Guns don’t kill people; People kill people…but it’s easier if they have a gun.
America, with all due respect to your Second Amendment, it doesn’t work. Your attitudes to firearms are contributing to the homicides of thousands of Americans every year. Americans need to make a choice between the right to own and carry firearms, and the right to live in a peaceful society. To a very large degree, we’re talking about gun control. To a much larger degree, America needs to embark on a population-wide culture change in it’s relationship with firearms.
Almost twenty years ago, I was living alone in an old house in a small country town. The house would be over a hundred years old now; the town grew up around it. Geographically, it’s in the main street. All the neighbours are shops and businesses, so there’s no-one around at night. The old house – Norma’s House - is a business too, now, but they’ve maintained the basic structure, with it’s wide central hallway, comfortable wooden verandahs and French doors.
Seconds? minutes? Some time later, the floorboards on the front verandah creaked and shuddered. Someone was on the verandah. The screen door squeaked, and I heard the front door being pushed. It stood firm…but it was textured glass. Breakable. Somebody wanted to get into my house.
What to do? I was alone in a house with no neighbours. Screaming for help wasn’t an option. Norma’s house hadn’t had a phone since the sixties, and in the early nineties, small towns had little mobile phone reception, and in any case, I didn’t have a mobile phone.
I was an unarmed female, alone in an old house, with no way to call for help. Whatever I decided to do, I would have to do myself.
Easier said that done, when you know you wouldn’t have a chance in a physical fight with a man, and I had no idea if my would-be intruder was armed, or on drugs or…or…or… I could turn on the lights, the radios, the television, and start talking loudly as though as I was on the phone to someone, and try to scare him away.
Or I could lie perfectly still in the darkness, unable to see what was happening, and hope that he just gave up and left. So I lay there. I may have prayed; I don’t recall.
Minutes that felt like hours passed, until I heard footsteps out the back. Moving faster than I’d ever moved, I grabbed my keys and bolted down the hallway and out the front door, onto the street and into my car. Shaking, sweaty with fear, I swung the car around. The bakery half a block up the road had lights on. The bakers were there!
I banged on their door, explained, although god knows what I sounded like. Crazy or desperate or both. I used their phone to ring the closest police station. I don’t know why I didn’t call Triple O – I just didn’t. They’d send a car out as soon as they had one available, but if I wasn’t in physical danger, I would need to wait.
The noise I’d made thundering out of the house must have scared whoever was there. I waited at the bakery for the police to arrive. I’m still glad that I didn’t know the front door had ‘bounced’ as I’d yanked it closed behind me. It had been wide open for the forty-five minutes it took for the police to arrive.
The next day, a male friend came and slept on the couch, to protect me? To reassure me? I’m not sure. Before he left for work the following morning, he pulled a large, loaded handgun from his gym bag. I have no doubt that it unregistered. He gave me the world’s fastest tutorial on how to use it:
“Point it with two hands and pull the trigger. You’ll be fine. Sleep with it under your pillow.”
My friend wasn’t too happy about me staying in Norma’s house alone, and that gun stayed within reach of my bed for a couple of months.
Did it make me safer? No – it made me nervous, and if anyone had known it was there, it would have made me a potential target. I had no idea how to use it, no idea if I would have the courage to use it, should it be necessary. If I’d been confronted, and decided to use the gun as a threat, there’s every chance I would have been overpowered and the gun would have been out of my control, possibly used against me or someone else.
It was simply one more unsecured gun in the hands of the wrong person.
Some years later, I dabbled in Shooting as a sport. Shotguns, not handguns. I even had a Shooters’ Licence. As a result, I’m more comfortable with guns. I also know that I don’t want them in my house, even locked in an approved gun press, with the bolt removed and the ammunition stored three suburbs away.
America’s Gun Lobby is a potent political force, aligned with the Republicans and now, with the Tea Party. Australia has nothing analogous. This ‘Second Amendment Right’, which guarantees Americans the right to their firearms is sacred ground. While some Democrats agree with the need to reduce the number of guns floating around in the USA, the changes that have been made have been very small, very specific and as a result, not effective.
Add to this the arguments from around the world that indicate that gun control does not have a major impact on gun related crime. For example, in Australia, where lawful access to guns is strictly controlled, 85% of guns used to commit murder are unregistered. Having said that, while the general crime rate has remained fairly static, the proportion of crimes involving guns has been slowly declining for the past 30 years or so.
I see virtually no possibility that America will moderate its gun laws any time soon. The Second Amendment, with the backing of the NRA, is untouchable. It is part of the national psyche, and any threat to the Second Amendment would be treated as cause for rebellion.
Yet in under a month, America has witnessed three mass shootings, and indications at the moment are that each of the firearms used was obtained legally. Changing gun laws may have prevented some of the 20 deaths and nearing 70 injuries.
Change will come, and it will come from within, as revolutions do. Sooner or later, the unremitting series of gun crimes will become something Americans are unable to stomach. Then, and only then, will the culture start to shift away from the Sacred Gun.