, shock, fear and despair.

So, how do we move forward? How do we reconcile those feelings, the raw emotions that carry us into another day?

Understandably, many of us are searching for answers, for meaning. We have different opinions, and I submit that those opinions are all vital, all necessary for the larger conversation that we can no longer ignore.

The response to my Facebook post was generally respectful. Some people, however, chided me..saying yesterday, the day before, last year was the time for that conversation. I agree with those well-intentioned Facebook friends of mine. I only wonder if they will now join me in that conversation.

Four days after the Tuscon shootings, I penned an op-ed that was published in the Portland Press Herald. I got lots of supportive feedback and some nice comments for my willingness to speak publicly about my own mental health issues and how those issues affect each and every one of us, but we all moved on to more important things . . . like arguing about Rick Santorum, Wal-Mart and Honey Boo-boo.

On July 23, I wrote another blog post about the peril of ignoring mental health issues and focusing on gun control in response to the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. But we quickly moved on . . .

As I struggle to find light in this time of darkness, there is only one small measure of comfort: for the first time, I am seeing and hearing numerous people address mental health as one of the core issues for that conversation. More people, it seems, are ready to have “that” conversation.

But it is not the only issue we must be willing to confront. I consider myself an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment, but today I am left with questions for which there seem to be no easy or convenient answers. I loathe knee-jerk reactions, but I am willing to reconsider all of my opinions so that I can join that larger conversation in a meaningful and productive way.

Ironically. as we all began dealing with the tragic fallout from yesterday’s rampage, another new story from half way across the globe was unfolding.

Questions about China’s inadequate mental health system are increasing in the wake of multiple incidents of school children being attacked and killed by knife-wielding, mentally ill people. Over the last few years, numerous school children have been killed and scores more injured by knife-wielding mad men.

That is not an argument against gun control. That is an argument that shows gun control is not the entire solution.

News commentator Bob Costas didn’t hesitate to offer his opinion about gun control less than 24 hours after an NFL player shot and killed his girlfriend before shooting himself in front of his coach. Just one week later, another NFL player was killed because he was riding in a car with a drunken teammate. It’s no surprise that there was no call for tighter alcohol controls.

Railing for gun control may help us feel a bit safer; but if we don’t have that conversation across a larger context then we can expect more of the same . . . senseless violence that shocks and angers, but then slowly fades away into distant memory.

On a final point. How do we ensure better background checks to prevent mentally ill people from purchasing or obtaining firearms?

Should someone like me, someone who struggles with depression and has been hospitalized sacrifice our privacy and have our health care records disclosed? Should family members of mentally ill people lose or sacrifice some of their rights under the Constitution?

I do not know the answers to those questions. But I do know, there is no way to guarantee safety. We live in a dangerous world, and if we are willing to sacrifice liberty for security (and considering the Patriot Act, Department of Homeland Security, and long shoeless TSA lines, we are) we may end up with something we never bargained for.