Living in Society Social Commentary

Shootings Are Personal

Campaign Nonviolence Rally
Campaign Nonviolence Rally

Any useful discussion of guns in society is personal.

Frequent shootings have been reported in nearby Cedar Rapids, often in the neighborhood where we lived when our daughter was born. We heard gunshots while we were there. Most times a weapon was discharged with no one injured and no subsequent news story. The main reason we moved was not the presence of guns, but to find a rodent-free rental home in which to raise our daughter.

At the shopping mall in Coralville where I buy button-down shirts, neckties and dress slacks, a man shot and killed a women near her workplace at the Iowa Children’s Museum on June 12. The murder appears to have been premeditated. This and other shopping mall shootings are a constant reminder of the peculiar risks of our consumer culture.

When I hear about shootings, it often takes the form of an anecdote. Like the Nov. 27 incident in which a man was asked to stop smoking by a restaurant employee in Mississippi, and then shot the woman dead. If you’ve never been to a Waffle House, like the one where this murder occurred, I recommend it. The counter is close to the kitchen and it is hard not to get involved in the drama acted out between customers and staff. There was drama at all the Waffle Houses where I dined.

What to do about the increasing number of firearms discharges in populated areas and public places is an open question our society won’t ask with any seriousness. By serious, I mean addressing the related political, regulatory, Constitutional, educational and public health issues in a way that would reduce the frequency of shooting incidents and the number of people killed and injured in gun violence. If we don’t ask the question it won’t get answered.

As a soldier I trained on every weapon in our company’s inventory from personal weapons like the Colt 45 revolver and the M-16A1 rifle, to mortars and the TOW anti-tank missile system. I became an expert marksman and have the badge to prove it. When I left the Army I checked my guns at the arms room and never looked back.

The existence of guns and weaponry in society is not our American problem. How they are used and regulated is.

Guns are regulated — just go to a gun shop and try to buy one. Changing regulations to address gun violence in mass society seems a logical way to address the problem — a no-brainer. A large majority of Americans would support tightening regulations with simple solutions like restricting gun purchases by people whose names appear on government terrorist watch lists. There is also broad support for universal background checks, such support blocked by a few vociferous pro-gun advocates.

There is a black market in gun sales and an active off the books exchange of weapons between friends and family. Criminals and terrorists will always be able to locate some of the hundreds of millions of firearms in the country to do their malevolent deeds. That is less the issue.

There is a lot of stupid stuff going on: things like keeping loaded weapons where toddlers can access them. Reasonable people who own guns take appropriate action to keep guns safely, or at least out of the hands of toddlers. We all need to stop doing stupid stuff, and media should develop common sense in reporting gun violence.

The media, both corporate and social, is culpable in gun violence. As data journalists Ritchie King, Carl Bialik and Andrew Flowers pointed out yesterday, mass shootings have become more common in the United States, but overall, gun homicides have decreased. If the Cedar Rapids Gazette writes a story about every reported gun discharge inside city limits, the issue of gun control would be escalated to higher importance than when shootings were commonplace in my family’s neighborhood — background noise while living in a rodent-infested area. There are few ledes to gun stories that capture the broad issues of what happens when our educational system is underfunded, mental health care is inadequate, people fear loss of Second Amendment rights, and politicians won’t take action to fix obvious problems with gun regulations. How writers spin this matters and the stories are spinning out of control.

Personal responsibility, while lacking in large segments of society, would be something, but it is not enough. As Tracy Leone posted after the recent San Bernardino, Calif. shootings,

It is time for elected officials to act to reduce the frequency and severity of gun violence. We need to coach them in this as they need it.

In the meanwhile, we live our lives as best we can with the ubiquitous presence of guns, shopping in the mall, and engaging in the drama of everyday life, all the time understanding that if we don’t follow the golden rule, our chances of avoiding gun violence decrease.