We have to learn to live with guns
The most important thing you need to know about yesterday’s tragic school shooting in Texas is that absolutely no laws will change as a result of it.
In the 14 years since the Supreme Court recognized the individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment in the landmark case of DC vs. Heller, federal justice has only become more conservative. The courts will likely ban any meaningful restrictions on gun ownership for at least another generation.
Meanwhile, your fellow Americans, who collectively purchased 40 million guns in 2020 and 2021, have become even less enamored with the various gun control measures typically proposed by politicians after such tragedies. In Texas, the same Republican lawmakers heading for re-election this fall made easing the state’s already permissive gun laws a priority in the last legislative session.
And the simple business problem facing gun makers hasn’t changed: They make highly durable goods. Firearms can be passed down from generation to generation. To achieve growth targets, therefore, gun manufacturers must find ways to scare or motivate people who already own guns to buy more.
For decades, these gunmakers have, in subtle and less subtle ways, convinced white people that they should buy guns to protect themselves from people of color. More recently, thanks in part to the various shootings perpetrated by these heavily armed white people, people of color have responded by arming themselves in greater numbers, which must delight gun manufacturers.
So, let’s all stop saying that something is going to change. Nothing will change. Democratic lawmakers — for whom over-promising and under-delivering are an incurable habit — are proposing measures after these shootings that they know will never go through a deeply divided Congress, or be backed by federal judges handpicked on the pane to thwart progressive legislation for the next three or four decades.
We must all come to terms with the idea that unfathomable levels of gun violence, including school shootings, will get worse, not better, in the decades to come. In the last month alone, my two sons saw a baseball game canceled due to a shooting in the park where they were supposed to play, and two weeks later football practice was canceled because a nearby gunman had opened fire on a school down the road. . In this latest incident, no innocent lives were lost solely due to the shooter’s inability to effectively use any of the three assault rifles – I’m sorry, “modern sporting rifles” – that he had stored in his apartment overlooking the school.
This is America, folks. It’s who we are.
So what should we do?
First, we must make firearms education a national priority. Once upon a time, when I was a young boy, a friendly organization called the National Rifle Association did a great job teaching Americans the safe use of firearms for hunting and other shooting sports. They still do some of that, but it’s a smaller and smaller part of what this now extremely troubled organization is.
The government should then mobilize. If we’re going to allow everyone in America to own as many guns as they want, our kids need to figure out what to do if they see a gun, which they inevitably will. Do not touch it. Go get an adult. Older children, on the other hand, should also understand how to unload a gun and make it safe. Families may not be interested in guns, but guns will be ubiquitous in their children’s lives.
The Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 funds various wildlife habitat conservation and restoration initiatives through gun and ammunition taxes. We should increase these taxes and use the extra funds to help state departments of wildlife and natural resources teach gun and hunter safety in our schools. I knew how to use a gun safely when I was 10, and I don’t think it’s too early to teach young children the golden rules of gun safety:
Treat each firearm as if it were loaded.
Never point your muzzle at anything you are not ready to destroy.
Keep your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire.
Always be sure of your target and beyond.
I continue to hunt and shoot regularly on the sporting grounds, and each time I return from the range or from hunting, I clean my shotguns on newspapers spread out on the dining room table. I take this opportunity to reinforce the rules of the proper handling of firearms with my three young children. I want my children to treat guns as objects of respect, not covetousness. I don’t want them to fetishize these tools.
Because the second, and much harder, thing we need to do is change the gun culture in America. I’ve written before about how the gun culture I’ve watched grow since the 9/11 attacks – the emphasis on tactical weapons, the commercialization of ceramic plate carriers and kevlar to civilians – is so different from the gun culture I grew up with in East Tennessee in the 1980s, when the seemingly ubiquitous firearms were primarily shotguns and bolt-action rifles.
I bought a used rifle not too long ago, and the federal firearms licensee I had to temporarily transfer the rifle to – I now live in the District of Columbia , where all firearms must first be registered with the police – I was told other customers were fascinated by it. Indeed, on a rack mostly filled with 9mm semi-automatic pistols people were waiting to pick up, my rifle stood out: a single-shot, trigger-operated rifle chambered for big game. About as far, in other words, from a Glock or an AR-15 as you can get.
My wife, who grew up in suburban New York with no guns in her home, tells me I’m fighting a losing battle. She tells me that it is impossible to find a more responsible approach to firearms.
But we have to try. Because guns don’t go away. The shootings are not going to stop. Our children are going to be exposed to a level of daily gun violence that children in virtually no other developed country experience.
I wish it weren’t so. But it’s the country we’ve chosen for ourselves, and it won’t change anytime soon.