Saturday, December 15, 2012

You Cannot Make Me Own a Gun: What Gun Culture Looks Like

Last year, my mom was having a dispute with her neighbors over their Rottweiler. The dog was vicious and had attacked at least three people. It had lunged at my then-three-year-old nephew and had become an increasing safety issue. For a while, I refused to visit my mom's house because the dog jumped over the neighbor's fence and lunged at me when I was getting out of the car, and I had an infant at the time.

My mom had called the police several times, but she lives in an unincorporated part of the country, so there are no statutes about securing your dog. The dog would have to have caused actual damage in order for the county to be willing to do anything about it. When it killed one of my mom's cats, she was able to prosecute, but the neighbors did not lose their dog; they were just told to keep it restrained.

In the meantime, my mom put up a fence she couldn't afford to try to keep her family safe. One night, I was visiting her and noticed that the dog had either gotten loose from or been left off the chain that was supposed to secure it. I was on the other side of my mom's fence, but I was still nervous. When I went to leave that night, the dog was pacing the gate, waiting for me to open it. I went back in the house, hoping it would leave. As I opened the door, I saw its eyes shining from beneath a bush as it waited for me to get closer to the gate. As I approached, it crept forward, nearing the gate as I reached to open it.

And I decided I wasn't going to play.

These same neighbors shot a gun in the air and screamed racial epithets at me and my family as we left my mom's house only a few months before. These were not reasonable people, and these were not people I could deal with individually.

I called the police. I told them I was trapped in my yard by a dog that they already had multiple calls on. They came out, but it takes the police at least forty minutes to get to my mom's house, and--in the meantime--the neighbors called the dog back into their own yard. When the police arrived, the dog lunged at the fence and bit at them. I (from my side of my mom's fence) warned them that the dog could jump over. They put their hands on their guns.

But the neighbors came out and restrained the dog, apologized to the police officers, and said they would put it back on the chain.

Then the police turned to me and told me that they understood my concern, but they couldn't do anything. They told me that I should just shoot the dog the next time I felt threatened.

That's how they said it, "Just shoot it." Like it was an easy thing for me to do. They didn't ask me if I had a gun; they just assumed that I did.

Sig Sauer P226

Ever since I wrote that post suggesting that it's time to examine gun culture in America, I have been in an argument with someone over guns. Everyone that I have argued with lives in this same town where I grew up, where my mom still lives. Those police officers' reaction to my problem exemplifies why I am in these arguments: my hometown has a pervasive gun culture, one that does not take into account the complexities of the society around them. 

Here's the thing: I would be a horrible police officer. I do not like guns. I don't have very good spatial reasoning and so, even with training, I doubt I would be very good at shooting them. I think that anyone who plans to use a gun should be trained to do so, and I don't mean a weekend course in safe handling; I mean complex, hands-on training. I don't have the time or inclination to go through that training. I do not want a gun near my child, so I do not want one in my home. 

That does not mean that I don't think other people should be allowed to own them, be trained to shoot them, and keep them in their homes. I am able to understand that other people view guns differently than I do, but they seem unable to understand that works both ways. 

I do not want to have to shoot my mom's neighbor's dog. 

I live in a society for a reason, and part of being in a society is that we give up certain freedoms to attain certain benefits. I cannot steal my neighbor's food, but in return, I get to have a legal system that tells my neighbors they can't steal my food either. Now neither of us have to get killed trying to steal each other's food. 

This is on my mind because I have seen many, many posts on social media (especially from people who live in my hometown) lamenting how preventable all of those Connecticut children's deaths would have been if the teachers had just been armed. 

Images like this one have been common:

Setting aside all of the logical fallacies in that post (this is cherry picking one country out of hundreds and the results would not work this way if we compared school shooting in, say, Australia or Canada; Israel actually has strict gun laws for private citizens; there is some dispute over whether that picture is even a teacher), let's just look at the argument that arming teachers is a worthwhile decision.  

Tim Wise does an excellent job of dismantling this weak argument here, and you should go read it. But let's--for the sake of argument--set that aside, too. Let's say that making our teachers carry guns could help prevent tragedy. 

Should we do it?

I am a teacher. I love my job, and the evidence suggests I'm pretty good at it. It fits me and my personality. I am a thinker and a writer who loves helping other people discover their own abilities. 

I am not a killer. I am not a shooter. I am not a gun enthusiast. 

So am I now ineligible to be a teacher? Did you just cut me out of the teacher pool because I am not willing to carry a gun to work? If not, then how does this arming teachers business work? Do we force teachers to carry guns even if they aren't comfortable with it? (That sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it?) Do we only hire teachers who are already trained with guns? (We already have a shortage of good teachers, and this seems like a great way to make the pool impossibly small.) Do we force teachers to undergo gun training? (Who's going to pay for that, and we still have the problem of training people who don't want to shoot guns.) 

Why should we just stop at teachers? A terrible shooting happened in a mall just days ago. Should all of the clerks working in the stores be required to carry guns? The Colorado shooting happened in a theater. Should the people working there--often teenagers--have been required to be carrying as well? Where would it stop? Bus drivers, mailmen, lawyers, nurses, doctors: should they all have to carry a weapon because they are in public places where violence might occur? 

This argument insults me. It insults me because it completely ignores the perspective of people like me, people who do not want and probably have no business carrying a gun. Just because you want a gun and would love nothing more than for someone to break into your house so that you could use it (I'm not exaggerating. I've had people tell me that they just "dare" someone to step into their house or threaten their family, as if getting to shoot someone would just be the cherry on top of their cupcake of a day) does not mean that I want to, and I certainly should not be required to do so. 

That police officer's assumption that I was (a) carrying a gun and (b) willing to use it to shoot the dog is indicative of a much larger problem. Because the police could pass the burden of a crazed dog off on me, there is no onus on legislation to create laws protecting from that kind of attack. Because the assumption runs so deep that everyone is loaded and willing to shoot in that area, they don't even look at other safety measures--safety measures that work very well in other countries and even other places in the U.S. 

That is the problem of gun culture--it blinds us to alternative solutions. 

If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. 

If all you have is a gun, everything looks like a target. 

Photo: WickedVT


  1. I don't have an answer for you. Wish I did. I don't know that the social system can afford to defend and protect everyone. Sad, but the $$ aren't there to do it.

    Sadly, on this same day, 20 school children were killed by stabbing in China where civilians can't have guns.

    We don't know when or were madness
    will strike next, it always finds a way.

    1. You could not be more wrong. Twenty children were attacked in China; none of them died. That's the difference between guns and knives.

    2. But thank you for proving my point for me.

  2. Replies
    1. One of my friends moved their recently. She makes it sound very beautiful!

  3. I think what the Israel/U.S. comparison is missing is that in Israel, the only time teachers or school guards carry guns is if they are on a field trip and leaving the school grounds. On school property, they do not have guns....just like in the U.S. Additionally, these weapons are on loan to them only for the duration of the trip from the police department--when over they are returned.

    1. Yeah. Whoever put together that picture doesn't appear to have done much research . . .

  4. So very much agreed.

    I'm a teacher, a damned good one, and it is my passion. I cannot imagine me loving another career so wholeheartedly.

    The school where I teach is in an area with a high violent crime rate. I do not operate under any delusions that gun violence could never touch my school.

    And yet, the moment someone mandated, even strongly encouraged, that I carry a gun as part of my professional duties -- that's the moment where I'd walk away, not up for discussion.

    Certainly, I respect that some people want and choose to own firearms. But I also need them to respect that I do not want and so choose not to.

    1. Absolutely. And carrying and using a gun requires a specific personality and skill set, one I think we can ALL agree that not everyone has.

  5. This is an excellent piece. Thank you for writing it. I am also not a killer, and I've had similar arguments with people.

  6. Excellently put. As an atheist I believe this is the only time we have to exist. Or at least one that we can be sure about. I am not comfortable in ending someone's existence because in a split second I judge them to be a threat, when there might be another solution to end the conflict peacefully. Our brains are our biggest weapons. This was our evolutionary advantage not weapons of deadly force. If we all used our brains we might actually be able to come up for solutions to the problems of society that don't include firearms! :)

  7. The bill in Missouri to give teachers concealed weapons scared me but I had not thought of some of the excellent points you raised. It is also completely mind-blowing that police would blatantly tell you to commit a crime, a crime which you could be arrested and/or sued for. I sincerely do not understand that. But interesting post, per usual!