Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Unfathomable Part II: Put Down Your Assault Style Weapons

I watched Batman with my daughter Mackenzie a few days ago. We watched Pitch Perfect first while we decorated the Christmas tree and drank wine. I had a piece of Ghirardelli’s Twilight Delight chocolate with my wine. Mm, it was a delicious combination. I’m trying to feel normal in this world that is tipped on its axis and is spinning toward self-destruction.
Batman is the movie the Aurora shooter, who shall not be named, used as his stage to shoot moviegoers like tin plates in a carnival game. He used an assault style weapon that used 100 round clips. This past week another shooter, who shall not be named, shot 20 children and 5 adults with an assault style weapon called a Bushmaster before turning a handgun on himself. The parent company of the Bushmaster manufacturer decided to sell the company immediately after the school shooting.
The owner of Cerberus Capital said, ““We do not believe that Freedom Group or any single company or individual can prevent senseless violence or the illegal use or procurement of firearms and ammunition,” Cerberus said. “[Still] the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level.” 

I remember I waited a week after the Aurora shooting before going to see Batman at the movies. When we finally went, because I refused to let my life be dictated by fear, I cringed and felt terrified during some of the shooting scenes. These men have ruined my movie fun. The very reason to watch a movie such as Batman or Jack Reacher, which I saw yesterday with my husband Ronald, is that such violence is unfathomable and improbable. But it has happened, and not just once. These men have blurred the line between fantasy and reality and dragged us all into the consequence of their inability to tell the difference. It is willing suspension of disbelief in real life, not just in the movies.
Assault style weapons sales have increased since the latest shooting as they did after the Aurora shooting, and people are claiming their 2nd Amendment rights as they hoard the killing machines. They are joining the NRA in record numbers, 8,000 per day since the Newtown shooting. The local gun show here in Winston-Salem had record numbers of people buying guns and ammunition.  A school board appointee was quoted in the paper today saying that he believes in the 2nd Amendment and believes certain school staff should be trained and armed.
People say they need the weapons to defend family, self, property and freedom. They say they need them to defend themselves against the government.
Assault style weapons are nothing but human killers. They have no other purpose. I thought our government was “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” We are the government. We are protected by the largest and most powerful military in the world. Why do citizens need to be armed with weapons that are only used for the purpose of mass killing?
Instead of protecting freedom, they are quickly taking our freedoms away.  When I told my husband Ronald about an article I read in the paper yesterday morning where new technology 3D printers can print out plastic parts that can be assembled to make an assault weapon that cannot be detected with metal detectors, he said, “Pretty soon they will have to strip search every person who is traveling somewhere or going into certain buildings or areas, and we are doing it to ourselves.”
What the 3D printer is capable of producing - assault style weapon's parts for assembly

The NRA came out with its statement concerning the Newtown shooting. 
“If it’s crazy to call for putting police in and securing our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” LaPierre told NBC’s David Gregory. “I think the American people think it’s crazy not to do it. It’s the one thing that would keep people safe and the NRA is going try to do that.”
 That’s nothing new to me. There was a police officer at every urban school my daughters attended. But LaPierre also suggested that if the teachers had been armed, fewer people would have died. That statement carries a lot of assumptions, like teachers should increase their already overwhelming responsibilities and that every teacher would be happy to carry a gun and perhaps shoot to kill. It also assumes that the teacher who shoots to protect the children is a crack shot and wouldn’t shoot any innocent children or adults in the process of taking out a shooter, or maybe the additional deaths would just be considered collateral damage.
A company is marketing body armor that fits into school knapsacks. The inserts cost about $150, which means only kids of well-to-do parents would have access to them. It also means that parents would need to train their children to place the knapsacks in front of them if someone comes into their classrooms shooting. The body armor will not stop bullets from a gun such as the Bushmaster the Newtown killer used. It also will not stop the damage we are doing to our children in this gun-oriented society.
This stuff makes me sick. Is that where we are headed? Our children’s innocence is being stolen, their lives taken, in the quest for individual freedom. Let’s stop the craziness.
President Obama said, “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”
Yes, we must change. Nothing is clearer to me. More guns and more killing are not the answer. More stringent gun ownership requirements are needed. But even more so, we need to lay down our assault style weapons.
Ronald told the white guys at the golf range, all 2nd Amendment supporters, that if he had to turn his guns in, he would willingly do so. “Sure,” he told me, “it would suck to give up competitive shooting, but if that’s what was required, I’d do it.”
He has had a “conceal and carry” license for over 30 years; owns handguns; is NRA certified to teach pistol safety (though he refuses to be an NRA member due to his strong disagreement with their initiatives); and shoots competitively at bull’s eye targets (never human silhouettes). The white guys at the golf range all scoffed at the idea, although it was a successful initiative in Australia where they allowed citizens to turn in assault style weapons and had positive results in the reduction of gun violence.
I remember Ronald once told someone, “I’m afraid of the same people you are. The difference is I know who they are, and you don’t.”
The individual claimed not to understand what Ronald meant, but I do. So many people believe a stereotyped profile that describes "bad" people: they are black or Hispanic (I won't get into the pervasive negative profiling of Arab individuals -- that's a whole different post for another time), male, poor, and they want what you’ve got. People think that is who they are protecting themselves from, and they are including anyone that fits that description, not even considering the “content of one’s character.” But it is so wrong to make that assumption, and so very dangerous for two reasons.
The first reason is that innocent people will be assumed through profiling to have ill intent and will be treated accordingly, such as shooting them for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin.
The second reason is that people who do have ill intent are not given proper precautionary treatment; they are assumed to be okay, a different and equally detrimental profiling. A white man loading up a van with the neighbor’s flat screen and surround sound equipment may be assumed to belong there, but that is not always true.
What needs to change is how we view each other -- as individuals and not a stereotype.
White men have perpetrated most of the mass shootings, and the shootings have been racially/ethnically motivated in at least one recent case, the shooting at the Sikh Temple. It isn’t just mental illness that gets these mass killers to the point where they want to kill countless others in order to gain infamy and cause the rest of us to mourn. There is something societal about their motivation, too. It’s the sense of entitlement that white people and wealthy people enjoy in our society, only these individuals feel disenfranchised by it for whatever reason. Maybe that is the great myth – that being white bears entitlement – spread by the wealthy and powerful to protect their status and self-interests. Maybe it used to be true, but the economic instability we’ve faced since 2001 and the growing minority populations in America have changed and shifted things.
It’s the same motivation that makes people want to arm up in their homes and where ever they go. It is a kind of paranoia about losing something to people one considers not as deserving as the person arming up to protect what is his. It is the same kind of hatred and fear that I heard repeatedly during the campaign, pointed at President Obama and others, the 47%, who are assumed to be living off the hard work of the “good” Americans. We’ve assumed too much about who is good and who isn’t.
We have to learn that we are all in this together, that we are the government, and that sometimes the very thing that is good for the majority may not feel good to the individual, things such as gun control laws or the banning of certain weapons. We need to believe in a greater good, not just the personally beneficial good. We’ve forgotten that Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “With great freedom comes great responsibility.”
We also need to know and support the initiative that when people need help, there is a support net to catch them. We can’t pick and choose who gets to have a net or decide to arm up in lieu of a net.
The safety net should be there for all of us. Whether it is for lack of food and shelter, to get proper treatment for a mental illness or physical ailment, to find a living wage job, to have access to education to better one’s circumstance, to have access to preventative health care, or to just feel a connection to the rest of the population and the world, we should all have a way to get there without judgment by those offering the help.
We can go back to an America where we don’t need to be armed up, particularly with assault style weapons designed to kill masses of people. Where people can continue to enjoy shooting sports like hunting or competitive shooting and own a handgun or two for personal protection if they are so inclined. Where we can go to the movies and enjoy the vicarious thrill of the action without the threat of it ever becoming a reality. Where children can go to school to learn in a safe and nurturing environment, and parents can feel safe leaving their children at school. All children should be able to learn in such an environment, whether they live in the poorest of urban or rural neighborhoods or they live in an affluent suburb or attend a private school. Our children deserve the best of all of us, and so do we. It’s time to put down our assault style weapons for the greater good.

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