UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – So, about the guns

While it’s not surprising anymore to be surprised with ever sadder and increasingly inexplicable stories of tragic gun violence and deaths, two stories in the news this week rattled and baffled us all over again. In one story which has been in the news for a year, prosecutors have charged actor Alec Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in connection to the accidental shooting death of the cinematographer on a film set. In the other, it was yet another devastating story of a school shooting, this time with a six-year-old kindergarten student in Virginia who pulled a gun out of his backpack and shot his teacher in class. 

America certainly has a problem with gun violence, and no specific gun legislation will end, prevent, or even curtail that epidemic. America has a history of psychotic people becoming deranged, acting out violently and publicly; it also has hateful, rage-filled individuals with access to deadly weapons. Whether it’s a person in the midst of psychosis or an angry impulsive person with violent intentions, it is far too easy to commit violence with implements of catastrophic destruction. That said, it’s not simply a matter of passing an assault weapons ban or strengthening the health care system. One is an easy act; the other quite challenging. And neither will solve the problem. The Alec Baldwin situation and the child shooter in Virginia were not issues of mental illness. They resulted from careless negligence in the management of firearms. Acknowledging that weakness may be a key toward eventually decreasing gun violence in the future. 

Growing up in the 1970s in southern Illinois where guns were not at all uncommon, I knew the National Rifle Association to be a gun-safety organization. Attending gun safety presentations, workshops, and even “day camps” where young people could learn to safely operate and respect firearms was a natural part of my youth. In fact, the entire purpose of the NRA, as far as I knew, was to promote safe, responsible understanding and handling of guns. To that end, I simply can’t fathom the opposition to training, licensing, and regulation of firearms. Regulation is the key to solving the disagreement about America’s alarming gun violence. Supporters of gun rights should be the primary proponents of maximizing safety while minimizing tragedy.

Podcaster Marc Maron has a feature of his show he likes to call “I don’t get why.” The point of the segment is just investigating issues in order to seek clarity and understanding. For example, “I don’t get why mandatory regular training, licensing, and registration of gun ownership and ammunition purchases isn’t just common sense.” It truly baffles me that a society where every automobile must be registered and every driver must be licensed can’t have the same expectation on gun ownership. It seems so simple. Anyone who wants to own a gun should undergo extensive formal training, pass an annual test, and maintain a license that is regularly evaluated and renewed. Every firearm should require a registration number assigned to a specific person. That tracking system should be implemented for ammunition purchases. Otherwise, it seems unconscionable that an individual – a mass shooter like James Holmes in the Aurora shooting, for example – can amass an arsenal of thousands of rounds of semi-automatic bullets with no one including law enforcement knowing what is happening.

When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, the nation reacted quickly to prevent such weapons of mass destruction from ever being assembled and used against Americans again. Law abiding citizens agreed to the regulation of farm fertilizer purchases. Similar tracking was added to the purchase of hairspray after a Denver-area man attempted to create a bomb to set off in New York City. Those restrictions were literally put in place to protect Americans from terrorist violence. Yet, the same would-be terrorists could purchase thousands of guns and millions of rounds of ammunition without ever drawing the attention of any law enforcement agencies. How does that make sense?

America has plenty of guns, and it’s certain there will be more tragedies. But we can do more to increase safety. Tragic accidents like the film set shooting and a six-year-old getting a gun could be decreased. Firearm possession is a serious responsibility and should be treated as such. America will not quickly decrease gun possession or violence, but it could take incremental steps to improve personal responsibility and safety while lessening recklessness which leads to avoidable tragedy.

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teacher’s View and can be found on Twitter @ mmazenko. You can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com