Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lost in the Drizzle and Fog

If there is one line that I've repeated in this blog over and over again from the beginning, it is that I acknowledge and realize that anecdotes are not science. So, don't use the following story against me. I once knew someone who worked third shift at a convenience store. As we all know, because news people frequently report, that the third shift at a convenience store can be very dangerous. They get robbed regularly by armed robbers who are probably black, high on drugs, and will shoot the clerks because they don't want to leave any witnesses. In fact, the older sister of one of my high school classmates was killed in exactly this way, I believe during my junior year. The person in this story, however, was never robbed. He was a big guy, not tall or fat (then) but just burly built, and not many people would mess with him based on that alone, and he was not afraid. In 1983 a friend of his gave him a gun for a gift. It was a .357 handgun; a very imposing firearm. We went to the range to shoot it, and it felt good. He started taking the gun to work, just in case. You just never know. And his nights were suddenly transformed. When someone who fit the stereotypical description of "suspicious" he found himself inching over toward the gun hidden beneath the counter. Just in case. You never know. You saw the story in the paper, didn't you? He had never been afraid before, but suddenly, because there was a gun there, he was on the verge of having a moment of choice that would change his life forever. Thankfully, he was capable of self reflection, and he saw what he was doing and stopped taking the gun to work. He still was never robbed, and no longer needed to be afraid of anyone just because of how they looked.

I don't wish to argue about what the Second Amendment to the US Constitution means. I know for a fact that President Obama does not intend to take away anyone's guns, and every politician who has not been bought by the NRA risks his or her job if they take a position that advocates any kind of regulation on the aforementioned "well regulated militia." I know that, while I look at hunters and see some value in what they do, I also know that my friends, family, and acquaintances who are "right wing gun nuts" do not believe that the Second Amendment has anything to do with hunting, but with taking out government soldiers when they kick down your door. A problem that existed in the eighteenth century, but I don't see happening now. Some of those folks talk about permission to protect one's property and family from intruders, which I think is an argument that carries a bit of weight. But not much. If an intruder came into the bedroom of a homeowner with a baseball bat close at hand, the resident would have an advantage over the intruder just based on shock value, that the bat defense would work. When my first husband worked nights and I worked days, and we lived in a "bad neighborhood," I kept a policeman's night stick under my bed. I never needed to use it, but I guarantee that any intruder who tried to do me harm would have found that completely unexpected, and would not have been able to get a shot off before that baton caught them in the gut. No gun required. But yet, one of those acquaintances claims that we lefty, anti-gun apologists always "blame the gun." In the case of the guy in the C-store, the gun did take on a life that changed the behavior of that man completely. When the gun wasn't there, he was fine; when the gun was there, he was fearful and defensive.

My point of using something besides guns for defense of home and family comes from a scary place. The threat of suicide has been quite prevalent in my life, and I have known several people, some in my family, who have had family members commit suicide with the legally owned guns in their homes. This is where science and anecdotes come together: I have had a hard time coming up with hard numbers for this post, which is why it has taken me over two weeks to comment on the gun conversation that has been a growing cacophony since twenty-eight people died in Newtown, CT on December 14, 2012. But the one number that has been consistent in all the research I've done is that guns in the home are used so often to commit suicide that health care professionals have come to believe that there is a correlation between the presence of a gun and the very choice to commit suicide. In other words, your family members, and mine, don't come to the decision to kill themselves, and then go buy a gun. In a moment of extreme despair, your twenty-year old son says to himself, "I can end this right now, easily." Then he gets your legally owned hand gun and makes an irrevocable decision.

Since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, there has been much discussion about how to prevent school shootings from continuing to happen. There have been several calls, including some from my own part of Texas, Arlington, calling on school administrators to train and arm "willing teachers" to respond early in a shooting incident, and save the lives of children. I have heard so much from so many all my life about the Second Amendment, and how much Americans, and Texans love their guns, that I honestly can't believe that there aren't already teachers who have guns, know how to use them, and would not be afraid to do so. All they would need is permission, and their personal weapons would be in their desk or purse. The problem with this theory are many. For one thing, there was more than one teacher at Sandy Hook who lost her life because she put her own body between the shooter and the children. So, how many more children would have died if one of those teachers were armed, and searching her desk for the weapon, in a moment of chaos and fear, tried to get a shot off that would stop the assailant? I took a rifle marksmanship class in college, and one thing we were taught was never to let off a shot if you don't know you have a hit. So to wait and aim while a shooter with hundreds of rounds of ammunition is spraying the room with ordnance would mean babies dying, and probably the teacher as well. How effective would even a powerful, semi-automatic handgun be against an assault rifle that could get off thirty rounds before the teacher could get off one or two rounds? As that well trained, well armed teacher was falling from the bullets in that thirty-round clip, how off-aim would her arm be, and how many children would be shot by "friendly fire?" In one of these conversations, a very smart young lady I know suggested that instead of arming teachers, perhaps we could place military veterans in schools to stop these incidents short. Veterans do have a rather high rate of unemployment, and they are trained in the use of so-called "assault weapons." On the surface it sounds like a win-win. But there are some terms we know that our military has come to accept in our more recent war efforts. Those terms include "friendly fire" and "collateral damage." The military must learn to desensitize to those awful realities in ways that most of us will never understand. Children die in war, and so do innocent civilians. Sometimes, in the chaos of battle, soldiers shoot each other. That would most certainly happen if an armed guard were involved in a shoot out with a crazed gunman armed to the teeth. And I can't help thinking that these guys who snap and arm up with military grade weapons could also find hand grenades online and take out the armed guards without compunction. Not to mention that when the mass shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, those schools had armed guards, and Virginia Tech, like most large universities, had its own police force. They couldn't stop these attacks before multiple students died. A life long friend of mine, who happens to be a libertarian and Second Amendment zealot, is also an avid proponent that armed teachers will be a discouragement to gun violence in schools says, "The shooter who premeditates one of these events would think of the armed teachers and not go to a school to shoot children." When reminded of Columbine and Virginia Tech, there is no reply. But when I pointed out an incident that happened on the same day as this conversation, in which a man who was under arrest in New Jersey took a police officers gun and shot three police officers before he was killed by other police officers, he says that this is not a valid example. This man was in a place where the majority of people present are trained in the use of weapons, and many have more than one weapon easily accessible on their person. My friend's argument was that the Sandy Hook shooter premeditated his act, and the police station shooter was acting out of fear, and not thinking at all. But we can't really know exactly what was going through the minds of either shooter-both incidents ended with the shooter's death. Perhaps the New Jersey guy was committing "suicide by cop," and everything he did was premeditated. Perhaps the Sandy Hook shooter was so out of his head with mental illness that he never gave a thought that someone armed might be there to stop him. And would it matter if he was planning to end it with his own death anyway?

And not all the mass shootings occur on school campuses, as shown by the mall shooting in Tuscon, AZ in 2011 and at the movie theater in Aurora, CO. Will we not be able to go anywhere from now on without seeing armed guards? Not even to see a family movie without the presence of armed guards-because of one incident? One comment I saw reminded me that it only took one failed shoe bomber has seen to it that we would have to take our shoes off forever at airports.

I have educators on both sides of my family, and some good friends who are educators. Some of them are full of stories about how both children and their parents disrespect teachers now. I just have a feeling that some armed teacher could snap and take out a class full of students one day when a rude student finally pushes one too many buttons. Or a distraught teacher, who is trained and armed, remembers the gun in her desk and takes her own life in front of her students. As I said earlier, the only hard statistic I've been able to find is that legally owned guns are used for suicide far more often than to defend against an attacker. I'm against suicide, and I can't help but think that since we know that guns are used more often for the suicide of our loved ones than to defend our loved ones against armed intruders, that perhaps rethinking having guns in our homes would be a place to start. I'm not saying the government should take our guns away, as I know I'll be accused of by some gun zealots. I'm saying that gun owners should consider that they are putting their families at risk. In fact, I believe that it is individuals rethinking how we see guns in this country will be the first step in reducing the amount of gun violence we experience. And I will use as an individual example of an irony on the very same day as the Sandy Hook shooting a crazed attacker at a school in China who injured the very same number of school children, twenty, as the Sandy Hook shooter, but with a knife. Not one of those children died. Not one. So while it may be true that guns don't kill people, people with large ammunition clips and military grade weapons do kill people. Lot's people, and quickly. That's what assault weapons were meant to do. Kill people. That's what they are meant for, and that's exactly what they do.