Let’s Talk… About Gun Control

dialogueguncontrol

For the last couple of weeks since I wrote my letter to Congress, I’ve been trying to foster dialogue with the people of the Internet and the people of my city (hello, Colorado Springs!).

This has not been easy.

A lot of the replies that I’ve received via my blog or Twitter account have been painful. Painful is a strange word to use, but that is what comes up when I transcend the flash of anger that appears when I first hear certain things: pain.

When people ask me, “What do you think about the armed citizen that stopped the shooter in your shooting?” As if I didn’t realize she was a part of my story.
When people assert that people are the problems, not guns. As if it were not bullets that killed my sisters.
When people say that laws don’t dissuade criminals. As if they don’t set norms in society of what violence equates to, as if they didn’t set the norm that the shooter adhered to.

The list goes on. Each of these replies first pierces my heart and honestly? I want to lash out.

I want to be the same exact person I see all over Twitter. Insulting, and raging, and cursing at people I disagree with. Sometimes, I admit it, I degrade to being that exact person because it hurts so damn much.

But if I can take a step back and look at it for a second, if I get curious, something happens that changes everything.

I meet people.

I’ve heard so many stories in the past 2 weeks. Stories that I am honored to carry, and that you can go read in the comments of my blog. I’ve had amazing conversations with people I would have called “the enemy”, had I continued to react out of pain.

At this point, that means much more to me than being right. I don’t want to be on the “right” side of this discussion. I want to truly meet people and hear their heart.

So while I’m now going to tell you about some of my personal beliefs about gun violence, I want to ask that you do the same. Tell me your stories. And tell me WHY you have them. What beliefs are behind your stories? I’ll trade you, okay? But let’s be people first, and issues secondary to that. Meet me here – I promise to hold your story in a safe place in my heart.

1) What about the “armed citizen” who stopped your shooting?

Several people have asked why I didn’t mention her in my letter. Here’s the simple truth: she didn’t factor into my letter. My letter was about me, what I saw and experienced. I wasn’t her. I didn’t take the shooter down. Am I grateful to her?

Here’s my story. I remember clearly when someone came and told me that the shooter had been stopped. I instantly felt weak with relief. I never wanted him dead. I just wanted him stopped. So yes. I am grateful to her. I’m grateful she was trained enough to stop him.

The follow up question to that is, what DO I think about armed civilians?

This is tricky for me. And I think there is two parts to this, because I live in a state that allows open carry as well as concealed. So I’ll address both.

a) Are you against conceal carry?

My short answer: no. I think I speak to that in my letter. I asked people to think about their responsibility if they chose to carry, and here’s what I mean by that. Imagine your daughter, son, sister, brother, friend laying dead on the ground from a gunshot. Think about the horror and pain that would cause you. And then think about whether you could inflict that harm on someone else. If you can then I think you know the responsibility of carrying and should be allowed to do so. I know there are people who can do this, because I’ve talked to them in my blog comments.

Another thing I want people who conceal carry for protection to think about. Adrenaline. I promise you, you have no idea what adrenaline will add to the situation until you are actually smack dab in the middle of it. Adrenaline also does weird things to your body. When my sisters were killed, I thought I heard shots coming from one direction. It turns out that the shots were coming from the exact opposite direction as I had supposed. Don’t underestimate the role of adrenaline. If you want to carry and you want to carry for self-protection, train in situations where you are guaranteed to feel adrenaline.

b) Do you think open carry should be allowed?

No.

Why? Here’s one simple reason. As a gun violence survivor, it is extremely triggering for me to see someone carrying their gun in public. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a man open carrying at my laundromat. It was terrifying.

Honestly, I am wracking my brain to think of a reason to carry openly what you could easily conceal under your jacket or shirt. And seriously, if you think of one, please let me know in the comments. I’ll gladly consider a good argument.

2) Is it the person, or the gun?

I think it’s both. I wrote about what I think goes on behind violence here. So yes, I think violent people are violent. BUT, I also think it’s the gun, because a gun provides an ease in killing other that no other easily-owned weapon provides. (so, I’m not talking tanks, bombs, drones, etc) There is no other weapon that makes it just THAT easy to kill someone, and that is why I think it’s the gun, too.

3) What about regulation?

So, here’s where things get tricky and where I hear a LOT of contention. The very second I mention regulation, we all get angry (me included). I have lots of thoughts on regulation, and I’ll describe them in terms of my personal thoughts and feelings.

Here’s why I think universal background checks (UBCs) are a good idea: I feel safer knowing that we are aware of who is purchasing firearms and whether they are mentally or physically able. I can feel secure knowing that if someone owns a firearm, it’s for a good reason, and I will trust that person if they ever need to defend me.

[On this subject, can someone explain to me in the comments the issue that some of you have with form 4473 on the UBCs? Still trying to learn about this]

Here’s why I think and feel licensing firearms is a good idea: If firearms are licensed, I can safely know where the firearm has come from. I can know that the person legally acquired that firearm, and again, presumably is fit to use it. Therefore I feel safe around that person knowing that they have what it takes to own that firearm. THAT BEING SAID I also have some fear around it being used as surveillance, because things tend to get twisted like that in the US.

Here’s why I think and feel laws around gun use are a good idea: I don’t feel like laws are great at stopping criminals. But having a law about what gun use is legal makes me feel safe, because it establishes that certain kinds of violence are not okay in our society. If I know that the government thinks certain violence is not okay, I feel more secure because I feel the government takes that seriously, and will protect me and any citizen who is in a situation that goes against that law.

Here’s why I think Congress should get involved: From my understanding of things, through a variety of ways Congress is blocked from allowing research funding to go to the CDC for mass shootings. I want to know more about mass shootings so we can see predicates to them – what personality markers are indicators? What are common denominators? We know none of this, and it would make me feel much safer to base any legislation off of solid research.

And now, it’s your turn, because this is about dialogue.

I want to hear from you. But I want to hear from a different perspective. What I want to know is your WHY. Tell me about YOU – Why do you think and feel that background checks aren’t helpful? Why do you feel afraid, upset, angry about licensing firearms in general? What do you think the role of laws are in our society, and why do you feel strongly about not passing laws? YOU. Not just political ideologies here. Mainly – your stories and your heart.

I look forward to hearing and learning from you.

The Courage to Listen

rumi1

I’d been practicing meditation for just over a year last June when I decided it was time for a meditation retreat. A Buddhist nun here in town was holding a daylong retreat. I vaguely recall the subject being something about maintaining presence with one’s experiences. I decided to go. As I drove there, I tried to prepare myself. I knew meditation retreats were supposed to be no walk in the park. I tried to get ready for a challenging day.

The challenge I prepared for, however, was not the one I received.

There were a few of us there, 10 or less. We gathered in her little meditation room – a small building essentially the size of a tiny house that had been turned into a meditation hut. It was spartan but efficient, with plenty of meditation pillows for all of us. But instead of beginning with sitting, she had us stand.

“Let’s start with a body scan meditation,” she said.

If I only knew what I was in for, I think I’d run right out of the room at that moment. We began, making our way from our feet up. When we got to the midsection, I was suddenly gripped with intense emotional pain, so deep I wanted to curl up in a ball and sob. It took all I had to stay on my feet. I gritted my teeth and continued through the meditation.

But the pain stayed with me all day. Previous to beginning this meditation, I hadn’t felt the pain at all. Now it felt like an endless abyss of agony. I felt as if I’d fall into the pain and never stop falling.

At one point I asked what to do. It was overwhelming, and I asked how to stay with it, mentioning that I was having a hard time.

“Maybe you haven’t had the community support necessary to stay with it,” she remarked.

I wanted to throw something at her. “Thanks a lot,” I wanted to say. “Can you please give me some?” But I am a tad compliant (most of the time) so I kept my thoughts and the rest of my agony to myself.

By the end of the day I was so internally wrecked that I didn’t meditate again for 4 months, when I began my yoga teacher training. I, who had meditated almost every day for a year.

My yoga teacher training began, though, and so did the precise community support I needed to enter my body again and face the endless and myriad emotions that churned in the pit of my stomach.

My emotions scare me. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve managed them. Everyone says I am very self aware, they’ve said that since I was at least 16. It hasn’t been used for noble purposes, though. I learned to be self aware, so then I would know my emotions and I could fix them. I’ve been perfecting this habit of fixing for quite a long time now.

As I have slowly come back to my body and simply let the feelings shake their way through me (and often, it’s fear, so lots of shaking) I’ve learned something else. My feelings don’t want fixing.

They want me to listen.

And just like when people complain they don’t want to be fixed, they just want to be heard, my heart has complained the same. Just how when people are simply heard and that becomes the “fix” but even so much beyond it, so that is the “fix” for me. Not really the fix, even… but the healing.

I have been the marionette of my feelings. Allowing them to jerk me back and forth because I understood them as the strings. All the while, I was in actuality the puppeteer.

I stopped dancing about on the strings. I began simply listening. Slowly, I have started to detach my marionette strings. Slowly, like the Velveteen rabbit, I’m becoming real.

The saving grace for me, the way I’ve stopped being puppeted about by reactions to my world, is meditation. The very thing that led me into the fire has been my savior. By coming home to what my body was telling me, I’ve been able to sit and meditate again. And every morning now for quite awhile, I’ve sat down on my cushion and watched. When I’m tempted to get in the ring with my feelings and duke it out, I step back. I just watch.

The therapist I did EMDR with last year used to say, “Notice that.” Now that is something I tell myself on my cushion when a feeling pops up and threatens to overwhelm me. “Notice that.” And instead of getting swept up in the tsunami of the feeling, I watch it crash on the beach. “Hmm. That’s interesting,” I say quietly and gently to myself.

My meditation practice has proved to be invaluable for the dialogue I’ve encouraged on my blog in this past week. In becoming adept in showing up to my feelings, it’s made me available to show up for others, too. “Notice that,” I say to myself when someone responds heatedly to what I’ve written. Notice that.

The poem included in this post’s image is one by Rumi, who speaks of going beyond right and wrong. This is what I’ve attempted to do with my letter to Congress. To circumvent the polarity of “BAN GUNS” vs. “GUNS FOR ALL.” At its core, I think Rumi’s poem is talking about meeting people.

So instead of trying to FIX the problem, I’m trying to start with listening. Because that is where truly meeting with people begins.

Learning to listen started with myself. Learning to listen has been the way that I’ve gone beyond the ideas of “right” and “wrong” that I have within, to find the middle ground.

This is what has thus far carried me through listening to you. I received comments from some of you on my last post that were exceedingly hard to hear. The thing that has held me through dialoguing with those of you with whom I disagree is the steadiness of how I listen when I hold opposing views within myself.

Still, I was wiped out by last Friday, and last Friday, two more shootings occurred. It was a rough day, and the thing that held me through yet again was my meditation and inner listening. Strangely enough, the feelings that flooded me last Friday were strangely similar to the feelings of agony I had when I had that meditation day. But this time, I could sit with them.

This also is what is preparing me for my next post that will clarify my thoughts on gun violence and what needs to be done. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking through the various approaches to gun violence, the various arguments from all sides, and inquiring of my heart what I think will work. This takes a lot of listening. I’m curious to see what unfolds.


How do you deal with your emotions? Do you have a consistent spiritual practice that carries you? How does that work help you to work with large scale issues like gun violence? I welcome your heart and your thoughts in the comments.

Dear Congress – Sincerely, A Mass Shooting Survivor

Dear Congress,

I write you today upon hearing the grave news that another heinous mass shooting has happened, this time in Roseburg, Oregon. We learned today that at least 10 people have lost their lives, and at least 7 have been injured.

I write you this letter so that you can see the face of a survivor.  I write you this letter as someone who saw with my own eyes the horror of a mass shooting, a shooting that took the lives of my twin and younger sister and injured my father at New Life Church in December 2007. And most importantly I write this letter to open a dialogue about the role that gun violence has played in our country.

I say specifically to open a dialogue, because I am not strictly anti-gun. I feel that I am in a unique place to address this issue. About 3 years ago, I took a class to obtain a conceal-carry permit. After having been a victim of gun violence once, I was terrified to face it again. I still have nightmares about shootings about once a month. The need to protect myself was strong. At the time I felt that a conceal carry permit was the only way to sufficiently do so.

However, once I finished the class, a thought began to pervade my mind. What if I had to actually do it, actually pull the trigger? What then? Could I? Should I?

I thought about seeing my twin Stephanie’s face just moments after she was shot. I thought about my sister Rachel who was gray when I passed her just outside our family car that day. And I knew in that moment I could never pull a trigger against another human. The human might be someone who did something horrific. Some think I might have been able to even stop the shooter who killed my sisters. But when it came down to it, I realized it didn’t matter how horrible the person was. They were human. They had a family – a brother or sister, parents, cousins. In retaliating with a gun, I would be inflicting the same violence on the shooter and his family, that the shooter inflicted on me the day he killed my sisters.

This changed my mind about getting a conceal carry permit. Since I could not personally take on the responsibility of another’s life, I chose not to carry at all. Many have argued that I don’t necessarily have to “kill” someone, or that I could use this permit while out on one of my many hikes to defend myself from animals. However to me, the potentiality is there for me to commit harm against a human, so I refuse to carry.

I do not share this story as a censure against conceal carry but rather to share my thought process. I am not against conceal carry as a whole. What I am against is the lack of foresight that goes into it, both from those who carry, and from our government. Our government in many instances does not background check either those who conceal carry or those who purchase guns.

Why? We know that these atrocities are committed on a regular basis. We know that guns especially can be used to commit violent and heinous crimes. And yet we have little system of checks and balances to prevent these crimes from occurring. Many who argue against gun control say that it is not the gun that is the problem, it is the person. But if we have no way of checking who the person is, the gun becomes the problem.

I must say again clearly, Congress, that too many people have not sufficiently thought through what gun ownership in this country entails. I address you as well as those people. You have not sufficiently thought about what the responsibility of owning a gun means. Therefore you do not regulate it sufficiently in our government system. Because you do not regulate it, others do not either. And we come to where we are today, where people have clearly said to me, “I conceal carry because I am afraid to be in a mass shooting and I need to protect myself.”

The role of a country is to protect its citizens. You have failed to do so and now citizens feel the need to protect themselves, not realizing that the cost of this may be in human lives.

I am appealing to you today not to repeal the 2nd amendment, not to take people’s guns, but to consider within yourselves your responsibility to your people. As I considered my own responsibility towards human dignity when I chose not to carry, I ask you now to consider your responsibility towards human dignity when it comes to guns in the United States. I ask you to bear the grave burden of human life on your shoulders and decide in yourselves what checks and balances can be made to sufficiently uphold its dignity.

I ask you to open a dialogue – to see the human faces of this issue. To see my face as a survivor. To see the faces of gun owners who feel the need to protect themselves. As the tradition of my childhood says in the Scriptures, “Come, let us reason together.” Let’s make this discussion human again.

Please, consider me, and all those who have survived. I ask you, please consider how to prevent these atrocities so that others will never have to say, “I survived seeing my friend, parent, sister, shot and killed.” Put yourself in my shoes, feel what it would be like to survive such terror. And ask yourselves what you can to do prevent this madness from continuing.

Sincerely,
A Mass Shooting Survivor


I would love to hear your thoughts and dialogue in the comments. Let’s start a conversation about this. And if you agree and want to add your voice, please share this post via social media. 

EDIT: I’ve begun a dialogue post here, come join!