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.

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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!

Violence Doesn’t Solve Fear

Today in the news we again have violence against black people, in McKinney TX at a teenage pool party, of all places. I have held my peace on my blog about this but today is the last straw for me. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m passionate about social justice, and in my offline life I’m a board member for the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. So honestly it’s really high time I use my blog as a platform for what I want to say about this.

First of all, I am a gun violence survivor. I watched my sisters get murdered in front of me. And because of that, I went through an entire personal evolution of how I approached gun safety in this country. At first I was fully supportive of the lack of regulation on the right to bear arms. I even went through the entire class to get a conceal carry permit. And then I thought about it.

I could not, EVER, inflict upon ANY person irregardless of how “evil” they were, the same thing that I saw kill my sisters. I couldn’t. It would break me. And I knew that if I conceal carried a weapon, that would be the responsibility on my shoulders.

So at that moment I decided that for myself, I would never conceal carry. Not ever.

Let me be clear. I am not anti conceal carry. I am not about taking away anyone’s 2nd amendment rights. But what I do think is that they should be regulated, and I have several reasons why. Today was one of them.

Why do I bring this up in conjunction with McKinney?

Because we have a country that promotes systemic violence across all platforms, to the war in Iraq to police brutality on the streets of our cities. If there is a problem, welp, we swagger on in and solve it. How? Stark Industries style: “I’ve got a bigger weapon than you.” Our entire mindset on how to feel in control (when we feel out of control) is to use violence.

And in McKinney, the police officer pulled a gun in a situation which did not warrant violence.

My dad taught me to NEVER EVER point a gun at someone I didn’t intend to shoot. My dad only ever used shotguns for pheasant hunting, but he had been given a thorough lesson in gun safety and passed that on to us. I can imagine the kind of training that officer was given, and I am 100% sure that officer was told the same thing.

Pulling a gun and pointing it at someone in a situation, because you are afraid, is never okay. Pulling a gun as a policeman, who is an officer meant to sustain peace, is even less okay.

I watched the video. I don’t normally watch these kinds of videos because they are highly triggering for me. But I watched this one. And what I saw was a man who was terrified and out of control. Cursing constantly, running back and forth, and pulling a gun on kids who had never even made out as if they were going to hurt him. The kids all just wanted answers. The cop was freaking out and trying to gain control.

I know this reaction intimately because this is exactly how my dad used to react when he was afraid. He would yell and scream and act erratic. It’s familiar to me. It’s also how I react when I’m afraid.

Furthermore, I know fear. Intimately. I would say that fear and anxiety is the number one thing I’ve been working with for the past year. And here are some things that I know. When I become aggressive, either against myself or other, this doesn’t solve my fear or make me feel more in control. It actually stirs it up further. The more I try to be “in control”, the less in control I am. I am reacting to the feeling of fear within me by trying to gain control.

On the basic, most simple level, when I am reacting to fear within myself by trying to regulate, self-police, and control myself, I am acting with aggression towards myself, and my body responds accordingly. It tenses up, becomes rigid, and my mind runs around trying frantically to generate solutions to stave off what it is I fear.

On a macro level, I see it in the United States. What we do in this country is react. Fear comes up, and we strike out. It may not even be clear what we are afraid of, but perhaps it’s the simplest and most common thing – death. We don’t want to die, so we react by trying to be in control. And in the United States (as in myself), it seems that control equals aggression.

Today in McKinney, a man meant to bring peace instead lost control and became an instigator of aggression. He wrestled a 14 year old teenage girl to the ground, then pulled a gun on teenagers who were just trying to figure out what was going on. In my mind, pulling a gun marks his intention, which sickens me. And as a gun violence survivor I need to tell you. This has got to stop.

The ways in which we approach our fear has got to change.

It is so very very easy to approach fear with the mindset of wiping it off the face of the map, whether it be with drone strikes or with pointing a gun at innocent teenagers. It’s so very very easy for me to approach fear with self-policing, obsessive thinking, and trying to eradicate it from my mind. Do they seem disconnected to you? They are very related. Outer change never comes without inner change, first.

We react to fear as a country with aggression, because we react to our own inner fear with aggression, either against ourselves or by lashing out at those closest to us. Until we begin to learn on a personal level how to respond to fear instead of react, the problem will never be solved. The problem of violence. The problem of systemic injustice – whether that be race, gender, class, or anything else.

Why? Because fear is blinding. You and I both have had the experience of fear blinding us to what the reality is. And until we can learn to respond, we will never see the truth: Black lives matter. What is more, we will never see an even deeper, more profound truth:

I matter.

So I will not self aggress, nor will I aggress against those I love or anyone else. I will not treat my shadow as though it is the enemy.

Until we can stop reacting to our shadows instead of responding in love, this issue will never be solved. So this is what I am challenging you. Are you wondering what you can do as a white person to change the systemic violence in the United States? Are you wondering how to show the public at large that black lives indeed DO matter?

Start with yourself.

Address the shadow within yourself. Stop running from it. Stop trying to fight, fade, or fix it – which are all acts of self aggression. Listen deeply to yourself. Stop reacting to your shadow by yelling at or otherwise hurting the person who triggered it. As you stop inflicting violence on yourself, you’ll naturally stop inflicting violence on others. As you start listening deeply to yourself, you’ll naturally start listening to others. You’ll naturally be moved to get involved with movements for peace and justice.

The buck starts with you. It starts with me. No one said this is easy work. But are you willing to pay the cost for change?

If so – join me.

Footnote:
First, I address this solution to white people as I am a white person and can’t pretend to know how black people need to work to solve this systemic violence. I will not speak on their behalf. But I will give other white people like myself a mode of true, heart led action.
Second, I point out black lives because of the systemic violence so obviously inflicted against them. Life in general matters, certainly, but the egregious violence against black people in our country needs to be addressed head on.