Friday, February 16, 2018

Being Human in America: Thoughts on Guns, Grief, Rights & Responsibility

My daughter. July 4th, 2017.
A few days after the latest school shooting, social media overflows with debates about gun control, as well as monologues sending “prayers and condolences” to Florida. As a thoughtful American human right activist, I feel inspired to share what I'm noticing within the fray.


The biggest beneficiary of the gun lobby in 2016 was Donald Trump, who received over 31 million US dollars. A series of other Republicans who have received anywhere from 130 thousand USD to 7 million USD are named by the Huffington Post in the video linked here.

These leaders have been paid, more by a single special interest group than what some Americans earn within a lifetime, to make it easier for more people to own more guns. This is not an example of NRA lobbyists championing the average American's constitutional right to gun ownership. This is a reflection of the degree to which political allegiances are bought so that specific industries can grow their market and profits—at the potential expense of innocent human lives.


More guns = more shootings. This conclusion comes from both common sense and consistent science detailed here and here . Since the amount of guns within the USA is record-setting, so is the number of gun-related deaths. The USA also stands out in that it is one of only three countries, alongside Guatemala and Mexico, which views gun ownership as a citizen's right rather than a privilege to be earned. These things are not opinions or personal truths. They are quantifiable facts about gun ownership, shootings and the US Constitution.


There are many people whom I count as friends, and even respect as human rights activists, who proudly take the position that gun ownership is an important expression of American freedom. They argue that guns provide many with a sense of personal security—against potential invaders, against government officials turned into totalitarians, against dangerous wildlife and (at times) against starvation. They also argue that guns can be used responsibly for sportsmanship. Some of them support ownership with greater regulation. Others take talk of gun control as a personal slight and are quick to make statements about how criminals will just seek out weapons on the black market and about how it is humans, rather than the guns themselves, which commit crimes. On one end of the spectrum, avid supporters of gun ownership will advocate for stricter security in schools and more discipline from parents and teachers. On the other, they will advocate for a culture filled with more love and less violence in the media—mirroring their liberal peers on pretty much every point except for the one which views guns as inherently symbolic of destruction.


In The Guardian's statistics about gun-related violence in America, a few things are clear:

  1. As stated already, more guns = more shootings.

  2. The USA holds a majority of the world's guns. 

  3. While there are enough guns within the USA to supply 88 people out of every 100 American citizens with a firearm, only 3 percent of American citizens actually hold the majority of guns in America. 

  4. While mass shootings are increasing and becoming more deadly, the vast majority of gun-related deaths have always been, and seem on track to continue to be, suicides. 

  5. All gun-related civilian deaths are massively out-numbered by those resulting from auto-accidents, plane crashes, illness or natural disasters.

One may reasonably conclude from this data that Americans aren't, by and large, a bunch of trigger-happy rogues, nor has the risk of venturing into a school building suddenly become more dangerous than the risk of riding on the bus to get there. Nonetheless, I feel it is easy to understand that gun-related deaths are less anticipated by victims and families and often have a uniquely gut-wrenching impact. After all, being shot to death is often the result of an individual or group's highly personalized aggression, fear, or hatred—whereas dying from a crash, sickness or natural disaster is a known, accepted and impersonal hazard which comes with being human.

My Conclusions.

  1. Being shot to death—like dying from a crash, sickness or natural disaster—is also a hazard which comes with being human. 

  2. Nonetheless, being shot to death is genuinely unique in that it is often the result of an individual or group's highly personalized aggression, fear or hatred. 

  3. Our society can take major steps toward shifting our culture to foster less unchecked aggression, fear and hate. However, this is a complex and nuanced process. Neither “all love” nor “tough love” will get us there. I once heard of “radical love.” That may be a start, but even it most likely isn't enough on its own. 

  4. Metal detectors and security officers can help make environments safer. These measures can also breed paranoia, increase despair and fail due to technical error and genuine human fallibility. 

  5. Evidence based data shows that increased gun control will lessen gun purchases and decrease shooting related deaths, even though guns are still available illegally. 

  6. Meanwhile, gun ownership is a Constitutionally protected right. In and of itself, the right to choose is unique and worth fighting to maintain—whether that choice relates to one's religion, gender identity, marital status, decision to abort, decision to homeschool, decision to vaccinate, decision to use drugs, or decision to own a gun. 

  7. When taking a stand for gun ownership, it is important as a politician to do more than take money from the NRA and offer your condolences to the victims of mass shootings. 

  8. When taking a stand for gun ownership, it is important as a civilian to understand that your right comes with inherent responsibilities—one of which is to respect gun safety and the many discussions on that topic without jumping immediately to the conclusion that logical concern over wrongful death is being purposefully leveraged against you. 

  9. Mass shootings are national tragedies which require mourning. Generally speaking, humans are ill-prepared to mourn, even though death is perhaps the one aspect of life we are all guaranteed to share.

Personally, I mourn the loss of life in Florida this Valentine's Day. I advocate for the right to responsible, better regulated gun ownership. I advocate for stronger school security coupled with dedicated counselors who are able to focus more on students' mental health than on test scores, detention and study hall. I advocate for gun safety education classes and mass shooting survival classes. I advocate for literature, art and media which illustrates the pervasive destructiveness of hatred, aggression and fear—while also showing a way to transmute this via social justice and radical love, for the benefit of both those who might suffer from, as well as those who might perpetuate, destruction. 

Finally, I advocate for better victim care. In Florida today, recovering people need blood transfusions, and the families of the fallen need a space to tell their children's stories and to receive unconditional compassion during a time of grief. For more on how you can step outside the gun-control debate and offer direct help to those in need, go here:

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