Tuesday, August 14, 2012

We need to talk

by: Joelle Charbonneau

This might not be a popular blog post.  Normally, I make an attempt to be lighthearted.  Face it, there’s too much unhappiness and tension in the world.  However, today, I’m having a hard time being funny.

Yesterday there was another high profile shooting spree—the third in a matter of a few short weeks.  Colorado.  Wisconsin.  Texas.  Three different parts of the country.  Three different reasons for taking a weapon and firing on his fellow man.  Three people who should have never been allowed to have a gun.  But because they had one (and in fact they had many) people died.

After the Wisconsin shooting, friend and fellow writer Chuck Wendig tweeted that the time was fast approaching for us to start a serious conversation about guns.  Perhaps in some part we can start that conversation here.  We are writers that love humor.  We love mysteries and often use guns in our writing, but, in real life, guns are a serious business.  We need to find a way to get people talking—really talking—about what should be done about them.

There is a slogan that says “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”  It is hard to argue the fact that a gun by itself will not pull its own trigger.  But take the gun out of the hands of a man whose own parents say was out of control and several people who died yesterday would still be alive. Their families would not be grieving or asking questions to which there will never be answers. 

Guns kill people. 

I’m sorry.  No matter how literally correct that slogan might be, I believe guns kill people.  Does that means that I believe that people would not kill if they didn’t have access to guns? No.  But I think the numbers killed would be smaller.  The choice to kill would be harder. 

Maybe I’m wrong.  But yesterday a man with a gun killed people by shooting out of the window of his home.  In Wisconsin, a gunman opened fire in a church.  In Colorado, people watching a movie were gunned down while eating popcorn. 

Men killed those people.  So did the guns those men used.

Three horrific incidents in 22 days. 

I’m not writing this post because I know what the answer is.  I don’t.  Not a clue.  But I do know that something has to change. 

The constitution reads: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. 

I have found 4 definitions of militia:

1.  A body of citizens enrolled for military service, and called out periodically for drill but serving full time only in emergencies.

2.  A body of citizen soldiers as distinguished from professional soldiers.

3.  All able-bodied males considered by law eligible for military service.

4.  A body of citizens organized in a paramilitary group and typically regarding themselves as defenders of individual rights against the presumed interference of the federal government.

The second amendment was written at a time before the national armed forces were created.  There wasn’t an Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.  The National Guard didn’t exist.  The only chance for the country to defend itself was if every day citizens answered the call of the government to fight off whatever threat was eminent to the nation.  Once the national government founded the branches of military, the need for a militia was dissolved.

Does that mean I think citizens should be forbidden from owning guns?  Again, I have no idea.  But I do think the second amendment doesn’t provide the answers that some people would like it to.  This debate would be easier if it did.  It doesn’t.  The answer lies with us…the American people.  It is time to have a debate that doesn’t wield the second amendment and catchy slogans like a bulletproof shield.

Guns kill people because people use guns.  End of story.  Not all people commit murder with them, but enough do that we need to have the conversation.  We need to table our emotions about whether we love or hate guns.  We need stop asking what the founding fathers would do because I guarantee you they never imagined the possibility of a movie theater let alone the horrendous mass murder that would occur there. 

I have no answers.  Only questions.  But I believe that what we are doing now isn’t working.  We need to find better answers because I think the one thing we can all agree on is that the people we love in our lives are more important than the ownership of a gun that might one day be the cause of their death.

And to the families of all of the victims…my heart and prayers are with you.


  1. Bravo Joelle. Well-written, well-reasoned essay on an important issue. Thank you for starting the conversation.


  2. All good thoughts, but what we really need is better mental health care--this is lacking everywhere. It should be obvious to everyone that all these shooting were done by people with mental health issues. Whether guns are legal or illegal, there will always be a way to get them.

  3. Marilyn, I agree that there will always be ways to get guns. But perhaps there needs to be a better way of reporting those who are unstable who have them. The parents from yesterday's shooting said their son was unstable and they were worried he'd come after them. Perhaps if there were a compassionate way to report those concerns yesterday might not have happened. I'm not wild about big brother watching our every moves, but something different needs to be done.

    And while mental health is a problem, I think perhaps part of the problem in our country compared to others is the fact that the American Dream tells us we can all be millionaires if we work for it. However, many people forget about the working for it part. They believe that they are owed the American Dream. Instead of working for it, they decide that since it is owed to them they can take it. I think this problem requires a longterm plan, one that involves a change in mindset of those who work with our children and set the example for them

  4. Excellent post, Joelle. Another point to consider is that there are so many things we must jump through hoops for or are limited in (for often-good reasons) that it's ridiculous to keep the door so wide-open on guns.

    My Oklahoma relatives hunted to put meat on the table. I don't want to take all guns away. but no one needs automatic or semi-automatic weapons but a soldier going into combat or law enforcement officer facing all the ones already on the streets. Perhaps there should be stricter control kept over gun ownership and ammunition sales. No civilian needs thousands of rounds of ammunition all at one time or large numbers of military-type guns. Yes, the restrictions we already have are not enforced, but they're basically toothless anyway.

    I know people who want to drive their cars and trucks at dangerous speeds on highways and city streets, but they usually don't because they will run a chance of losing their license to drive altogether. They grumble, but no one cares because their displeasure is not as important as the kid crossing the street who might get hit. Same with guns. At times, the safety of the many takes precedence over the wants of the few.

  5. Joelle, This is a brilliant essay. I agree with you completely. And, Marilyn, many people are killed with guns by people who are quite sane. The 2nd Amendment was not intended to mean that every citizen should be armed. Like you said, Joelle, we had no Armed Forces at the time, and England and France were very real threats. The only way to defend our country AT THAT TIME was to have armed militias. Presently, gun ownership is out of control, and hunting as "sport" is as absurd a concept as any I've ever heard. Unfortunately, the NRA is one of the strongest and best-funded lobbies in Washington. The US needs to get passed this cowboy mentality and weigh the costs vs benefits of a gun-loving society.

  6. Joelle, always a controversy :) You make great points. But if those mentally ill people don't have guns, I promise you they'll find something else. I've just come from the Waldo Canyon fire when an arsonist burned 347 houses and made a community live in terror. I know. Let's ban people :) Love you.

  7. Donnell - there is always the "bad people will find a way" arguement, but that doesn't limit our need for the conversation. Just because people will find a way to kill doesn't mean we should try to do our best to safeguard our loved ones as best as possible. I'm not saying that we should ban guns. In fact, I'm saying I haven't a clue what the answer to this problem is. But I hope we can all admit that recent events demonstrate that there is a problem and that a strong, unemotional discussion is required to find the best solutions.

    1. Joelle, this was a mentally deranged person under psychiatric care. When his psychologist notified the CU Boulder that this person was unbalanced, the administrators there, knowing he was going to withdraw from school , washed their hands of him, saying they held no liability. I have to agree with the person who commented below me. Mental illness is what we should be addressing. Guns, knives, arson, bombs what have you are a symptom. Do I wish we didn't have so many guns on the street? You betcha. But I wish we would pay attention to obvious cries for help or potential problems that people knowingly close an eye to.

  8. The violence is the symptom. We can try to restrict guns (and I'm not saying there's no instances where that's not warranted) but we're only treating the symptoms.

    We have desperate people, finding themselves without hope or options. We tell them that suicide is pathetic, sad, and morally wrong. We show them that a public shooting will get them fame and notoriety (and perhaps even death). We show them that fame is always justified no matter what you do to get it (look at Reality TV stars, the rich and powerful, celebrity sex tapes, drug overdoses, crimes, etc). We have a system where success is not earned but won, over the competition. We show our kids that society is not invested in them.

    We also place little value in mental health, and distrot it. If you have a problem, it's your problem. It's your weakness. You're possibly crazy. Something is wrong with you if you have to resort to therapy.

    And then we expect everyone to be invested in society. We expect them to take the high road, when that so clearly does not lead to a life of comfort. We expect them to look inward, be honest with themselves, to be disciplined and work hard.

    And we think that removing guns will fix the problem. Screening for bombs. Putting metal detectors up. Putting cameras up. Wiretapping. Increased security. More laws. Less freedom.

    The finger is pointing at the problem and we ask: "How much of the finger do we need to remove?"

  9. Here in Canada we have the gun registry and to own a certain type of gun you have to take a course and you have to apply for a permit to carry it.

    Also in Canada, there are storage laws, so if you have guns, they can't be stored next to the ammo.

    I'm not sure that's the answer either, as we do still have gun crimes, but obviously not as much, and usually its only gangs that use guns. In Calgary, a city of 1.6 million people there has been only 13 homicides this year, 10 of them I believe are gun related.

    I imagine its so hard to even talk about guns when it's so ingrained in the American culture and to some is an important part of the constitution.

  10. I do think that guns are only a symptom of the problem. So....if that is the case, how do we treat the problem. Because there is one. I'm not saying to take away guns. No where have I said that is the answer. But too many people immediately panic about the idea of losing their guns to have a legitimate conversation. On the other side, too many people panic at the idea of their neighbors having a gun to hold a rational discussion.

    There is a problem. Whether guns are the symptom or not, they are part of the reason we have to have the conversation. If you don't know how to fix the disease, you have to treat the symptoms. We need to find a way to do both, but you have to start somewhere!

  11. I don't know if guns are the symptom. I think people like owning guns. It gives them a false sense of security. What are they afraid of? Other people with guns. It's a vicious cycle. However, if countries like Canada can have such a low gun violence/death rate, so can we. We just need to be proactive and unafraid to stand up to gun owners and the NRA.

  12. Debra - you're right...some of the population just like to own guns. A great number of those people are the reason the NRA is so strong. However, several other commenters are correct in saying that a great number of the people who have committed these gun acts were mentally ill. They should never have gotten a hold of a gun in the first place. However, more important - they should have had their mental illness treated.

    In the most recent case, the parents of the shooter weren't surprised their son committed the act. In fact, they admit they were scared he would come after them. And yet --he never received help. People were aware of the problem and no system is in place to get the people who are an obvious danger the help they need.

    Which I guess means the gun conversation has to dovetail with our healthcare conversation. There needs to be a system in place to allow people to get the medical care they need early on so they don't get to a place where they pick up a gun and use it on their fellow man. All men are created equal. Almost any citizen can buy a gun, but not all of us have equal opportunities for mental and physical health. If guns are the symptom, then we need to treat the symptom and at the same time discuss the issue of how to get those who need mental care the help they need....not just before or just after they have caused deaths, but long before.

    How do we do that? I haven't a clue. That's why I am not in charge. But through debate we might find a solution.

  13. I am warning you right now, this may be a trifle ranty because I am tired and depressed. So if you don't feel like reading a rant, feel free to skip this comment!

    I have absolutely no problem with people owning either shotguns or rifles. You can reasonably make the case that

    1) You hunt and would like a rifle to do so
    2) You're going to keep the shotgun in your bedroom for protection.

    People say "oh, no, I want to keep my handgun in the bedside table for protection because that's the best protection," but when I took my gun class, our instructor debunked that right off. No, he said, you don't want to wake up in the middle of the night and try to aim a pistol. What you want is a shotgun that will put paid to whatever you aim it at.

    There's just no reason for anyone to own a handgun, not even a revolver, let alone a semi- or fully-automatic. What on earth were people thinking when they lifted the ban on assault weapons?

    As the song says,
    "It's the Saturday night special
    got a barrel that's blue and cold
    ain't good for nothin
    but put a man six feet in a hole
    Hand guns are made for killin',
    they ain't no good for nothin' else."

    When the Constitution was written, women couldn't vote and African Americans weren't considered people. And there weren't automatic weapons. Hell, I'd be happy enough if they just banned automatic weapons. A guy could do a LOT less damage before someone took him down if he had to cock a revolver between shots.

    Clearly, we need better mental health benefits. (I have fairly good insurance, for example, but my insurance covers NOTHING in that department--not only do we not make any proactive moves to help people, we don't even help those who ASK for help if they can't afford the fees.)

    Where I live, if you want a fishing license to fish the reservoirs, the state EPA reserves the right to make you pick the license up at your local police station. Why? Because that way someone lays eyes on you. And it has to be renewed EVERY YEAR. So every year, someone can lay eyes on you in the police station. They don't necessarily make you do it, but they reserve the right to do so at any time.

    They don't do that for guns. I honestly don't understand when we came to equate "free" with "without personal accountability." It makes me crazy. And of course, I can't get help for my crazy because my insurance doesn't cover it.

  14. Laura - Great comment! Handguns and, especially, automatic weapons should never, ever be in the hands of anyone other than the military or police. And, Joelle, I agree the mental health system in this country needs a MAJOR overhaul. I just don't understand how the gun folks don't realize more guns = more death by guns. It really isn't rocket science. And, of course, the combination of guns and crazy always = tragedy.

  15. Joelle, I appreciate your well-reasoned argument, but gun control is not the solution. Criminals will still obtain guns. Gangs kill with guns that are already banned in most states, yet imported from other countries or stolen. Removing law-abiding citizens from responsible gun ownership doesn't solve the problem--it enhances it. There are many, many stories out there of people who protected their loved ones because they owned a gun and chased away someone who would do them harm. Those stories are rarely told in a media who prefers to sensationalize tragedy. I wholly agree with you that the conversation needs to be had -- but not about whether guns should be outlawed or even more restricted, but how we prevent violence in the first place. Using the argument that guns kill people, people also kill people. Parents abuse their children, but there is no wide movement to prevent people who are irresponsible or potentially violent to be sterilized. (Nor should there be.) And many of those children are killed by those who should protect them. Those are just as tragic of deaths as the deaths at the hands of a gun. I believe strongly in responsible gun ownership.

    Only you could make me talk about a controversial issue in public -- I rarely, if ever, do. Love you anyway!

  16. Allison - thanks for joining the conversation. I think it is hard to have a conversation about violence prevention without putting everything on the table...including new gun laws....not necessarily to take guns away, but perhaps to make people who own them as accountable as those who drive cars or --as Laura pointed out --go fishing. It is defining what responsible is that is the problem when it comes to the gun debate. Attempting to define that term is what often causes great anger and fear. I think we need more conversation to take the fear of losing something (for either side of the debate) out of the equation so we can have a rational discussion. Thanks for being part of the one we are having here. Love you, back!