It’s the end of an eventful year and the beginning of a new one. I had visions of a fresh start as I sat down to write my final political words of 2014. I’ve had a lot to say about American gun culture over the past 12 months and figured it might be refreshing to explore a different issue. But as I perused The New York Times and came across the headline, Woman at Walmart Is Accidentally Shot Dead by 2-Year-Old Son, I was reminded that it’s nearly impossible to forget about guns in this country for any length of time.
Early this week in a Hayden, Idaho Walmart store, a toddler pulled a concealed weapon from his mother’s purse and fatally wounded her at close range. Almost everyone in the nation can agree that this is a terrible, terrible tragedy. It seems likely a similar number of us would concur that avoidable mistakes were made. Why then can we not come together to change the omnipresence of guns in American culture?
Every moment, in a home, public space, school or office, lies an avoidable accident waiting to happen. Lieutenant Stu Miller, a spokesman for the Kootenai County, Idaho sheriff’s office was interviewed for the Times story. Writers Bill Morlin and Kirk Johnson quote the officer: “‘This situation is such a tragedy, particularly happening so close to the holidays,’ Lieutenant Miller said. Asked why the woman might have felt the need to go armed to the Walmart, he said that carrying a weapon was not particularly remarkable or unusual. ‘It’s pretty common around here — a lot of people carry loaded guns.'”
There are too many guns, and they are too commonly toted around like a charming accessory. That is exactly the problem.
At the end of a column I wrote in late November, Why Ferguson Is Also, And Again, About Guns, a conservative commenter misappropriated a famous quote from Samuel Adams. The insinuation that I prefer “the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom” was leveraged as a suggestion to take my citizenship elsewhere. This predictable right wing retort speaks volumes about the tired, repetitive state of our national public safety conversation. It’s a dangerous bullying tactic designed to scare dissenters into stony silence, as though the only choice we have is between suppression of Second Amendment rights and the unchecked proliferation of weapons. If you’re not for the latter, you must advocate the former. Ergo, you’re a traitor invited to self-deport.
We should be able to soberly discuss whether we collectively want to continue policies that render a family trip to the grocery store a potentially lethal outing. Does one’s Constitutional right to bear arms (as least as some individuals interpret it) really trump another’s right to life? Isn’t that’s somewhere in the Bill too? Where is the balance and how do we locate it together? Because Dear God, we’re not even close.
The events in Hayden also beg questions about timing. Morlin and Johnson interviewed Stefan T. Chatwin, the city administrator, for the Times piece and quote him as saying “that guns are a part of the culture here. The city amended its gun laws just last week, he said, to conform with state laws and make it clear that a gun owner is justified in firing a weapon in defense of persons or property.”
How many more residents are walking or driving around packing heat, ironically fearing the unknown assailant more than the reality that “for every time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around a home?” How long until the Gem State has its own Trayvon Martin case? Idaho’s six percent ethnic minority population better leave the hooded sweatshirts in the closet.
We’re going in the wrong direction in an effort to find a sensible balance between freedom, individualism and community. The choice between self-interest and neighborly responsibility is not either/or. I am tired of reading stories like Hayden’s. I don’t want to hear anymore – but not because I’ll stick my fingers in my ear and deny there’s a problem. Let’s demand our lawmakers do something. Because right now in Idaho there’s a two year-old child without a mother who hasn’t lived long enough to grasp that he was the agent of her demise. His concealed carry suffering has just begun.