Guns in America: Can We Do Anything? (My Story)

Regardless of where you land on the gun debate, in America the phrase, “gun violence” is a huge trigger. Historically when I write about guns, I get hassled. Better, traditionally, if you hassle me, my go to was to shut up, run or redact.

Nevertheless, the fact that people are dying as a result of mass shootings is far more important than my own discomfort. Gun control is personal (for all of us). In my case, I have these two beautiful and amazing sons. They are (obviously) impacted by the world around them, including gun culture. In fact, neither of them has known anything other than a culture in which school shootings are the norm, gun debates are common, and their friends encourage them to buy a gun, “for safety.” Recently, one of my sons was even considering purchasing a gun “for protection,” (when he is traveling alone). Of course my mind races to all of the terrible conclusions: I am worried about him getting in over his head, unintentionally shooting someone, or in a fit of uncertainty, using a gun to kill himself.

Because my sons are under the age of twenty-five, which means their brains are not fully developed, I imagine it would not be possible for them have completely reasoned through the consequences of owning a gun. Instead, they have been forced to navigate the intense gun culture they are surrounded by. Recently, in fact, a boy my son knew was shot to death in Salt Lake City. He was sixteen. That is when we learned that “Utah has no waiting period, no magazine capacity limit, no limit on number of firearms per purchase, no restrictions on the type or features on a firearm, ie, flash hider, bayonet lug, pistol grip, detachable magazines, collapsing stocks, etc…”

In addition to growing up in a gun-loving state, as a result of the more 311,000 students who have died as a result of gun violence in schools since Columbine, my sons have also been required to learn what to do in case of a school shooting, practicing active shooter drills more than I practiced Tornado drills as a child. (*I grew up in the Midwest.)  Moreover, my sons have seen that not only can anyone, stable or not, easily purchase assault rifles (at age 18, even when they are not allowed to purchase handguns until they are 21), they have witnessed a disturbing school-shooter phenomenon (perpetuated on social media):

Considering other people (predominantly young white men) have gained infamy shooting up a school, “unhinged” (*not necessarily mentally ill, only 11% are), school shootings are contagious, and shooters have a playbook: “Here is what I do when I am upset: “I log on to a social media platform and begin live streaming the massacre or I text peers to share my plan (and after it is too late for them to do anything to stop it), then I take my gun to school and kill as many people as possible.” 

Iraq War Memorial, Santa Barbara, California

On April 19, 1999, Dave and I were in a bad car accident. At the hospital, and after totaling our brand new and very first “adult” car [an Audi A4 wagon], not knowing if my neck was broken (it was bad whiplash and nerve damage . . .), before being x-rayed and even though I was certain that I was not, the nurses insisted on giving me a pregnancy test. 

“I have been so crabby. I am sure it is PMS.” I insisted. 

They insisted more fervently. The hospital staff did not want to wait for blood test results. Alternately, they opted for a urine pregnancy test. With the nurse’s help, somehow Dave and I wiggled my panties off. Another nurse quickly pushed a hospital barf receptacle under my bottom. While being strapped to a big yellow stability board, I peed into the barf receptacle as best as I could. Less than a minute and they announced that I was ABSOLUTELY NOT PREGNANT! Dave and I felt relieved as we waited for the x-ray technician. A few minutes passed. Rather than an x-ray tech, the ER doctor, accompanied by a nurse, returned to my room. The doctor sat quietly and grabbed my hand. Gently, he said:


“Beth, actually, you are pregnant (with Kyle, our firstborn)! We just did not wait long enough to see the results.”

Our world was changing. Dave and I cried. No. We sobbed, like hyperventilating sobs.

The next day, April 20, 1999, two students entered Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing twelve fellow students and one teacher. Then they killed themselves. I remember being fixed to the twenty-four hour news cycle. I could not imagine how this shooting could happen, or how it could ever be worse. It is now 2022. The United States has had twenty-three years to figure out how these mass shootings can be prevented.

Things are not better, and our son, Kyle, is finishing college.

Here it is. I am not anti gun. I do not like guns. I do not own a gun. I think guns cause more harm than good. I worry about the quick and irrevocable consequences of using a gun when angry or upset. I had a close family member suicide by shotgun after their girlfriend suicided by shotgun the year before. Once I had a gun pulled on me by a car full of men. I was alone. I thought I was going to die. As a young man pointed the gun at me, I really believed he would shoot. In college, in my friend’s bedroom, I shot a 22 caliber handgun into a telephone book (remember telephone books).

As a result of living in the pro-gun state of Utah, I believe I am more understanding about people who hunt. I get it, even though I don’t want to do it myself. I know. I know. We can use guns to protect ourselves during the zombie apocalypse. Don’t worry. Dave and I have already crafted a plan with our gun-owning friends: 

“You provide the guns. We will provide the gold from the Dream Mine [wink wink].”

Dave often tells the story about his father:

“My dad was twelve. His dad took him hunting. My dad accidentally shot his dad in the leg with a shotgun. Somehow they got my grandpa into the car. Then my dad, who did not have a driver’s license, drove my grandpa over an hour and a half to the hospital. Dave’s dad never went hunting after that.”

A few years ago Kyle discovered that his high school classroom doors did not lock from the inside. Because active shooter drills and mass shootings appear to be our norm, Kyle approached the school regarding the no-locks issue and suggested,

“In case of a school shooting, we should put locks on the inside of all of our classroom doors.”

Consequently, Kyle wrote about the door locks for the school newspaper. 

Here is an excerpt from Kyle’s article:

Picture this: a typical day at Highland High School. The halls are quiet. Students and teachers are busily working in their classrooms. Suddenly a voice rings over the intercom: ‘Students and teachers, there is an armed intruder in the building. Please lock your doors and go into your rooms.’ A charged sensation washes over the school faster than a rumor spreads. At once, teachers go check to see if their doors are locked. A few moments later they comprehend that they cannot lock their doors — not from the inside anyway. Throughout the school, in horror they realize: every classroom has to send someone outside of their room to lock the door. Who would be willing to risk their life over a poorly positioned lock?”

Not long enough after Kyle’s door-lock story was published, and before his story was a faded memory, locks in his school were changed (Go, KYLE!), and a family member invited Kyle and Eli to spend the summer at their home. 

“Why don’t you and Dave send them up for the whole summer and we will put them to work?”

Part of the sales pitch for this summer adventure opportunity was,

“We have a shooting range.” I paused to reread the words. In essence: “I own a bunch of guns, so both boys can shoot. The shooting range is right on our property! So we can walk outside and shoot guns. How awesome is that?”

With much trepidation, I asked Dave if he noticed the invitation. He had. As I listened to Dave, my heart sank at the following realization: what seemed like a super cool and obvious sales pitch to one, in contrast, felt to me like a vivid warning of danger.

Why do we see the world so differently? How can we express our position and not offend them?

I wish I had been more brave and told this family that our answer was no before I ever considered a yes. I hope to this day they know the love and care we have for them. Alas, I was a chicken. Here is what I did instead: I asked the boys how they felt about visiting and left out the part about the guns. I regret my approach. Thankfully before the guns were mentioned, the boys informed me that they were both too busy with required school extracurriculars. At that, Gun Camp was a bust. I took a deep breath and felt like I dodged many bullets – like the two bullets ending our sons’ lives (Oh thank God)!

Then at lunch last week, my eighty-one year old mother blurted out, “If your kids were school age, after what happened in Uvalde, Texas, would you send your kids to school?” She followed with, “I have never liked guns.” Eli, my youngest, piped in and said something about how guns and bad tempers do not mix. To which I said, “that is why I don’t own a gun.” 

It has been eight days. Are we still troubled by the Uvalde, Texas school and Buffalo, New, York grocery store shootings? Or has the twenty-four hour news cycle gotten the best of us? I imagine that most of us are not okay living in a country that makes it easy for citizens to walk into a grocery store, a church, a music venue or a school and slaughter innocent people. I also think we are at a crossroads regarding solutions to gun violence in America. Some want to melt all the guns. Others believe that arming teachers will save the day. Many of us want common sense gun reform. It is my impression that those of us who hope for safer gun legislation are worn down and feeling hopeless.

This is our American cycle: A shooting happens. We cry. People offer thoughts and prayers. We speak up. We demand, “Enough is enough!” The cycle continues. Then, as soon as gun right’s people hear triggering phrases such as, “background checks,” or, “gun control,” they, armed with prepackaged answers, become laser focused, and with expert-sniper precision, they hit back and they are good. They use high impact words, such as God and freedom. In fact, I am certain we have heard or have personally made the arguments:

“We need more guns to protect ourselves,” “We need to arm teachers,” or, “if we regulate guns, you are taking away our Second Amendment rights, and only the criminals will have the guns.”

We try to reason and talk about other countries and how they handle their guns. These interactions usually lead to vitriolic arguments, unproductive impasses, and eventually toward our own silence.

I definitely fall into this pattern.

Consider this: In Uvalde, Texas, trained police, who were literally “armed with guns” and were onsite, did not protect the twenty-one people who lost their lives. During the Buffalo, New York shooting, Aaron Salter Jr., a retired police officer and the store’s security guard, fired multiple shots at the gunman, and was then shot and killed. Good people armed with guns didn’t stop people from being killed.

If the argument with good people and guns really holds up, then why are these good people armed with guns killed? First and foremost, the gunmen were using AR-15 assault rifles. How on earth can one quickly defend themselves from a gun that shoots three times faster and with twice the force? Secondly, I would assert that someone going about their day is not mentally prepared to be shot. On the other hand, I would offer that just as the gun rights’ people are prepared with their argument-blunting answers, a mass shooter is prepared. A person caught off guard is no match for a prepared person. Regarding school shooters, for instance, Professor Jillian Petersen suggests

“I don’t think most people realize that these are suicides, in addition to homicides. Mass shooters design these to be their final acts. When you realize this, it completely flips the idea that someone with a gun on the scene is going to deter this. If anything, that’s an incentive for these individuals. They are going in to be killed.”

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/05/27/stopping-mass-shooters-q-a-00035762

(If my words have not already chased you away), thank you. I am spelling things out in an attempt to be prepared myself and to be part of the solution.

Yet, at the end of the day all I have are my words, my actions my choice. Often the right choice is not always comfortable or convenient. In fact, after the Gun Camp failure, even though I know the right choice was keeping our boys home, unfortunately, our relationship with these family members deteriorated. Interestingly enough, what would have made a difference is if I had faced that awkward moment immediately and head-on. Perhaps what I can do is learn to be more uncomfortable. If I need to say, “no,” when no is the right thing to say then I should be less afraid of you rejecting me because I do not feel safe with your guns, or whatever else puts me in harm’s way.

I will end with this: If you are also feeling lost, numb or helpless, like the United States Gun Control issue is a Sisyphean task that resides in a bottomless pit of sorrow, may I offer a sparkle of hope (a gentle shove out of your comfort zone). I culled the internet and found a lot of useful resources, which I have included below. Feel free to copy, paste and share this information liberally.

Of course, please also demand our legislators, lobbyists and business people push to enact common sense gun laws. Tell them how you feel about gun control, background checks and assault rifle bans (AR 15s). Thank you!

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP SOLVE AMERICA’S GUN VIOLENCE ISSUE:

  • PBS News Hour: PBS Newshour every current US senator was asked what action should be taken on guns.
  • Here is a Letter to Senator template, source, everytown.org: Please feel free to copy & paste.

Dear Senator,

As your constituent, I am urging you to vote yes on strong gun safety legislation and to confirm Steve Dettelbach as Director of ATF.

The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, in which 19 children and two adults were murdered, is another instance of the tragic gun violence we witness in America all too often.

As an elected official, it is your job to take action to prevent these senseless tragedies from happening. It is past time that the Senate take bold action to protect our communities. That starts with urgently passing common-sense gun safety legislation and confirming Steve Dettelbach as director of ATF to ensure the agency has the leadership needed to fully enforce our country’s gun laws.

We cannot wait for more lives to be lost to take action. Please do the right thing and pass gun safety legislation.

Sign off with name & contact information

  1. Introduction.
    ○ My name is _____ and I live in _____.
  2. A statement expressing your concern.
    ○ I am very concerned about gun violence in our country.
    ○ We are the only developed nation to suffer from staggering numbers of gun deaths every year.
    ○ I am alarmed by how common gun violence has become in the US and Michigan.
  3. A personal statement.
    ○ I do not want my children to be raised in such violence.
    ○ I want to feel safe in my city/workplace.
    ○ Gun violence has touched my life personally. (Explain.)
    ○ My family should feel free to go to work and school and to the movies without worrying that someone will shoot us on purpose or by accident.
  4. What you see as the solution.
    ○ We should be working to strengthen gun laws, not loosen them.
    ○ We need to keep guns out of the hands of irresponsible and troubled people.
    ○ We can maintain the right to own guns while implementing laws to protect public safety.
  5. What you are asking your legislator to do.
    ○ I would like you to vote for public safety and against gun extremism.
    ○ I would like you to work for strong gun laws that will protect my family and me.
    ○ We do not need more guns in under-trained hands, and I would like you to stand up for common sense gun laws.
  6. Sign off with name and contact info.
  • WEAR ORANGE MOVEMENT
    About Wear Orange
  • Save the date! This year’s WEAR ORANGE is June 3-5, 2022, During National Gun Violence Awareness Day and Wear Orange Weekend, join us as we honor survivors of gun violence.

(I am including Gun Rights Advocacy Organizations to help you know what we are up against & to better understand their position to help inform your own counter position.)
Gun Rights Advocacy Organizations

  • National Rifle Association (NRA): The National Rifle Association seeks to educate the public about firearms, defend US citizens’ second amendment rights, and lobbies for gun rights legislation.
  • Gun Owners of America: Gun Owners of America (GOA) is a non-profit lobbying organization formed in 1975 to preserve and defend the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.
  • Second Amendment Foundation :The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) is dedicated to promoting the right of U.S. citizens to privately own and possess firearms. They carry on many educational and legal action programs designed to inform the public about the gun control debate.

Gun Control Advocacy Organizations (*sourced from Shippensburg University)

  • Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: The Brady Campaign works to pass and enforce federal and state gun laws, regulations, and public policies through grassroots activism, electing public officials who support gun control legislation, and increasing public awareness of gun violence.
  • Coalition to Stop Gun Violence: The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) seeks to secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement and effective policy advocacy. CSGV comprises 47 national organizations working to reduce gun violence. Its coalition members include religious organizations, child welfare advocates, public health professionals, and social justice organizations.
  • Everytown for Gun Safety: An umbrella organization coordinating the activities of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors against Illegal Guns.
  • Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America:  Link to Moms Demand Action Chapters in Every State: Important grassroots activist organization formed by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
  • Mayors Against Illegal GunsMayors Against Illegal Guns is a coalition of over 1000 current and former mayors across the country who have joined together to prevent criminals from possessing guns illegally.

Additional Gun Control Advocacy Groups

  • Giffords: Giffords is an organization dedicated to saving lives from gun violence.
  • Gun Owners For Gun Safety
  • Sandy Hook Promise:  Protecting Children From Gun Violence. Sandy Hook Promise envisions a future where children are free from shootings and acts of violence in their schools, homes, and communities.

(*Please feel free to contact me with any additional advice, corrections or information. ❤️ )