It has been more than a week since two mass shootings in less than 24 hours – one in El Paso, Texas, and the other in Dayton, Ohio – left at least 31 people dead and 53 injured in what has become an all-too-common scenario: mass murder committed by young men socially alienated from society.
In El Paso, the gunman opened fire in a crowded shopping center, killing 22 and injuring at least 26, most of whom were shopping at a local Walmart store. About 13 hours later, another young man shot and killed nine people and wounded 27 outside a bar in the historic Oregon District of Dayton.
Both sides of the gun debate, as well as political parties, settled into familiar postures.
Politicians and pundits on the left are blaming President Donald Trump and the GOP for the recent shootings. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., was quoted as saying, “Donald Trump is responsible for this.” Democrats also decried what they see as inaction on gun regulation, while Republicans countered that our current gun laws are not the issue, but rather that mental illnesses are to blame for some gun violence and mass shootings.
When mass shootings occur in El Paso, Dayton or anywhere else in the country, gun owners are painted as if they absolutely oppose firearm safety legislation. That is not true. In fact, responsible gun owners are in favor of reasonable proposals such as “red flag” laws, expanded background checks and the banning of bump stocks.
USA Today reported that the National Rifle Association and many of its members – as well as a large majority of gun owners – have voiced support for red flag laws, which allow law enforcement and immediate family members to ask a judge to temporarily remove firearms from a person who is at a heightened risk of hurting themselves or others. Meanwhile, a Pew Research survey found that 70 percent of NRA members support universal background checks for anyone trying to purchase a firearm.
The Second Amendment reads that “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.”
Society is perpetually locked into trench warfare over the Second Amendment’s introductory clause, with some advocates for strict gun control arguing the amendment was only meant to ensure states’ right to create a “well regulated militia” and not a constitutional right for individuals to possess guns. A deeply divided Supreme Court reaffirmed in 2008, however, that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to own guns for self-defense. This high court ruling clearly indicated that gun ownership should be preserved.
Gun ownership spans many kinds of people and communities, both rural and urban, but is more prevalent in rural areas. According to a Pew survey, 46 percent owned guns in rural areas, compared to 28 percent in the suburbs and 19 percent in cities. These gun owners differ in how many they own and why, with 75 percent of rural folks owning more than one gun compared to 48 percent of urban gun owners. Both groups claim self-defense as the main reason for owning a gun; hunting was close behind for rural owners.
The calls for gun control on the heels of the most recent mass shootings have further increased the divide in the gun debate, much like in 2008, when then-President Barack Obama referred to working-class voters by saying, “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
That statement couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Firearms are widely used in this country for self-defense, hunting and recreational uses, such as target shooting with shotguns that are passed from generation to generation.
Our attitudes concerning gun ownership date back some time with families involved in the Revolutionary War and trace their roots through the frontier, the Wild West, the Civil War, Al Capone and Chicago’s gangsters, through two World Wars and into popular culture and even Hollywood.
What both sides of the gun debate seem to miss, however, is that the majority of gun owners in this country do not view gun ownership as a political tool, but rather as something that is woven into their lives, connects them with others, provides a sense of security and is necessary to the security of a free state.
It is incumbent on all of us, gun owners and non-owners, to work together to protect our rights and freedoms as well as the safety of our families and our communities from those that would do us harm, no matter the weapon.
There is some common ground that we all should work toward for our common good.