Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Guns and Growing Up After Columbine

I grew up with guns, lots of them, hunting and sport shooting in rural Colorado. I understand the importance of responsible gun ownership - it's a serious responsibility to own a device that can rapidly discharge directed explosions of metal at living creatures.

I've also traveled the world - to countries with many fewer guns, to countries with more stringent gun laws, and to countries where the police look like soldiers outfitted for war. Increasingly that's how police in the USA look - and that's not a good sign given the countries I'm thinking about.

Unfortunately, years of looking at detailed gun fatality statistics - by state and by nation, as well as nearly two decades of thinking about school shootings, has really eroded my libertarian view on guns. There is simply too much evidence to suggest that the USA has a systemic, unique problem that has risen to the level of a health epidemic - one that we are told we must accept on Constitutional grounds. As Max Boot (not exactly a liberal) wrote, the Second Amendment is being turned into a suicide pact - and that's a genuine dilemma.

There are many important stories about how a gun has de-escalated a situation or saved someone's life. There are also many tragic stories about a gun discharging and killing a family member, or a domestic dispute that leaves a spouse dead from a gunshot, or a family member mistaken for an intruder and killed. Sadly, I can think of personal examples of each of those stories, as well.

There should remain a place for a responsible person to own firearms, especially for home protection. But guns in the public sphere has become an incredibly difficult topic. We don't allow guns in a bank or a courtroom but now some want more guns in schools. We don't allow guns on airplanes but some now want more people to conceal them on subways, streets, and public events. We don't want police officers to escalate to lethal force but we arm more of our citizens per capita - increasing the fear officers quite reasonably have for their life at every traffic stop. These are striking contradictions that a society with more guns than people have introduced - problems unique in the developed world.

It would appear that a generation of kids who were born after Columbine are no longer willing to accept as normal the possibility that their friends will be shot dead at school, at the movies, at a concert, at church, or at a nightclub. A generation ago, this wasn't part of growing up. Now it is. These teens should be listened to. We should support them. They are challenging us to build a better world together.