**Warning** political rant – I know. as an author I’m supposed to keep my trap shut when it comes to this stuff, but feck it. I can’t right now.**
I’m a slick sleeve. I don’t have a combat patch. I don’t know what it’s like to hear a bullet meant to kill me as it zips by my head. I’ve never seen a fellow soldier killed nor have I ever killed anyone. The entire time I was in uniform, if you can imagine it, this country was at peace. Perhaps my opinion about weapons, for those reasons, count for shit.
Despite the peace through which I served, I still had to fire a weapon at least annually. Every time I aimed my M16 at a human-shaped target, and every time I pulled the trigger, I felt mixed emotions. Part of me loved it. The power, the feeling of success for striking where I aimed –which was rare. I enjoyed the way I imagined I looked—all helmet and ammo pouches and dusty boots and that sleek looking weapon in the hands of a woman in the best shape of her life. I’d smile my wide, white smile, my dark brown skin glistening under a sweat stained helmet band and stroll out to the target, the business end of the weapon pointed down range, and count the holes I’d made. I’d analyze my shot group, which was usually crap, like I knew what I was looking at and knew exactly what to do to improve it. For most of my career in uniform I was a terrible shot.
But that didn’t stop me from looking forward to the times when we checked out weapons and spent a day on the range.
I’d get even more filled with myself when I trained with a nine millimeter pistol. That wide-legged stance, the tight, noise-dampening headphones, the safety glasses, the buck of the pistol in my fists, the unique and pervasive smell of cordite. I was much better with the pistol than I was with an M16. I loved the metallic cranking noise the paper target made as it flew at you along the trolley. That scene had been captured in movies and TV too many times for me to not see myself in some glorified role.
It wasn’t until I deployed to the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia that I had to live with a weapon for months at a time. I carried it and multiple loaded magazines while I also hefted my video camera and tripod, traveling all over the place, capturing video of the action around me, and listening to the stories people told.
I shot video of Bosnian soldiers removing landmines they’d placed but lost track of during the war, standing stupidly close and marveling at their casual attitude about the work. I shot video of old Muslim ladies throwing rocks at Serbians they accused of murdering their loved ones. They turned to me, screaming into my camera, shaking their rock filled fists. Frankly, I couldn’t blame them for their anger. It seemed as if everyone was angry at everyone in Bosnia and the hatred would never cool off long enough for the loathing to stop boiling in their veins.
But much of my time was spent shooting video of American soldiers as they labored long, hot hours in the sun, repairing roads, patrolling destroyed villages, meeting with community leaders and politicians. I went on a night patrol with a scout platoon and ended up spending more than eight hours, covered in manure smelling filth as we tried to free a Humvee from the deepest muck I had ever seen. I kept telling myself it was mud, and hoped I was right when one soldier sank up to his chest in it. No matter what they tried, it seemed, the disastrous scene only grew worse. They ended up having to call for help from an M1 tank. By the end of that night, I had even more respect for the tenacity, the ingenuity, the sheer bullheadedness of young men and women who end up thrown into shit that is literally over their heads but still find some way to get out of it.
For me and my time in uniform, my video camera and the stories I told with it were far more useful weapons than the M16 I wore strapped to my back.
I became so comfortable carrying it, the strap laying crossways on my chest, the weapon with the barrel pointed down, covering my back, that I felt naked without it. It never bothered me as I slept with it next to me on my cot, sometimes inside the sleeping bag with me, the hard metal of it like the hard metal railing of my camp bed. That weapon was my responsibility. The one with the serial number I memorized was my permanent accessory.
After reading theagingmillennialengineer’s blog post, “Fuck you, I like guns,” I felt as if, finally, I’d found someone who served in uniform, who’d fired a deadly weapon and who felt about it the same way I did. In the nine months I was deployed, my weapon was always ready. Cleaned, a magazine loaded, just waiting for me to pull back the charging handle. While I’d grown accustomed to it, while I’d spent long hours training with it, I never, ever wanted to actually use it.
Yes, I served in peacetime. Like I said, I’m a slick sleeve. I don’t have a combat patch. I’ve never been shot at. I’ve never seen a fellow soldier killed nor have I ever killed anyone. And admittedly, perhaps my opinion about weapons, for those reasons, counts for shit.
Except, the kids in that Florida school never had a combat patch either, until now. They’d never been shot at, until now. They’d never seen a fellow student killed, until now. And their opinions, in my book, count for a whole lot. Some asshats are calling them opportunists, fakes, tools of their gun hating parents who influence them.
I think the asshats are saying such things because these kids are changing the game and they are frightened. These kids are simply stating their well thought out opinions. They feel very strongly about them, because someone with a deadly weapon tried to kill them.
That night in the field, stuck in mud I could have drowned in, most of the soldiers I was with weren’t much older than those high school kids. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty. If we can send kids that young to war they absolutely have the right to offer their opinions and to be heard and not to be accused of being mouthpieces for some nefarious purpose.
From what I hear them saying, what they really want is for grownups to be grownups. They’re asking, why haven’t we fixed this shit yet? They want to know how come, with all of our talk about what a great country we live in, we can’t come together to try to ensure a basic tenant of our constitution. Life.
Other countries do it. Why can’t we?
The conversation becomes polarizing, as soon as it begins. Mostly because, as theagingmillennialengineer’s post says:
“We restrict what types of businesses can operate in which zones of the city or county. We have a whole system of permitting for just about any activity a person wants to conduct since those activities could affect others, and we realize, as a society, that we need to try to minimize the risk to other people that comes from the chosen activities of those around them in which they have no say. Gun ownership is the one thing our country collectively refuses to manage, and the result is a lot of dead people.”
I have a few ideas for how we can manage gun ownership in a way that will keep us from a lot more dead people. Here are just a few. They are not perfect. Some might not even be possible, but they are ideas that don’t include kicking in doors and taking people’s precious deadly weapons. All I ask is that you give them consideration.
- Reinstate funding for the CDC to conduct studies into gun deaths and gun use and apply that scientific research to stopping it. We used science to study car fatalities to make driving safer. Let’s use the same methods to study gun fatalities. Remove everything that hampers the CDC and other scientific outlets from doing such research.
- Treat mass shootings and gun deaths as the public health epidemic it is and put our best public health professionals on the issue. Study it in terms of mental health, public safety, individual rights and science. Use those studies to develop a multi-phased program to reduce gun violence and death.
- Start immediate and massive communication campaigns that are aimed at reducing gun violence, and supporting responsible gun ownership so that those responsible owners are held up as examples of what right looks like. We need to stop vilifying people simply for owning guns. People who own guns are not all evil, war mongering turds. Those who support responsible ownership should be held up as examples so that more will follow their lead. We need communications campaigns that help us think that way. You may think, with all the crap going on, that a bunch of PSAs aren’t going to do anything, but at nine o’clock, I bet we all know where the hell our damn children are now, don’t we? That kind of shit works.
- When a product is manufactured in a way that negligently harms people, we can sue the manufacturer. Repeal the laws that prevent people from suing gun manufacturers.
- Invest in effective registration and tracking. Car registries are on national databases. With a plate number, you can easily track who that car belongs to and any patrolman, detective and law enforcement officer can trace the plate. You can even track it via GPS. We can’t do that with guns because most registries are not in useable databases and many registries are manually input and tracked … in 2018! Fix that shit! Make it easy for new information that violates registration to be added. Revoke registrations the way a driver’s license is revoked. When a gun license is revoked, go get the weapons! (This might already be happening, I doubt it.)
- BTW, that gun registration, license, permit, whatever you have…make that an annual or bi-annual renewal. In Florida, a gun license is good for SEVEN YEARS. A lot can happen in seven years. You want to own a gun, prove you know how to own it safely every dang year. Charge fees to pay for upgrading the technology to support the requirement.
- From their own website, the ATF says:
“ATF’s National Tracing Center (NTC) is the only organization authorized to trace U.S. and foreign manufactured firearms for international, Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies. Its purpose is to provide investigative leads in the fight against violent crime and terrorism and to enhance public safety.”
Ah, WHY? Why are they the ONLY ORGANIZATION AUTHORIZED? Stop it! Just stop. It’s nonsensical, it’s putting the information in a silo and it’s just fucking stupid. Make that shit EASY to get to. Make it easy to update and upload and keep it as technically efficient as possible.
- You can’t sell a car without legally transferring the title and you can’t sell a car unless you legally vouch for it’s safety and maintenance. Make the same true for transferring ownership of a weapon. That shouldn’t be hard. A lot of this can be done with a new cubicle at the DMV. Take a number pal.
- I can chip my cat. Why can’t weapons be chipped to track ownership? Make it impossible to remove serial numbers. Use implanted chips on the weapons to track them. Again, from the ATF website:
“The NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network) Program automates ballistics evaluations and provides actionable investigative leads in a timely manner. NIBIN is the only interstate automated ballistic imaging network in operation in the United States and is available to most major population centers in the United States.”
MOST major population centers? Why not ALL population centers, major or minor? Not to mention, why are they crowing about having a “national network.” In this day and age, shouldn’t that be a given? Well, it isn’t.
- Use pin numbers or thumb prints to unlock a weapon before it can be taken off safe. Add alarms that will alert an owner if a weapon is being used without their permission. Someone told me some gun manufacturer tried tried this. It didn’t work. Well, we tried going to the moon a few times too before we did it? Did we let that stop us? Why, WHY do we let people with these kinds of shithole arguments win?
- Above all, find out what the hell is wrong with these men! It’s not enough to call them crazy. It’s not enough to say the school was a target of opportunity. Do we really think that if that school was impregnable, that kid wouldn’t have gone somewhere else to test his assault style weapon? This is why the CDC needs to be on this crap. There’s a sickness going around. How the hell can’t we stop young men and old men from being so damn violent? It’s not an easy answer. There are lots of smart people in this country. We need to put them on it.
I went to basic training in the era when we learned the old saying, “this is my rifle, this is my gun, (as the DI grabbed his crotch). One is for killing, one is for fun.”
But as wise as drill instructors were and still are, whether you call it a rifle or a gun, if it goes bang, it can kill. At some point we have to put the lives of citizens over the recreational pleasure or even the false constitutional claims of others. At some point we have to say a child’s life is more important than your right to own every killing machine you can get your hands on. And at some point we as a society have to say, we are sick. We’ve got a serious problem. And we need to put our best and brightest onto solving it, and guess what? Our best ain’t those dumb shits in Washington.
They have no idea what they’re doing and right now, all they can talk about are guns to ban, or which clips to ban or which rights we lose and that’s all bullshit. Their NRA funded cerebrums are FUBAR* when it comes to this crap. The AR15 and weapons that copy it need to go. That’s obvious. Stop mucking about with what we know and get on with it.
Let’s do one thing right. Let’s start by putting our best and brightest scientists and public health experts, specifically the CDC, onto figuring out what is eating away our brains. Let’s prove to our young people that we can be adults and figure this shit out. Because right now, those kids in Florida are adulting far better than we are.
*Fuck Up Beyond All Recognition