Some thoughts about guns



By Caitlin Kelly

Another week in the United States — which, every week, only means more gun deaths.

This week, one of them was a student about to graduate high school, Kendrick Castillo, killed trying to save his classmates from a shooter.

In their classroom.

From CNN:

The 18-year-old was watching “The Princess Bride” in his British literature class when the shooter pulled out a gun, demanding that nobody moved. After Kendrick lunged at the shooter, three other students also tackled the gunman and tried to subdue him while the rest of the class fled the room.
Kendrick was an only child, but his friends, including the members of the school’s robotics team, were like his siblings, his father said. They would host holiday gift exchanges at his home, shared his toys as a child and would pay for a friend’s movie tickets if someone didn’t have money.
“Be selfless, that’s what my son was, and it got him killed, but he saved others,” Castillo said.
Is there anything useful to say about this?
I don’t blog about guns because there’s so much coverage of the issue.
But there’s little substantive discussion of why Americans insist on owning one — some owning hundreds.
The state of California has 9,400 residents who legally should not now own one, but do. Officials are overwhelmed.
In the years 2002 and 2003, I traveled the United States, alone, mostly by car, to try and better understand this attachment to firearms, incomprehensible to millions of others — whether Americans or those living outside the country.
I did three sessions of handgun training, and have fired everything from a .22 rifle to an AR-15, a Glock 9mm (standard police issue) to a .357 Magnum.
I don’t own one or want to.
But, unlikely as a Canadian, I’m now considered one of the experts on the subject of Americans and guns.

A few reasons why getting rid of guns is so incredibly difficult:

Sentimental and emotional reasons. A gun is often handed down as a family heirloom, generation through generation, as revered as a set of delicate china or a favorite armchair. A father’s service weapon, a great-grandfather’s hunting rifle.
— Hatred and fear of government. This is intensely and unchangingly American in a nation founded on the hatred and fear of centralized authority. I’ve “debated” on BBC a man absolutely convinced the government is likely to burst into his home one day and grab all his guns.
Self-defense. Linked to fear and hatred of government, the belief (true in some communities) that law enforcement simply won’t be there, or quickly enough, to save your life from an attack.
— Autonomy and independence. Deeply American is the value that it’s all up to you to take care of everything.
Regional differences. For every urbanite who disdains the very idea of touching a gun, let alone owning one, there are many Americans who love to hunt, whether for sport or for food to feed their families.
— The National Rifle Association, which offers letters grades (like elementary school) to elected officials, dinging those they dislike with an F. Voters vote accordingly.
— The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If it didn’t exist, the entire debate could change overnight: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  An analysis, here.
I spoke to 104 Americans from 29 states, from teens to seniors,  and asked each one of them how a gun has affected their lives. Some love them, some fear them.
This is the book I wrote about it.
My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions

18 thoughts on “Some thoughts about guns

  1. I was always quite proud to be able to say that our British police did not carry guns and a great many of them still don’t. It is changing though, and UK policeman at airports and other sites in the UK now carry machine guns and side arms. I see this as a real pity but it is a sign of the dangerous times in which we live. Gun ownership isn’t something that can be turned around easily – especially in the US. And, whilst Trump is in power, there is little chance of any gun control initiatives taking root. This leaves people generally with few options: if they’ve got a gun, I want a gun. It is a desperately sad situation made worse by the glorification of violence in films and on the television. The big question is: how bad does it have to get before people will begin to look for change?

    1. Thanks for this!

      So much of this — as I tried to explain here, briefly — is also deeply cultural, a fact many Americans don’t want to see or acknowledge. When I traveled for my book research, the attitudes are SO disparate! In some areas, NOT owning a gun is somehow (!?) weird and deemed weak and declasse, where in others it’s the opposite.

      Plus a 2-party system in vicious deadlock.

      It’s already shockingly shockingly bad. Tiny children in American schools do lockdown drills — preparing for the day (!?) a shooter enters their school and classrooms determined to murder them. I am not sure even Swift or Orwell or Huxley could dream up a satire this sick.

      And Florida is urging teachers to learn how to shoot; now legal to carry a gun to school….

      As someone who’s done defensive weapons training, it’s very difficult, under stress and under fire, to return fire safely and effectively. As police know!

      It is a national nightmare.

  2. I am a former army officer, and when I left the military I was given my sidearm to keep – a Glock. Under Canada’s laws I had to safely store it, and it wound up in a safety deposit box for about 15 years. When the gun laws became more stringent, I finally got rid of it. I felt no attachment to it at all and certainly had no desire to pass it on.

    I was posted to a war zone and understand very well what guns do, so I believe they are completely unnecessary unless you are police or military or need to eat. Rapid fire weapons are banned almost completely here and I agree with that. You’re right that attitudes toward guns are cultural. They are sometimes necessary, but their availability and use should be rigorously curtailed. Australia proved how effective gun laws are.They haven’t had deaths from a mass shooting since they put strict laws in place.

    The US belief that “freedom”, ie, guns, is more important than little kids and their teachers in a primary school says a lot about the level of fear that appears to be very prevalent, almost bordering on hysteria in some quarters. I still find it hard to believe that after that horrible event, gun laws weren’t enacted.

    1. Thanks for sharing that.

      I came away with a lot of respect for the Glock, having trained on it.

      There is no rational defense, none, for the American attachment to firearms…the more primal and emotional, the worse it gets.

      This will never ever change — the NRA has too many politicians and voters in its pockets — and the Second Amendment, like everything in the Constitution, is sacrosanct.

      Any country without these two issues can change gun laws and gun violence.

      Americans just wring their hands and shout thoughts and prayers.

  3. I saw this cartoon on Facebook today, where a mom was wishing her daughter luck on a math test, and said if she didn’t make it home, she was sorry her little girl’s life counted for less than the defense of the Second Amendment.
    How bitterly true.

  4. I tear up every time I think of the scene in that classroom. And every time I see the photos of the terrified middle schoolers lined up outside. This is shameful. We are the grownups.

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  6. OK, you knew it was coming, so here it is: We don’t have a gun control problem, we have a SELF control problem. In China, on the day of the unconscionable slaughter at Sandy Hook, a man killed twenty two people in an outdoor market with a knife before the police got there to help. If you find yourself entertaining an intruder, you may wish you were armed with a firearm of some kind. I would recommend a pump shotgun, as the sound of the slide is generally enough to cause second thoughts. If an armed intruder is in your home and you don’t have anything better than a kitchen knife or an item of sports equipment to defend yourself then you are in deep trouble. The cops can’t defend you until they get there, leaving you with two bad choices: Cower in your hiding place or take your chances with your improvised weapon. And that’s just for me and you, people with no kids in the house. A person with a gun can save someone’s life too.
    I guess this might make me sound like some kind of a murderous baboon, but whatever. Like it or not, that old saw about when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns still cuts like a razor.
    That said, I am really glad there aren’t more people with guns. When I hear about the assaults committed almost daily by people who had too much ice in their drink or not enough cheese on their pizza it takes me back to the beginning: Self control.
    Speaking of this, there is something constructive that could be done, though it would not be popular: Firearms training and marksmanship qualification for all gun owners, for every firearm they own, renewed annually. At least that way we could feel confident that shooters were hitting their intended targets.
    Last year in Sacramento. a burglary suspect (Apparently innocent) was shot and killed by police. Of the twenty one rounds fired at him, eight struck their target. One of the strays went through the wall of a nearby mobile home, killing a six year old boy. Completely unacceptable. If you went to basic training and couldn’t shoot any better than that, they would send you straight back to mama. No less for anyone else, I say.
    I come from a family of shooters and military veterans. I had my first experience with firearms at the age of seven, shooting a Colt Navy cap and ball pistol. We all know what guns are about, even those of us who don’t like them much can shoot one, field strip it, clean it and put it back together. We all know they aren’t toys and must be treated responsibly, meaning you don’t use it to frighten or intimidate someone, though it may work for that purpose. If you point a weapon at someone, it’s because you are ready to kill them. Not blow their kneecap off or make them dance around like Annie Oakley, but kill them. Sad as it is, sometimes you have to be ready to do that, and it’s not just here in the U.S.A.. I would hate to see what the UK would be like if everyone there had guns. There are plenty of people who perpetrate acts of violence and don’t care a bit to get their hands dirty. And then we have the Boston Marathon bombers, suicide bombers all over the world, that prince among men who chained his girlfriend in a car and burned her alive in it, or that dude in Charlottesville who ran that lady over with his car. You can’t blame any of that on guns. Why? Because guns don’t kill people, people kill people. There’s another high quality old saw that still cuts just fine.
    I know guns make it easier to kill people, but as the last paragraph illustrates, not having one doesn’t make it impossible, and believe it, it’s true, people are always going to want to kill one another. Taking away the guns isn’t going to make us into kind, loving people. If any of us is sufficiently motivated, there will be blood. Self control.
    I believe in standing up for my rights. I also believe in living up to my responsibilities. I don’t believe there should be penalties against law abiding citizens to prevent the irresponsible actions of others, especially those who feel justified, because they will not be stopped except by force.
    OK there it is. I guess we disagree, but that’s all right. I wouldn’t have written this if I didn’t think you cared what I thought about it. Good bit, kinda dangerous. I liked it.

    1. You should read my book.

      Just because I don’t want to own a firearm, and I don’t, doesn’t mean I am anti-gun, which is the default reaction. I don’t have any wish to own an Xbox or a microwave either.

      Until more Americans who do own guns are willing to fight a lot harder to make sure the assholes stop committing murder, I have a problem with the “But I’m a good guy” argument.

      Responsibilities, in my view, do not stop at one’s door or front yard but society at large.

      I am appalled at the slaughter of children and teens for daring to….go to school.

      This is utter insanity.

  7. Is there anywhere I can buy a copy and you’ll get paid? I know you won’t be paying off the yacht with the proceeds, but you deserve it. If you have a copy laying around the house, I’ll give you twenty bucks for it.
    I couldn’t agree more about people looking to their responsibilities and it irks me something fierce to hear people going on about their rights without ever mentioning their responsibilities. That applies to a lot of circumstances. Perhaps a clearer, more detailed outline of these responsibilities and the penalties for shirking them would be helpful. Even then, that’s not going to stop people from being people, overcome by their desires and emotions at all the wrong times or sinking invisibly into murderous insanity. But then, how far into society at large should our responsibilities extend? When is it appropriate to intervene in a conflict? When is it appropriate for me to tell someone to mind their own business? There’s a LOT of gray out there, and we all live in it. It’s insane and it’s appalling and best of all it’s getting worse, because no matter what kind of a jerk someone might be, there is someone out there ready to advocate for them
    I own an Xbox one. It saves me about $75 a month on cable TV. I own a Microwave and it will give you a piping hot Sabrett on a soft, steamy bun in about 45 seconds. Everything else it ruins.
    People spend too much time making political hay out of this issue. That’s another big problem. Political hay is a valuable commodity and solving big problems can cause critical shortages in the supply. So don’t get the idea that a whole lot of people in politics actually want to get to the bottom of this, not while they can wring a bit more outrage out of it. Make no mistake, the “Bernie Sanders wants to take away all our guns” crowd is squeezing just as hard as the “Ted Nugent wants to shoot my babies” group and neither side is looking for the middle. All the while, just like every day since the beginning of civilization, we are slaughtering one another in prodigious numbers. We do it with guns, knives, planes, tanks, swords, rocks, pointed sticks and our bare hands. We are greedy and covetous, especially with our ideas of what is right and what is wrong. This leaves us open to the influence of the cult of personality, where the insanity spreads. Oversimplify your concept and vilify anyone who disagrees (How could they not agree, it’s so simple?) and, next thing you know, you’re invading Poland.
    So there it is: Self control. Learn it when you’re little, remember it when you’re older and guess what…You’re probably still going to have to lay down the law on someone before it’s over. Sorry.
    In the interest of clarity I must say that I’m not an especially nice guy but I am a good one. I have a kind heart but it’s not for everyone. Being exploited makes me angry and that shit gets everywhere, including on the ones I love. I can’t have that. That’s why I don’t own a gun, self control.

    1. Whew!

      I certainly agree with your last line. It’s one reason I will not own a gun.

      You can email me on the address on my about or welcome page with your home address and I can send you a copy and I’ll happily take $20!

      YES…there is middle ground and I knew this in 2002-3 when I did all my reporting. It horrified me then to hear, from both sides, that they can’t “afford” to give an inch.

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