A year ago I discovered that I’m a great shot a natural with a 9mm. I emptied a clip into my first target – never missing the orange “person” and achieving five “kills.” Although I was proud of my unexpected talent and my ability to conquer my fear of guns, a nagging sense of unease, perhaps nausea clouded the whole experience.
The right of private citizens to bear arms was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1791 – a time in our history during which gun ownership was at least arguably legitimate and necessary for protection against wild animals threatening human lives or livelihoods. But don’t get me wrong, protection against wolves and bears wasn’t what those who wrote and ratified the amendment were concerned with. The amendment currently reads, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Essentially, gun ownership was a right and a duty for White men between the ages of 18 and 45. They were required to participate and comprise a national defense militia, and create militias they did!
With subsequent constitutional declarations in which non-White men – and women – are also declared citizens, the vaguely constructed amendment is relentlessly evoked to justify and validate the ownership of firearms by ALL private citizens. While the original amendment was designed to establish a civilian militia for the purpose of ensuring that civilians are not mistreated by the government, gun ownership is about something entirely different today.
While I don’t support or respect political groups that use violent, gun-centric imagery as a means of conveying opinions or goals to their members and the general public, I don’t wish to blame them for the most recent high profile example of why the right of private citizens to own firearms is a breeding ground for tragedy. What happened in Arizona on January 8 is nothing new. It is just receiving more attention on account of the hotly debated political motivations attributed to the act of a mentally ill young man – attention that would be better used to elicit conversation about gun control.
I could go on and on about the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and numerous others who many are suggesting contributed to Jared Lee Loughner’s attack on Gabrielle Giffords and those in attendance at her ill-fated political gathering. I could also ceaselessly rant about the lack of compassion, assistance, and acknowledgment the mentally ill receive in the United States, but I’ll save those topics for another day. What I’m most interested in expressing and understanding is the reality that our country is teeming with firearms, and with people who genuinely believe that our lives are somehow safer on account of our collective right to own them. Am I crazy to suggest that Representative Giffords – a gun owner and an advocate for gun ownership – and other citizens and politicians who suggest that they will only relinquish their guns when they are pried from their ‘cold, dead hands’ may want to reconsider their stance?