Rights vs Responsibilities

It would be hard to miss the thousands of tweets, sound bites, or posts about examining gun laws over the past several weeks. Some proponents of unfettered access to assault weapons have argued that our President has declared war on gun owners and the Second Amendment. Every once in a while, there is interesting debate about the meaning of the Second Amendment and the intent of the men in the 18th Century who wrote our Constitution. An excellent resource on the law can be found here. As I continue to post this week about truth-telling, especially as it relates to directness and vulnerability, it is about the responsibilities and accountability of gun advocates that I write today.

I confess that I am unlikely to listen too closely or take too seriously the arguments of the NRA when their extreme position fails to even acknowledge that people are killed with guns. Instead, they incite hate and violence. State and federal on both sides of the issue are bombarded with positions held by that organization through their over $50-$300 (depending on how they do the numbers) million per year communications onslaught. It further surprises me that in all of the discussions of police violence against unarmed African American people, no one has drawn a connection to the NRA. In their own website,  they acknowledge more than 13,000 instructors of police and security professionals through the NRA. They also tout their National Police Shooting Championships. This is way too cozy a relationship for me.

Responsibility generally implies a degree of moral, ethical, or other standard, such as one’s position or status, imperative or prompt to take action. When our President took executive action last week to implement a clarification of what constitutes a gun sale for which background checks are required, he acted in accord with his position and explained the standards and ethics in his announcements. Gun proponents attacked him (meaning, they organized ad hominem reproaches for his position and the affect he displayed when he cried over the lives of children killed in gun violence during his administration) with no meaningful alternative proposals put forward. The NRA cannot continue to drag out their volunteer system of teaching a few thousand women to use guns while training over one million others to do so each year. When the NRA and their cronies show consistent responsible actions to curb gun violence, I may start to pay attention to their position.

My personal view of the President’s tears is that his decision to show more clearly his deep sorrow and anger over the death of children is laudable, if late and overly limited. I do not hold as clear a distinction between Tamir Rice and the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. All of their lives are important and yet no more than if they were 20, 30, or 40 years old. Our romantic notions of children and our confused approach to innocence interfere with thinking about human life and solutions to gun violence. Still, deriding our President, a father of two, over his tears about the death of children is heartless and consistent with the incivility shown by his NRA detractors.

What are people in the US so afraid of that we need to own 300 million of guns? That number, widely agreed upon in 2013, is likely much higher now given that there are an additional 5.5 million guns legally imported into the US each year.

IMG_0056aMy own big fears are homelessness, hunger, poverty, severe isolation, severe disability, and death. I don’t believe that I am alone in these fears. What will gun ownership or gun use do to address these fears. Homelessness will not decrease with gun use. Nor will hunger or poverty. In fact, it is likely that homelessness, hunger, and poverty will increase with unabated gun ownership. As a nation we are spending more than $2.75 billion annually on gun imports alone — I am not including domestic manufactured guns — and another $64.6 billion annually from medical bills and loss productivity from nonfatal and fatal gun injuries.

While we debate the cost of terrorist attacks in Paris on our domestic sense of social safety in the US, we neglect to measure the impact of domestic gun violence on the same issue. I have noticed the increased security at Amtrak stations after attacks in Paris and Belgium. This security is likely wise and may even bolster our sense of order and calm. However, I actually feel much less secure going into a local jewelry store where the clerk or manager is packing a weapon. Thirty years ago I stopped shopping at a local hand-crafted chocolate shop because the owner carried a weapon and posted a sign about his intention to use it. Similarly, there is an eyeglass boutique and a local jeweler where clerks carry guns. They will also never have my business. Should the Wisconsin Legislature pass a law allowing students to carry weapons on campus, I will leave my job without notice after sending an email to students enrolled in my class that it is too dangerous to meet.

It is not the absence of guns that is isolating us one from the other, but their presence.

The NRA and other proponents of unfettered access to assault weapons have crafted ingenious messages about their preposterous position as victims of our President and of government overreach. In truth, their taking a position of victimhood is manipulation taken to an art form. These are not victims, but profiteers.

My dear and trusted colleague, Dr. Wilhelmina Perry, has recently written about her take on “evolving” positions on marriage equality and other rights of LGBT people. In my read of her excellent piece, I was reminded not only of the ethical and moral aspect of responsibility, but also of the importance of timeliness in the execution of our actions. As individuals and communities, when will we stop evolving on our response to gun violence and start meaningful action?

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