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.
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.
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 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.
The company’s statement, issued Wednesday, stems from recent campaign by some gun owners, who have walked into Starbucks and other businesses to test state laws that allow gun owners to carry weapons openly in public places. Gun control advocates have protested.
The fight began heating up in January in Northern California and has since spread to other states and other companies, bolstered by the pro-gun group OpenCarry.org.
Some of the events were spontaneous, with just one or two gun owners walking into a store. Others were organized parades of dozens of gun owners walking into restaurants with their firearms proudly at their sides.
Now, gun control advocates are protesting the policy. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, launched a petition drive demanding that the company “offer espresso shots, not gunshots” and declare its coffeehouses “gun-free zones.” And Wednesday, that group planned to deliver 28,000 signatures to the coffee giant’s headquarters in Seattle….
Businesses can choose to ban guns from their premises. And Starbucks said Wednesday that it complies with local laws in the 43 states that have open-carry weapon laws.
“Were we to adopt a policy different from local laws allowing open carry, we would be forced to require our partners to ask law abiding customers to leave our stores, putting our partners in an unfair and potentially unsafe position,” the company said in its statement.
It said security measures are in place for any “threatening situation” that might occur in stores.
Starbucks asked both gun enthusiasts and gun-control advocates “to refrain from putting Starbucks or our partners into the middle of this divisive issue.”
Few even cared about Starbucks’ gun policy — or anyone other company’s, for matter — until January, when word spread that gun-toting advocates of open-carry laws were meeting in coffeehouses and restaurants in California’s Bay Area. Seeing an opportunity to further their cause, the Brady Campaign asked two of the businesses — California Pizza Kitchen and Peet’s Coffee and Tea — to exercise their legal right to ban guns in their stores.
When they complied, the group aimed higher, asking the same of the most powerful name in coffee. Starbucks refused, citing existing safety procedures, but the Brady Campaign persisted.
This is why many people think gun-owners are nuts.
No one needs to be this provocative. No company wants to deal with a bunch of people carrying guns into a public space shared with others, some of whom loathe and fear guns and some of whom may have had terrifying, life-changing experiences of emotional or physical violence relating to the use of a firearm.
Today’s New York Times, which consistently maintains an embattled institutional posture on private gun ownership, today includes a highly unusual editorial astonished at the fact — well-known to anyone who knows the gun world — that people who own firearms aren’t all mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers.
People who own guns are as heterogenous as people who own cars or frying pans or hair dryers. Some are deeply passionate about the Second Amendment and its putative sanctity, the sort, like ex-NRA president Charlton Heston once famously said, would only see their firearms pried from their cold, dead hands.
Others, many others, are as deeply horrified by gun violence, even while they own firearms, as anyone who’s never even touched a Glock. I learned this firsthand after spending a few years focused on Americans and their guns, for my book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” (Pocket Books, 2004). I spoke to 104 men, women and teens from 29 states, ages 13 to 70.
I’ve never owned a gun nor felt the desire to do so, but, after those many long thoughtful conversations — with everyone from legislators like Carolyn McCarthy to Olympic shooters to victims of gun violence — I understand why it’s appealing to the many Americans who feel that way — 30 percent of American homes contain a gun.
Writes the Times:
Now along comes Frank Luntz, a conservative Republican pollster who, Toto-like, has snatched back Oz’s curtain to reveal that gun owners favor much more reasonable gun controls than the gun lobby would ever allow the public to imagine.
Mr. Luntz queried 832 gun owners, including 401 card-carrying N.R.A. members, in a survey commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the alliance of hundreds of executives seeking stronger gun laws. In flat rebuttal of N.R.A. propaganda, the findings showed that 69 percent of N.R.A. members supported closing the notorious gun-show loophole that invites laissez-faire arms dealing outside registration requirements.
Even more members, 82 percent, favored banning gun purchases to suspects on terrorist watch lists who are now free to arm. And 69 percent disagreed with Congressionally imposed rules against sharing federal gun-trace information with state and local police agencies.
These findings strike at some of the N.R.A.’s most sacred shibboleths. The survey questionnaire, devoid of boilerplate alarums about threatened gun rights, found some plain reason at work. It is clear that most members still oppose policies like a national gun registry. But 86 percent of gun owners also agreed that more could be done to “stop criminals from getting guns while also protecting the rights of citizens to freely own them.” And 78 percent of N.R.A. members said they should be required to report stolen guns to the police — to combat another source of underground arms dealing.
Not everyone who owns a firearm, contrary to the Times’ position, is a “gun nut.” But moderates remain, sadly and problematically, invisible, which is why the editorial is worth doing and reading. There are few issues more politically divisive. But both sides’ leaders told me privately — off the record — they feel there’s much to discuss and many concerns they share. Budging from their stances publicly, though, would alienate their constituencies. Many gun-owners feel passionately they are losing their rights and fear future legislation, while those who represent the concerns of those affected by gun violence, whether survivors of a loved one’s suicide or death in a crime, know their membership looks to them with equal fervor to do the right thing.
Legislators are caught in the middle. One of the challenges of anyone opposing the NRA is the complexity of nuance. There are many anti-violence groups, each of which have slightly different views and stances. As a result, their voices are often lost in the shouting match whenever legislators try to enact new, powerful laws.
Moderation wins no votes, doesn’t make for tidy bumper stickers, rarely prompts people to whip out their checkbooks and write four or five-figure donations to the organization of their choice — whether the National Rifle Association or the Brady Campaign.