America's Mass Shooting Epidemic Is Proof Of Our Embarrassingly Low Standards For Gun Ownership
In light of the domestic terrorist attack that recently occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada, in which 58 people were fatally shot and more than 515 injured, I found myself thinking of the first time I shot a gun and how the experience taught me an important lesson that speaks to the core of what being a gun owner should be about but isn't — respecting this privilege and holding it to a higher standard.
"Breathe, relax, and shoot."
Those were the three words of advice offered by my friend Carlos as I shot a gun for the first time. The AR-15 recoiled, the stock of the weapon pressing into my shoulder as the bullet pierced a cardboard cutout several yards away. With every shot, the more comfortable I became, Carlos interjecting in between shots to remind me of my posture and encouraging me to try shooting from different positions.
Upon firing my last bullet I walked up to him and handed him the AR-15.
"That was...fun," I said, still visibly shaking.
"Good, and the shaking will wear off — that happens to everyone when they shoot a gun for the first time," he responded. "Now, here's a 9mm pistol."
Gun culture has never been a hobby or interest in my family. No one collects guns, hunts, or goes to shooting ranges to practice, so the concept of owning a gun wasn't necessarily something I detested or approved of. But the older I got and the more I learned of mass shootings throughout the United States, the more my stance shifted to the former. I understand the Second Amendment and people's right to bear and keep arms, and how firearms can protect us in certain drastic situations. But the lack of regulation in the face of mass shootings that have left students in colleges, children in schools, and people in clubs dead, deterred me from ever wanting to own a gun, let alone try shooting one.
A number of issues contribute to the stigma surrounding guns: the exploitation and glamorization of violence; the gun industry, which makes up almost $32 million of the U.S. economy; and complex issues such as gun regulation and gun rights treated with a certain lack of common sense that's unsettling. Guns are always going to be a controversial topic because they are built on a moral struggle — the unfortunate truth that there are people who may attempt to bring harm, danger, and death, and the need to protect yourself from such. A recent report from the Washington Post supports this, with most gun owners citing a need for protection from other people as a primary reason to own guns (19 percent of American adults own 50 percent of the nation's guns while three percent own the rest, with that three percent owning an average of 17 guns apiece).
This moral struggle is arguably why gun regulation and gun rights are usually argued in extremes — either no guns or no gun laws. Even now, the discussion has hit a deadlock. On October 2 White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee didn't answer reporters' questions about gun control, saying "there will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that's not the place that we're in at this moment." Similar to this sentiment is the notion of not politicizing the Las Vegas shooting, with Conservative critics calling out Hillary Clinton after she sent out tweets directed toward the National Rifle Association.
\u201cOur grief isn't enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.\u201d— Hillary Clinton (@Hillary Clinton) 1506952967
\u201cThe NRA? People are in surgery & dying & families aren't sure if loved ones have survived. Don't politicize this you heartless hack! https://t.co/aBaZ2RvHOe\u201d— Kennedy (@Kennedy) 1506957200
The problem with this logic is evident in the reoccurrence of mass shootings in the United States. In a report from the Gun Violence Archive, over 1,500 mass shootings have occurred in 1,735 days. The website, which defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot in an incident (excluding the shooter), also revealed that a mass shooting occurs nine out of every 10 days on average.
Nevertheless, the outcome remains the same: a sensible solution is never reached, with politicians evading the root of the problem by simplifying the causes to a lack of security or mental illness, blanketed by three words that absolve them of any moral dilemma: "thoughts and prayers." The outcome of a mass shooting in the U.S. has become so predictable that satirical news website The Onion has run this headline each time an incident occurs.
\u201c\u2018No Way To Prevent This,\u2019 Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens https://t.co/LMg4mj6LFn\u201d— The Onion (@The Onion) 1506952187
The lack of immediacy in gun law reform is embarrassing and even disrespectful to what I understand gun culture to be. Through Carlos, I came to understand that there's a ritual to owning, possessing, and using a gun. Even before we started shooting he was adamant about breaking down the structure of the guns we used, explaining everything from how bullets propel from firearms to proper stances that not only make one's aim better but lessens the impact of recoil upon firing. Sure, there was the allure of firing a gun for the first time that initially piqued my interest, but what I enjoyed most was seeing the care, diligence, respect, and responsibility Carlos showed in handling his guns. Seeing that made me realize that guns can serve a purpose beyond the stigma we commonly associate with them, but the rhetoric and practices surrounding them need to be changed in order to do so.
The second amendment was written without the foresight of how weaponry would change and evolve. Gun laws need to be reformed to better reflect the present but to also set precedence — that this culture needs to be held to a higher standard to instill a better respect and understanding of what it means to be a gun owner.