|Photo courtesy of rbayak, freeinages.com|
In 2012, 986 mass shootings ago, I wrote these words: “”In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”
Now it’s time to talk about guns.
In the wake of the Umpqua Community College shooting, I had the unenviable task of appearing on CNN to defend the shooter’s mother, Laurel Harper, for sharing an entirely legal interest in firearms with her son.
Legal, but stupid.
Should Harper be blamed for her son’s actions? Of course not. Millions of parents share an interest in guns with their children. Harper did not have a crystal ball that could predict her son would become a mass shooter; in fact, it could be argued that mothers are the worst people to ask about their children’s weaknesses, because we prefer to focus, like Harper did, on our children’s strengths. Harper, who is grieving the loss of her son, the tenth victim of the shooting, couldn’t predict a mass shooting any better than anyone else can.
But was Harper irresponsible in how she owned and stored her guns? The clear answer is yes. Not because her son had a mental illness. Because all parents who own and store guns in their homes are irresponsible, regardless of whether anyone in the family has a mental illness.
What causes mass shootings? The same thing that causes 61% of all deaths by gun violence (suicides): easy access to guns. If no one in your family has suffered the negative effects of gun ownership, it’s not because you are a “responsible gun owner.” You are just lucky.
The research on guns and gun ownership is clear. Having firearms in your home makes everyone who lives there more likely to be a victim of gun violence, period. That’s irresponsible parenting.
In the wake of other clear public health risks, Americans have acted rationally. For example, seat belts save lives, so we pass laws that require car drivers to buckle up, and accident-related deaths go down.
But guns? Pry them from our cold, dead fingers.
I live in Idaho, a state where the Second Amendment is revered only slightly less than the Bible. I have enjoyed shooting as a sport; in fact, my brothers taught marksmanship at Boy Scout camps for years. I also enjoy hunting, and many of my friends provide food for their families by heading to the hills with their .22s each October.
But as I’ve learned more about the risks of storing guns in the home, my views on gun control have evolved.
I've avoided talking publicly about guns for this simple reason: I am afraid one of my Second Amendment-worshipping, gun-toting neighbors will shoot me. As I wrote this essay, my husband, reading over my shoulder, said, “Let’s update our wills before you publish.”
But our fear speaks volumes about why we need to talk about guns. In fact, we all are afraid—to go to the store, to the movie theater, to school. It’s time to face that fear head on and do something about it.
I believe that Americans should be allowed to own any type of gun they want to—as long as they are stored in locked cases at gun clubs. Want to shoot a semiautomatic and feel like an action movie hero? Knock yourself out—at the gun club. Want to take your kids hunting for the weekend? Check out your hunting rifles—from the gun club.
If Adam and Nancy Lanza had bonded over guns at a club instead of at home, 20 children would likely be enjoying fourth grade this fall. If Laurel Harper and Chris Mercer had bonded over guns at a club instead of at home, 10 people would likely still be alive today and turning in their midterm writing assignments. If guns were stored at a gun club instead of at home, more than 19,000 people who died by suicide in a single year might have had a chance to get the mental healthcare they desperately needed.
Our Founding Fathers were reasonable men. They surely never imagined a country where an amendment designed to keep the British from invading, at a time when guns could only fire one shot at a time with questionable accuracy, would lead to weekly mass shootings of innocent citizens.
I hope that Laurel Harper will join moms across America in demanding action from Congress on gun control. I’m one of those moms. Please don’t shoot me.