Our Highest Caliber Problem

It’s only a matter of time. Will it happen today? Tomorrow? Our short fuse is burning, and another American school, church, grocery store, or concert is going to explode, devastating a community.

Seen at a community center in Thayne, WY

Gun violence has affected me personally. My grandfather killed himself in 2003—the most common cause of gun-related deaths. One of my former coworkers from the Bay Area was shot and hospitalized. And the only time I did ecstasy, two men were killed in the San Francisco club I was at; the DJ’s bass was so loud that we only knew because of the throngs of people backing up from the bodies until the police arrived and interviewed everyone on the premises. 

I’ve also been shot at in Eugene, an incident that prompted me to write an informal will. Jon and I were walking home on the Amazon Trail late one night, a protected pedestrian and bike path that runs along a creek through athletic fields and park space. We were nearly home when we heard two booming cracks—it was so random and out of character for this city that until the next day, I’d insisted that the muzzle flash was fireworks. Sure enough, our neighbors had a bullet go through their bathroom window in the incident, confirming that someone was aiming at us.

My stories aren’t unique in this country—I suspect that most folks’ lives have been shaped by homegrown gun violence in one way or another. Several times a year, The Onion promotes its quintessentially American article: “‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” Many people from other countries consider this a dangerous nation and couldn’t imagine sending their children to schools where shooter drills and bulletproof backpacks have been commonplace.

Although violent crime was more prevalent through the 70s and 80s, the Columbine Massacre in 1999 ignited a trend: men started slaughtering Americans in crowded places. Instead of taking action, “pro-life” congressmen and organizations such as the National Rifle Association circled their wagons and reaffirmed their constitutional right to bear arms—an amendment written when loading one bullet into a gun was a total pain in the ass.

Killers’ manifestos and court testimonies lack a common theme: some are xenophobic or misogynist, while others are purely delusional. Mental health experts pore over murderers’ upbringing and beliefs, and the media’s hot takes are often appallingly racist: white killers suffer from psychiatric issues while Black killers are evil.

This uniquely American problem has a simple solution—banning all assault weapons—but our elected leaders lack the courage to enact it. Many of them have been bought off by the NRA and weapons manufacturers or see themselves as “patriots”—their shorthand for absolute gun rights supporters. They don’t care that guns are the leading cause of death among our children. They don’t care about the hypocrisy of their “pro-life” extremism that condemns pregnant women to die. They don’t care that students are protesting across the country, and a majority of Americans support gun regulations. They dig in their heels and reissue their hackneyed “Thoughts & Prayers” across social media when the inevitable occurs, week after week.

Aldous Huxley wrote, “Propaganda…offers false, garbled, or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repetition of catchwords, by the furious denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats, and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals, so that the atrocities come to be perpetuated in the name of God.” 

This was written in 1958, but it feels fresh in light of today’s Republican Party. The right-wing propaganda insists that Democrats want to take away all their guns, which is false. It’s a specific type of gun that should not be in civilian hands, no matter how manly it makes them feel. It’s the same damn gun used in most mass shootings: the AR-15

There’s also a specific type of person who shouldn’t be allowed to own guns: those convicted of domestic violence. Two-thirds of mass shooters have a history of beating women and related crimes. For a group so obsessed with curbing violent crime and “protecting life,” why can’t conservatives see that assault weapons and domestic abusers are the problem? 

Progressives have called for a commonsense gun buyback program similar to one enacted in Australia after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre that killed 35 people. In the years since their gun deaths have dropped precipitously. Further, states such as Oregon have closed the “Boyfriend Loophole,” which makes it more difficult for those with violent pasts to buy or own guns. But without a nationwide adoption of these policies, we’re still seeing spikes in gun deaths.

There’s no logic to the arguments of gun rights absolutists because they’re not thinking—they’re feeling. Their emotions surrounding their identity and security are threatened, and conservative leaders are happy to manipulate this fear to seize more power.

I wish I had solutions to extinguish the rift between Americans on this issue, but when data fails to sway our leaders and conservative voters, we sit and await the next tragedy in the cycle. 

Welcome, fans and hecklers!