Guns, Violence, and Mental Health, Oh My…

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A while back I wrote a long article on gun ownership. At the time I was operating under the firm belief that I was a responsible gun owner and that I needed to defend myself against people claiming otherwise. The fact I felt I needed to ‘defend’ myself did make me question my own argument, but at the time I was a full believer in the ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ statement.

While this is technically true, as someone needs to actually shoot the gun (in most cases, since guns can go off if they are dropped), it’s a loaded statement. No pun intended…

Guns may not kill people by themselves, but they are responsible for far too many deaths each year. A fact which became more evident when I stopped defending my beliefs and began reading and truly listening instead. I did not post my article at the time and now I’m glad I didn’t. Because my opinions have changed.

Here’s why…

I made sure to get my permit, I went through proper channels, we taught our kids about gun safety and that the only safe way to handle a weapon is by *not* handling it. Don’t touch it and get an adult right away. We lock our guns up and keep bullets separate. So all of these things made me feel like we are responsible gun owners. And in this way, we are.

But I had one major oversight. What if someone managed to get one of our weapons?

Granted, this would be risky business indeed as they’d have to go up against some fearsome dogs! But I started thinking about what would happen if someone was breaking in and I pulled a gun on them. What if I got knocked out, or that person went for the gun and it went off, shooting a family member instead? What if that person got control of it and used it to kill? The reality isn’t that I can’t trust myself with the weapon, it’s that I can’t trust others with it.

This changed my feelings on how having a gun around made me feel. It used to make me feel safe.

It no longer does.

I will likely always have confusion around guns because of things I was exposed to. Knowing certain people carried unmarked weapons was a constant threat, and used that way on purpose. To intimidate me. So having some in my house felt like, “Ha! Fuck you! I’ve got my own defense now!” And this was a comfort for a long time.

But I can’t deny that accidents happen and this is always on my mind. The reality is that I’m much more likely to shoot myself in a panic than hit my target in the case of a break in or crime. Even thinking to grab the gun doesn’t cross my mind in these kinds of cases anyway.

When I lived in Lynnwood, I was up late writing one night when I heard screaming outside. It wasn’t frightened screaming, not at first. It sounded more like my neighbors were drunk again and fumbling around in the street. I opened my sliding door to tell them to be quiet when a young man and woman ran up to me, shouting, “He’s going to kill us! Call the cops!”

They took off around the corner and just as they did, I closed my door in time to see someone with a gun running after them. Literally two feet from my boys’ window. There was no time to grab a gun of my own and hunt him down. Or even get one and aim it, demanding he stop until the police arrived. The *only* thing there was time for was me to shut and lock the door. I couldn’t even get 911 on the phone before he was gone. It all happened so fast.

So all this talk about how guns keep us safe did not a lick of good in this situation. Not saying having a gun wouldn’t help in other circumstances, but it certainly did not make me feel any safer in that moment. In fact, the only thing I was thinking was, “We need tougher gun laws.”

I stayed with my beliefs on this for quite a while. Feeling like I was responsible, and while I’ve taken many steps to be that, I also see now that there are still things out of my control. And while I might take many precautions, not everyone does. In fact, most people don’t.

Part of what made me see this was someone I know kept posting on Facebook articles of shootings with the caption, “Another responsible gun own.” More often than not, the shooting was a result of someone not taking proper precautions and a child or someone mentally unstable got ahold of the weapon and killed someone. Seeing these constantly made me drop my pride and really take in what she was saying with these posts.

Sadly, the reality is that as a nation, we aren’t taking proper precautions. We are far too relaxed with our gun laws. In cases where the gun owner was irresponsible in their storage of their weapon, if they received just as much jail time as the perpetrator (or at least a hefty sentence), gun owners would take a lot more precaution with how they store their weapons. Strict laws mean more responsibility. A thing which we should be doing on our own, yet too many of us fail at.

In my view, gun violence in general has two problems:

People that aren’t responsible enough and therefore, an accidental shooting takes place.

And people who have access to guns that are mentally unstable, and shoot in a rage. This is where the mass shootings come from.

Here’s the reality. Guns don’t make us safer. They have purpose if you hunt, if you’re in law enforcement or the military, or some other field that requires one to carry. But if not, what is the purpose of having them?

Officers can get into a lot of trouble if they don’t take proper care of a firearm and it ends up being used in a crime. This of course would depend on the circumstance, but if the officer wasn’t responsible with it, they are held accountable. Why aren’t we all being held to this same standard?

It seems to me that gun violence can be taken down a great deal if we combine two simple things… Okay, they aren’t that simple, but they are doable.

First, much stricter gun laws. If you’re going to have them, training courses for gun safety should be required. We should also have to insure them. As well as have tougher laws if we are irresponsible and our gun ends up used in a crime.

Second, required mental health for everyone.

While I don’t go into this much on this site, I have Complex PTSD from childhood trauma. I’ve seen evidence that by going to therapy and speaking with an expert in the field, I’ve faced a lot of triggers. I’ve healed. I’m not living in constant fear like I used to.

Yet so many Americans are, and this very emotion leads to destruction. When we’re afraid, we do things we wouldn’t normally do. Like have guns, for example. Like leave guns under pillows while we sleep, which means kids can gain access… The list goes on because when we are living in fear, we can’t think clearly.

Mental health is something we take for granted far too often. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a friend tell me they were ‘fine’ and could handle their own issue, and they weren’t. They sank deeper and deeper. Why? Because therapy is expensive and to most of us who were raised with some sort of abuse, it is terrifying. Because talking about issues in therapy means telling on abusive people.

We can also eliminate this by having mandatory therapy in schools. It doesn’t have to be heavy stuff even. It can focus on conflict resolution. Building confidence. Things like this. And for those that need a little more, they have a chance. Had this been required when I was young, I’d not have suffered most my life. Things I struggle with now would have been addressed many years ago. Yet here I am, still figuring it out.

I do realize the depth of what I’m proposing with gun safety and mental health. For me, these things very much relate and I can see how they do for many others as well. But I also know I have a unique perspective given my circumstances. Not everyone (in fact many of you) will agree. And that’s okay.

My view of what it means to be a responsible gun owner has changed. It isn’t just about what happens in my home, but what happens should that weapon ever leave my home. As always, this is my take on the issue. But I’m thankful to the person that kept posting articles on this topic because I was able to see a different side of things and stop defending my stance. Now I see that if my side needs defending, I need to reevaluate.

 

Image by Jean-Pierre Ceppo on freeimages.com.

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