The gun, I mean.
I turned it in to the Los Angeles Police Department today in return for a promise that they would decommission – as in destroy – the gun so it can never fall into the wrong hands. It was a commitment I made to my Unitarian Universalist minister following the recent massacre of 6-year-olds and educators in Connecticut.
“You don’t need it,” he said.
I would add that beyond that, keeping it was dangerous. I am no longer trained to use it. I haven’t been to a shooting range in years, let alone practice using a gun under duress.
As guns go, it was a fairly nice piece – a Smith & Wesson .357 magnum. I chose a revolver rather than a semiautomatic pistol because I knew I could safely remove a loaded bullet from the firing chamber of a revolver. It’s a bit trickier removing a bullet from the chamber of a semiautomatic pistol and for me, safety was always the top priority. I figured I would sell the gun eventually. In a society of responsible gun owners, that might be a reasonable thing to do.
But I don’t live in a society of responsible gun owners. I live in a society where teenagers and 20-somethings wield weapons far more powerful than mine and randomly slaughter people in schools, in shopping malls, and on street corners.
I live in a society where the chief lobbying organization for the right to bear arms gets half an hour of free media time advising the nation that the solution to this tragedy is to have more “good” people toting guns, whatever that means.
So, let me get this straight: Rather than simply have everyone who walks into a school pass through a metal detector, like we would if they were entering a courtroom or boarding a plane, the solution, according to the National Rifle Association, is to have more people carrying deadly, semi-automatic rifles.
Excuse me, but to a rational mind, it would seem that a more desirable outcome would be to have fewer potential guns and bullets flying around, not more.
Other suggestions from gun enthusiasts have included training little kids to storm an attacker even as that attacker is firing a semiautomatic rifle and pumping bullets – three to four per child – into each victim. Apparently, that storming thing has worked so well since 9-11 that now they want children to learn how to do it, too.
How dare they – really – how dare they suggest that putting children in a violent, weapons-ridden environment is a good idea? How dare they think that any of us should live like that? Who are we, anyway?
In the mid-1990s, I was a member of the NRA for about a year. The brochures I received in the mail were a little too strident for me. I couldn’t bring myself to write them another check.
When I bought my gun for self-defense, I underwent a mandatory background check and a 5-day waiting period required at the time by the Brady Act. I embraced the process – it seemed like an excellent idea to me (and still does). The NRA, of course, immediately went to court.
I read a lot of books, practiced shooting, learned how to clean and take care of a gun, and participated in training courses on a military base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As the years passed, I spent less time using the gun or even thinking about it. That, of course, was the problem. Eventually, I knew I wasn’t really prepared to use it.
If you’re at all familiar with guns, you may have heard of a book titled “In Gravest Extreme” by Massad Ayoob. It’s short, to the point, and, in my opinion, should be required reading for anyone carrying a firearm. An internationally known arms expert and police officer, Ayoob drives home the point, over and over, that using a gun in a self-defense situation is a highly tense and dangerous endeavor. Everything changes under the influence of adrenaline and fear. Even if the act of self-defense is successful, taking someone’s life or maiming someone is not an emotionally comfortable outcome. Once taken, a life never can be replaced.
In other words, you don’t just go buy a gun, stick it in a closet or a drawer, and expect to be able to use it at a moment’s notice.
In the Los Angeles area alone, more than one person a day dies of homicide. The fatalities usually involve gunfire and they usually involve people of color. I have friends who believe, justifiably, that this, too, is an outrage, no less important than massacres in movie theaters and schools.
We have to get guns out of the hands of the wrong people in this country. We need to conduct universal background checks of people seeking to buy guns. We need to keep better track of mental health data. We need to reinstate a ban on assault weapons.
As I waited in line at the Van Nuys Masonic Lodge for an hour and a half, a double line of cars at least as long as it was when I first arrived still stretched out behind me. I listened to my radio, chatted with officers, talked to a reporter, took occasional snapshots, and now and then just sat still, contemplating the clear afternoon sky cleansed by the rain, the long afternoon shadows, and the actions of the people around me. We were engaged in a sacred undertaking – forming a community that cares for its children and for each other.
When I reached the front of the line, I asked the officers if they would take a picture. A very handsome police officer posed beside my car, holding my empty revolver for all to see. Another officer offered me a $60 gift card. I said I would just give it to charity, so they kept it to give to someone else. If I cared about the money, I could have sold that gun to the ever-present American entrepreneurs handing out flyers as we waited in line, offering cash for firearms. As my minister has suggested, we are not just an economy. We are a people.
As I drove away, and I am not making this up, a spray of miniature raindrops began to fall and a double rainbow – a rare sight in Southern California – parted the sky to the north. I felt peace.
I love it that so many Angelenos waited patiently in line to turn in their firearms today. I love it that together, we set an example and did the right thing for our communities. Actions speak louder than words, and our actions stated very clearly to the NRA and to Congress that we want guns out of our schools, out of our public spaces, and out of the hands of children and the mentally ill. We made a powerful statement for peace.
I believe we also made a powerful statement of support for the 2nd Amendment – specifically, the part that refers to a “well regulated” militia. We intend to regulate it, whether the NRA likes it or not.
Wednesday, 26 December 2012