Since the school shooting in Oregon, the nation has returned to the same debates about gun control that follow each tragic mass shooting. I propose a new debate.
Gun ownership is a central element of the American narrative, in which strong and powerful men used guns to revolt against an oppressive British monarchy. Had strong and powerful men not used their guns, we would still be drinking tea taxed by Great Britain.
I believe there is another American story that is truer and more powerful. From the American Revolution, won with guns, a democracy was born. The men who founded our country rejected the idea of a king or a dictator with unchecked power maintained largely through violence. In America, power was to be shared among three branches of government and would be held, ultimately, by citizens–rather than royal subjects--through elections. A central principle of the American ethos is that we don’t use guns and violence to effect change.
I’m hugely enamored with democracy, especially when it comes to inaugurations. How radical was this the first time it happened? A sitting president peacefully left the white house, abdicating power to a new president elected by the people in a process free of bloodshed. I get goose bumps when I think about it, and I tell this story to my kids every July 4th.
We are the country that has maintained a government for two hundred and thirty-nine years with a near absence of violent political strife. The one exception is the Civil War. Even with that one exception, that is still an amazing record. We are capable of governance without guns.
How is the Second Amendment mean in a country that values reason and debate over guns and violence?
Neither extreme of the gun regulation debate is tenable. We can’t arm every teacher, have open gun cases in the workplace, and train kids to carry their own firearms. We also can’t eliminate legal gun ownership all together.
The Second Amendment allows for guns for self-defense. It does not guarantee the possession of guns for the purpose of offensive attack. As such, guns with the capability to shoot multiple rounds automatically–which is not necessary for self-defense--should be illegal.
The Second Amendment protects the right to maintain a “well-regulated militia” and the right to keep and bear arms that “is not infringed.” Admittedly, that’s confusing. My best judgment says it is within reason to enact legislative measures to reduce the number of guns in the hands of dangerous people. Private sales of guns between individuals should be illegal, and a background check should be required any time a gun changes hands.
You may be one of the people who loves his (or her) guns, feels that his guns are part of his America, and sees no proof that more regulation would actually alleviate violence. Gun control opponents argue that stricter regulations would deprive law-abiding citizens of the rights they currently enjoy. It would. They argue that the loss of these rights won’t entirely eliminate mass shootings. That’s also true.
Perhaps, however, it could change America’s story--if we stand together and make a statement that guns and gun violence are not a normal part of American life; that guns are not so integral to American culture that every person needs one; that owning guns designed to kill many people quickly is not normal and should not, in fact, be a right; that gun ownership and gun violence are not how Americans demonstrate their strength and will.
This is a change that America needs.
Each time a story shows up in my feed about the latest school shooting, I imagine it being my girls' school. I imagine getting the phone call and driving to the place where the parents wait. I imagine our family forever changed. I also imagine this, for just a moment, each and every day that I walk my girls to school.
This was never the intention of the Second Amendment, and this is not healthy for America.
Carol Ramsey writes, performs and teaches the true, personal story. She builds community at Austin Storytelling and shares her journey at CarolMRamsey.com. She has a high-tech day job and lives with her husband and three girls in Austin, Texas.