the roulette wheel

I don’t talk about guns often. Especially not lately.

But, if you know me, we’ve probably had a few dozen conversations about it over the years. You probably know, unequivocally, where I stand.

I don’t talk about it because:

a) It makes me really mad.

b) It makes me really kind of hate people.

I’m only talking about it tonight because I’m finding I have a lot of rage inside about today’s shooting.  Not for the normal reason.  Moreso for the reason that–even I–feel jaded and apathetic about how to fix the problems we’re facing.  And also because this year has taught me a lot about this debate.  It’s taught me a lot about my own feelings and crap related to it.

Let’s just say it’s not simple.

I won’t get into what changed for me this year–but let’s just say I am basically constantly thinking about this discussion.  It went from being some sort of issue that I didn’t really have a direct connection to–to one that I’ve had to directly grapple with.  I had to get real clear about what I felt about it.  And every time there’s a shooting, I get more clear about it.

I’ve always had complicated feelings about these things.  I support our military and police force in observing our Constitution and protecting our citizens from harm.  I live in a largely conservative state where hunting and recreational gun ownership is a huge part of life.  I was in the JROTC in high school and served on the elite drill team where I learned how to do cool things with firearms.  I’ve fired a gun.  I’m a pretty good shot, too.

But I am also staunchly anti-death penalty.  I am a big critic of our military and police forces.  I am anti-war in almost all cases.  I’ve seen violence firsthand–both from my fellow citizens and from police officers.  I do not own a gun and probably would never want to.  I would never have a gun in a home with a child.  These are my feelings.  I don’t expect anymore else to share them.

I think military and police officers should have guns.  I believe they should be highly scrutinized and routinely tested.  I think people should be able to have guns for recreational and legitimate personal use–such as for protection or anything that isn’t breaking the law.  I think this process needs to be highly regulated.  I think there needs to be checks and balances.  We need to keep guns out of the wrong hands.  People with mental health problems never should have access to guns.  I also think, once you have a gun, you should have to prove responsible ownership.  It shouldn’t just be assumed you’re doing the right thing.  There should be extensive training and certification that comes with owning these items. It shouldn’t be like buying a bike.

The reality, though, is that–as much as we try to regulate people–who has access, how they have access…what they do…as long as there’s a culture of violence–there will be death.  There is no fail-safe.  Our war on drugs reflects that. People will find ways to get things.  We can’t stop them, every time.

I didn’t read the NRA’s statement today, but I did see snippets on Twitter about how they believe these incidents come about because people don’t respect guns.

I think the real problem here isn’t guns at all.  It’s how we think.  It’s what we do.  It’s the conversations we have about guns.  It’s the conversations we have about each other and the violence that exists in our speech and beliefs…that’s reflected in our laws and culture.

Guns are tools.  Just like knives and hammers.  All tools that can be used for very bad purposes–and some very good purposes.  Guns are just way more efficient and effective at accomplishing those negative purposes.

People matter.  People make a difference.  We all matter here.  Those of us who own guns and those of us who don’t.

I’ve noticed that, every time this happens, pro gun people tend to get down to the rhetoric of their party lines and stop being compassionate people.  Anti-gun people tend to drive into their place of complacent whining and hand-wringing with little follow-through–just heaps of outrage and ain’t it awful.  The religious, on both sides, tell us all to pray.  And while I appreciate the sentiment, we’ve been praying since the beginning of time and people continue dying for no damn reason.

I’ll admit something–I did a lot of the ain’t it awfulling for years.  I avoided conversations with pro-gun friends because I thought they were ignorant bullies.  I signed the damn petitions and went on my rants about how stupid people were.  I voted the same way I would have had this never happened.  But my actions, overall, changed nothing. Except maybe it made some of my friends nod their heads.

Then this year happened, and I had a chance to actually do some things that WOULD change things.  And I found myself in this moral quandary.  I decided to take the chance.  The things I’ve learned?  My God–I was pretty ignorant about the people I thought I knew so well.  I started realizing that I was acting in my own ethnocentric bubble, and that my “advocacy” was as violent as the acts I hated so much.

Being involved with a Canadian, we have many convos about America and how just plain off we are about things that should just be straightforward.  Like–what the hell is our damage?

What I’ve learned this year is that it’s so easy to get caught up in the demonization spiral.  It’s so easy to forget our own humanity and the humanity of people who aren’t like us–when we’re angry about things that really do matter.  What I’ve learned is that the people I thought were stupid or the enemy are really just people who take this shit just as seriously as I do–and this is why the debate is so difficult.  We all think we’re right.  We all want to be right.  And we’re willing to cut each other down to be right.

There isn’t an easy answer.  But I think it starts there.  Stop embracing violence in YOUR own world now.

None of us want innocent people to die while they’re trying to learn.

No, really.  Take that in.

No one does.

We want to live our lives.  We want to be safe.  We want to be free.  We want to ensure those things for those we love.  We just have different ways of getting there.

We all have valuable perspectives.  We all can learn something from one another.

We all are capable of great violence–intentional or not–gun-related or not–in our OWN lives.  What violence are you perpetrating right now?  Are you being sarcastic when you could be kind?  Are you yelling?  Are you discounting someone’s opinion?

What choices are you making every single moment of every day that create anger and chaos in your own world?

Because I’ve got to tell you–we’re all in this.

Every time, we raise our voice.  Every time, we don’t lean on one another.  Every time, we hold onto grudges.  Every time, we accentuate our differences–we’re giving that energy in our world a voice.  And that energy becomes death and destruction in our lives.

We have a collective rage problem.  We have a collective mental health crisis.  We have a collective respect meltdown.  We don’t give each other what we all need.  We don’t give ourselves what we need.  We pretend we have all the answers.  We bully our way through issues that require vulnerability and sensitivity.

Putting down arms means more than putting down guns.  It means tearing down our own walls.  Disintegrating the ideas of who we are in this world.  It means being open and honest about the roles we play in these problems and not giving up.

I can’t do anything much about gun laws in my state.  I can probably protest and write and be outraged.  But working against each other solves nothing.  What I can do, right now, is suspend my inner six year old’s wailing.  I can confront my fear by admitting I’m terrified of so many people in this world.  I can own my grief over the loss of ever more lives.  I can keep my voice calm and loving when having these conversations.  I can choose to try to understand without judgment.  Mostly, I can be an evolved human being that sees all the gray and tries anyway.

We all deserve better than our worst days.

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