I say that not to elicit sympathy, but as a starting point for this essay. A little background: my parents were divorced when I was an infant; I had little contact with my father before he died; and my mother provided such a rich community of elders that his absence seemed incidental. Nonetheless, his death has affected me in ways I am still discovering.
All of this is by way of explaining the very personal relationship I have with gun control efforts, especially those around handguns. Not long before my father died, the "Brady Bill" brought national attention to gun control efforts. I supported the movement then; my conviction was deepened by my father's death and has been cemented over time.
That said, as distasteful as I find them, I am not against gun ownership. My husband has rifles and uses them. My son has practiced marksmanship with his Scout pack. A number of my friends enjoy a day at the shooting range. I respect that. I have even surprised people in the past -- those who have heard (or read) me rant about gun control -- with my ardent support of hunters, albeit from the perspective that they play a vital role in wildlife management.
I am aware that the basic regulations for which I advocate would not have saved my father's life. He owned his weapons legally and had a permit. I know also that his suicide was really a symptom of a lifetime of alcohol abuse. If he was truly intent on ending his life, he would have found a way.
The thing is, with suicide by gun there is very little margin of error. There are plenty of statistics (yes, yes, I know -- lies, damn lies, and statistics) tallying gun deaths. What many people don't realize is that two-thirds of those are suicides. Having a gun vastly increases the odds of someone attempting and succeeding in trying to kill themselves. Especially, unfortunately, people under the age of 18. It is so easy.
As for other deaths? Looser laws in any one state vastly increases the homocide rate there as well. Locations with regulations around gun storage (locked up and unloaded) see far fewer accidental fatalities. I'm not going to turn this into a numbers game -- there are plenty of much better researched and dedicated pages for that. What I am going to say, after nearly 30 years of thinking about it, is that I truly believe that most of these deaths -- suicide, homocide, accidental -- were preventable with simple, common sense measures. I don't intend to strip guns away from people. I do believe that we can ask them to be responsible -- much as I am required to prove a certain level of responsibility before owning or operating a vehicle. Growing up in my little valley, getting a hunting license and going on your first hunt was a rite of passage. I remember all the kids excitedly talking about signing up for the hunter safety courses their parents required before going into the woods. That step was part and parcel of growing up and being a "good" -- as in moral and ethical -- hunter. I don't know why that has changed.
I have heard at length (from my husband, among others) the argument that people rely too much on the government to keep them safe, and that it's a "nanny state". You know what? We as a nation have proven that necessary. After struggling to keep eight-year olds calm and quiet through lockdown drills, after mourning too many mass shootings, after seeing pictures of men and women carrying firearms through Target, I don't trust my fellow citizens to act in our collective best interest. The roughly 32,000 gun deaths last year are my measure of why I believe the following basics should be implemented:
- Require all gun owners to take a use and safety course. I'd encourage them to go further and go through some simulation training. This would be for everyone's safety. I have been in enough mildly emergency situations that I don't trust people to behave well under stress, let alone a situation where gunfire might be needed. I really, really, really don't want an untrained, panicking person trying to use a gun.
- Require background checks for ALL sales. Period.
- Restrict large capacity ammunition clips.
- Restrict multi-weapon sales, especially through unlicensed dealers. This is where many of the weapons used unlawfully come from.
I was not close to my father. I may never have been, even if he had lived. Nonetheless, his death affected me profoundly. Most immediately came the knowledge that I was "half an orphan". My mother's mortality was highlighted by my father's death, deepening a sense of the fragility of family which had been instilled three years prior with the death of my maternal grandmother.
From there my vivid imagination takes over, filling in the gaps. I can see him angrily drinking while watching the Broncos lose. I smell the oil as he breaks down the gun, wiping it clean, reassembling. Repeating, maybe, as he drinks more. Easing toward tears, frustration melting into an overwhelming sense of failure. Walking to his bedroom. Lying down on the pastel bedspread. The shot, and a fan of chunky blood on the wall.
I have carried those images in my head for more than twenty years now. I have no idea if they are even vaguely accurate. I don't care to find out.
All I want, really, is that no one else have to live with their version of this sorrow.