Supporting Gun Safety Regulations

There is demonstrable proof that gun control, done correctly can reduce and all but eliminate gun related homicides, suicides and accidents. Some people present statistics, arguments and testimonials that support the pro-gun position. Those people are wrong.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has perpetuated myths that have put half of America into a Cobra’s trance. So terrified of an impending attack, they are unable to move. The people caught in this trance are the folks who say guns are needed for self-defense and to keep the government in check. They say we only need to enforce existing laws, they say this is a mental health issue. This group of Americans have elected and supported politicians who advance the NRA’s platform which ultimately results in sales for firearm manufactures.

We can debate and like most Facebook arguments, after a long night of heavy drinking and typing, no minds will have been changed. Americans feel the gun debate on an emotion level. It’s a common joke that the size of the pickup truck correlates to the need to demonstrate manliness. I believe this applies even more to the size, power and number of guns a guy keeps. And yes fellas this problem is, like many of our problems, pretty much a guy problem.

I’m pretty much an all American guy so here is some anecdotal evidence, and yes, emotional evidence, from my experiences.

As a little kid, I learned my right from left by which side my holster was on. Relax, it was a toy gun. Mom made me take it off when we went into stores and I recall six year old me feeling exposed, unarmed, sort of … naked.

Like most boys my age I went back and forth between my toy army guns and my toy cowboy guns. My dad’s real guns were unlocked, near their ammo and in short order, and with supervision, I got to handle them. It was exhilarating at the time. Something little boys get very excited about. I was still playing with GI Joe when I shot my first 22 round through a tin can.

I learned to shoot from Dad and by the time I went to Boy Scout camp I was quite capable at the firing range. And yes, we had a gun range at summer camp. Next to the trading post it was the most popular spot in camp. I was taught to have an appreciation for the destructive potential any gun has.

At home, our guns were for targets, skeet and to kill the starlings that raided songbirds nests. Killing those nasty black birds to protect the eggs of colorful robins and cardinals who’s songs we preferred, seemed very moral. Yup, I was trained to see this as a black and white issue.

In light of this month’s mass shootings I started doing some research.

“American guns” is a search topic that brings up everything from colonial muskets to intercontinental ballistic missiles. Searching “Price of guns” produced hits including the price tag on a replica Mauser on sale this weekend at Gander mountain, to a chart comparing deaths from firearms in the United States to any other first world country. And really there is no comparison.

The Washington Post states that “The United States has the highest gun ownership rate in the world and the highest per capita rate of firearm-related murders of all developed countries.”

CNN states “Gun Homicide rates are 25.2 times higher than in other high income countries”

Meanwhile on Fox News: “Sean Hannity said the left’s immediate push for gun control in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre is a sign they do not care about one’s right to defend themselves.”

American gun culture has not been swayed by facts. Gun advocates point to emotional arguments for how guns are owned and used. For example, using a gun for protection. In fairness, it’s not just emotional. Gun self-defense does happen, it really does. Having a gun has stopped bad guys. Sometimes just showing the gun will stop a criminal. It can also get you killed, but I can accept the argument for protection. But I have to balance that argument with my own experience. More anecdotal and emotional evidence.

When my children were 2 and 6 my family (without me) was at the counter at a local video store. Six feet away, a man emptied his hand gun into an armed security guard, then took the guards gun and emptied it into the guard’s body. This shooter had started a life of crime by robbing a bank and murdering a liquor store owner. He had come into the video store for the express purpose of getting the guard’s gun. The irony here is obvious so I’ll let it speak for itself.

Yes the killer went on to more crime, in his next caper, a bank robbery, he fled on foot, the dye bag exploded and he was captured. No Mensa membership card was found on his person. No NRA card either.

Later at the killer’s trial I met the security guard’s devastated supervisor. He told me that had the shooting happened a few minutes later he would have been in the store, in plain clothes and armed. He thought he might have been able to do something.

He was wrong. The violence that night took place too quickly to prevent. The security guard didn’t have time to draw and neither would his supervisor. Firing at the killer would have potentially stopped him after the killing, but any misses — and pistols miss a lot — would have sailed through the plate glass window into a crowded parking lot, a busy street and into the local news station across the street. Had the supervisor missed and the killer returned fire, he would have inadvertently drawn fire back into the crowded store. That night my family joined the ranks of so many Americans touched by the use of guns.

For a quarter century, as a member of the Milwaukee Fire Department, I responded to shootings. I have seen the results of everything from a machine pistol spraying dozens of rounds yet completely missing a target at close range, to a stray bullet that pierced the wall of a home and the chest of a 13 year old girl sitting on her sofa. I’m the guy that held her mother as our crew attempted CPR on her lifeless body. I’ve seen the guy who had a melon sized cavity on his leg, claiming he was shot with an AK 47. I’m no forensic expert but I know when someone shoved a hand cannon into his waist band and had an accidental discharge when I see it. I have seen the victims of gang executions, drug deals gone bad and murder/suicides. I’ve also been to some pretty suspicious police involved shootings.

There is something similar in all of these, a certain essence in the air when the smell of blood mixes with cordite. I’ve seen far more than anyone should. Unlike an ER doctor, police and firefighters see this violence in the context of the crime scene. I cannot get rid of the images. It does color my opinions. But I worked with many very good men and women who saw all the same carnage and translated it into the need to buy more and bigger guns when they went home.

I have friends, dear friends, who keep assault type semi-automatic rifles and many other weapons. I often ask if they are concerned about a zombie apocalypse. They laugh then parrot NRA talking points. I have talked to men who fought fires during the Milwaukee riots. They told me earnestly about how a race war would eventually come. For them it was a black and white issue.

The NRA pushes the mantra that if we take away guns, only the criminals will have them. That we need guns to maintain citizen government and to prevent tyranny. They like to break down the Second Amendment according to their own interpretation.

I contend that a reading of the Second Amendment is useless because it is too nebulous and is written in antiquated language that can be interpreted to support whatever you believe. The Founding Fathers were not saints. Many were slave owners who signed a document asserting that all men are created equal. Of course the genius of the Constitution was the foresight that it will need to be amended, and clear provisions are given for how to do so. The Second Amendment is just that, an amendment. Our Constitution is a living document subject to judicial interpretation. So I reject those who hold it up like stone tablets from god. It’s a document meant to be reviewed and if needed, updated. It’s time to do so.

It is amazing and heartbreaking for me to see so much of the social progress that has been achieved in our young country wiped away as the political pendulum falls backward, erasing the social equality and justice that many died to get. I am without words for the way Americans, people raised in a free society, can fail to engage in the politics that ensure their freedoms. I’m astounded that educated adults put forth the argument that the appropriate response to gun violence is to arm the teachers of Sandy Hook, or the pastor and parishioners of how many church shootings. Even regarding the Las Vegas Massacre where a quiet accountant literally rained bullets down on a crowd a couple football fields away. Articulate talking heads presented the case that, had the concert goers been better armed, the violence might have been stopped.

I’m a fireman. I never fought fire with fire. We fought it with water.

I can legally purchase a military style AR-15 semi-automatic rifle within days. I can also purchase devices that will effectively make it fully automatic. But that’s really just showing off since after about the third round fired the muzzle rises and the accuracy becomes very difficult to control. The upgraded M16 is now the M4A1. Besides being on safety, it was three firing option: semi-automatic, semi-burst and fully automatic. Fully automatic is rarely used because our military has a fully automatic machine gun they prefer . So that totally legal AR-15 semi-automatic is for all intents and purposes what we give our infantry.

Handguns are easy to conceal, but terribly inaccurate. Rifles are overkill and too cumbersome for most home defense scenarios. Either round can easily pass through a wall and kill your family or neighbors, even if you also got the guy stealing your TV. And the chances are good that the shadowy figure climbing through your window, the one you are drawing a bead on, is your teenage son sneaking back into the house.

The chances are also good that if your assailant is able to disarm you which is really not as unlikely as your fantasy may tell you, your gun may be used on you. Guns are one of the first things a burglar will steal and if anyone knows you have one, can even draw burglars to your home. And there is a pretty high statistic for those home protection guns being used for suicide. If you don’t believe it, look at the number of police officer suicides. Those folks have a gun with them most of the time and suicide among cops is an epidemic. Also among firefighters.

Working as a fireman I often saw people who did a poor job of caring for their children. Many of my coworkers, often NRA members, would comment that you need a license to have a dog, but not to parent. The same logic applied to guns would be, that you need a license to drive a car, there is required training, testing and registration along with insurance in case you harm anyone. A car isn’t designed to harm you but it’s a reality that it can, so the industry has spent considerable effort to make cars safer and they are highly regulated by the government. A gun is intended as a killing machine and any fool can get one.

Comedian Chris Rock pointed out that we need is bullet control. Because if a bullet cost $5000.00 you would think twice before firing it at someone. Yes, if we take away guns they could still be bought on the black market. In America, that AR-15 can be had for a thousand bucks or so. In Australia where guns are banned, the same gun costs $20,000.00 on the black market. I think most republicans understand the concept of market forces. Again, a black and white issue.

Democrats are not doing any better. When President Obama was elected, gun sales spiked out of fear he would pass sweeping anti-gun legislation. Nothing of the sort occurred. Obama got an F on his report card from the anti-gun folks. During his tenure the Republican legislature secured the castle law and concealed carry became legal. Open carry was taking place this year in Charlottesville, VA by the fine folks in white supremacist groups.

So what is the price of a bullet? A gun salesman would explain that it varies by type of shell and quantity purchased. Its an industry. They make more money the more you buy and they stoke your motivation with fear. They tell you it will make you safe. They are lying.

The price of a bullet must include the cost of the wheel chairs for so many young men, in Milwaukee they are mostly black, who have become unable to walk after gun violence. And it must include the cost of funerals and in many cases children without fathers.

I carried a special cutting hook in my fire coat. It was developed for military medics to cut away the clothing of a shooting victim so that they can be treated. What most American men who play with guns don’t think about, is that once you have been shot, it’s a guy like me that will come and cut off all your clothes and try to save you. We often do save people. This skews the statistics because if you only look at homicides by gun, you miss the number of people shot and saved by emergency workers.

Gun homicide numbers only reflect those we can’t save. When that happens to you, your bloody naked body will lay in the street, covered by a cheap yellow disposable blanket that likes to blow away. So we tuck it around you, and we leave you lying on cold concrete wrapped up like a jaundiced mummy. Your life in America is as disposable as that blanket.

You will stay there for a few hours while cops mark where each bullet casing fell. After they are done, the Medical Examiner will arrive and eventually take you away in a black bag, likely to an autopsy where your chest and skull are opened and examined. By the way you are naked for this too. Meanwhile a guy like me comes back to the scene and uses a firehose to wash your blood and if applicable, your brains, down the sewer.

All of that needs to be calculated into the price of a bullet.

I have riffed about black and white for a reason. Yes the statistics show that this problem is worse if you are black. Yes black on black crime is rampant, especially in a city like Milwaukee which used to formally, and still does informally, separate by race. But that’s not my point.

I have reached the conclusion, anecdotally and emotionally, that the real reason white people buy guns is that deep down they are scared of black men. Its a fear stoked by politicians on the right. Remember how Willie Horton was used to scare voters? Remember Charlton Heston as president of the NRA stating that Canada has fewer gun deaths because they have fewer minorities? Its reinforced by central casting. Check the villains in movies going back as far as King Kong. I contend that our gun problem has heritage in our American sin of slavery.

Yes slavery was abolished after the Civil War, which was my lifetime plus a hundred years ago. But when I was born, the south still had segregation in schools, bathrooms and lunch counters. Yes we have had affirmative action to make some social corrections, but a simple look at who is in prison for drugs or who gets put on death row reveals that our society is not a just place if you are black.

With the advent of cell phone video cameras, we now sometimes see firsthand when there are unwarranted police shootings which interestingly are overwhelmingly black men. And yes thats why football players are taking a knee. Football players. We joke about jocks not being the sharpest pencils… I guess its time to rethink our prejudice there. They are among the few, brave enough and smart enough to speak out. And they are disproportionately black men.

The world is a dangerous place. There is a fine line between being unduly fearful and being wisely prepared. The choices here are personal, where you draw the line between security and openness. However, if an AR15 cost $20,000.00 or for that matter if a bullet cost $5000.00, clearly we would be on the whole, as a nation, safer.

Yes if you want to kill someone there are still knives, yes if you want to die you can just jump off a bridge. Gun control won’t stop violence or suicide. But it will help enormously.

There is a tipping point at which America will come to its senses. Most of us assumed that would be Sandy Hook. It wasn’t. I would have thought once a country music festival was attacked and five hundred people were shot, that would be it. It wasn’t.

What it will take I don’t know.

I spent my career keeping the conversation civil, biting my tongue, accepting that people will just never agree on some things. My friends with guns don’t scare me. They are responsible, many are ex-military or police so they presumably have a lot of discipline about handling weapons and yes when the zombies attack I will be at their door, at least till they run out of ammo. But during my career a number of them have killed themselves. None that I know of have used their guns for protection. Two have been struck by bullets while working. All have cared for countless shooting victims. And no one’s opinions seem to have changed.

It is time for me to tell you that I am right about all this. America is a young country. We are the equivalent of a drunken 15 year old waving a gun in the air and screaming “Murica!” I’m telling America that it’s time to sober up and grow up.