But I Did Not Shoot The Deputy
Bob Houghtaling's take on gun ownership.
I shouldn’t have a gun. Under the present rules it’s an absurdity for me go into a store, undergo a bit of a background check and then come back, in a few weeks, to pick up my spanking new firearm.
If someone were to check my background they would find no criminal record. They would also find no mental illness or involvement in violent activities. I’ll pass any drug screenings given to me. In fact, I don’t even drink any alcoholic beverages. Still, there is no way that I should be able to get a gun so easily.
I have been a counselor for close to 35 years. In addition to my employment with the Town of East Greenwich, I have also worked at Ocean Tides (with juvenile offenders), as a Consultant to the R.I. State Training School and as the director of a residential treatment facility for men (many who came from prison). I have been threatened numerous times. Still, there is no way that I should have a gun.
My coordination is fine. As a kid I played high school basketball. Later, I played tennis for about 35 years. With this said – still no gun.
The reason(s) for me not being allowed to purchase firearms is/are quite simple – I have no idea what I am doing.
Under present rules someone like myself can stroll into a store, select a gun (in some cases more than one), get a background check and go back a couple of weeks later to pick up my weapon. No demonstration of competency. No requirements that limit how many bullets I have etc., etc.... I don’t even need gun insurance.
On top of all of this I have no idea how I will handle a crisis situation. Heck, I have no idea how I will handle a situation where I am awakened (without my glasses) in the dark (half asleep) by a noise in the house (either a burglar or my son sneaking his girlfriend in). Should I get my gun? Is it already loaded? Do I ask the criminal if he/she would be willing to wait while my gun is loaded? Why did I ever get rid of the baseball bat under the bed?
Should someone like me be allowed a rifle to hunt? Again, absolutely not! Do you really think that someone with no experience shooting, little knowledge of hunting and full of fear and enthusiasm should be loosened upon the woods? My probability of killing another human being (hunter) might be equal to that of shooting a deer.
In the event of the United States being taken over by a foreign power, having someone like me as the last line of defense means that we are in a great deal of trouble. By that time some scared stiff friends and myself would be hiding in the woods, with few survival skills, using our Bushmasters to clear out an enemy that was just able to defeat the United States Military.
Let’s be honest, under today’s present system it’s too easy to gain access to guns. On top of this, if we are really honest, there are a whole lot of people out there who should not have firearms. So, now what?
My issue has little to do with the Second Amendment. In fact, I believe that most gun owners are law abiding as well as careful about how they use their firearms. I also believe that many folks have legitimate reasons for owning a gun – like hunting, protecting their homes and for competition. These rights should be protected within reason. By that I mean our present system for acquiring firearms is antiquated. We have modified our Constitution on numerous occasions. I think we have to look at what it means to bear arms.
Don’t you think it would be a good idea that if someone were to purchase a tool that could kill themselves, another human being or some form of wild life that they should know how to use it? Police officers go through significant amounts of training to prepare for something they (in most instances) hope never happens. In addition, they must continue to qualify throughout their entire career. Why not have folks who want to purchase a gun qualify every two years? Why not have them go through a course that teaches them about appropriate use, maintenance and storage? Most thoughtful guns owners already take significant precautions. We make people take written and behind the wheel tests in order to get a drivers license. Why not a skills-based competency test to get a gun? We also require car inspections every three years. Why not gun inspections to see how they are used and cared for? Oh yeah – don’t we also have to pass an eye test to keep our license. Imagine, you don’t even have to see what you are shooting at!
This is not a call to ban guns. This is also not a call to place blame on the NRA (solely) or responsible gun owners. My concern here is that we have established a climate where a dangerous and powerful tool is given to far too many people without taking proper precautions (education, demonstration of competency with the weapon, tracking measures, etc.). If you are going to protect yourself wouldn’t it be great to know how? If you are going to hunt let’s not shoot a fellow hunter (by mistake). Having the right to a gun is one thing – using it the right way is another.
Many of my friends have guns. In fact, I have family members who own them as well. Some use them for protection and hunting. Others as novelty or a collection piece. These are good people with their own reasons for having such weapons. Again, this is not an argument about one’s constitutional rights – it is much more about creating enhanced safety.
It should be noted that a couple of my friends assert that I’m not being realistic on this gun matter. They point out shopowners protecting their property during the L.A. Riots. They also talk a lot about an apocalypse or government takeover. I even had one gun owner friend tell me that in case of an apocalyptic situation he would be able to take my food to support his family. Of course I countered with the dynamic passive duo of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. I wonder if MLK ever told someone that he would steal his food in a crisis? The discussion went into the night.
I have enormous respect for the soldiers who protect our nation (while not always crazy about the missions they are sent on). I certainly recognize that many of the privileges Americans have are upheld to a large extent by our military. I also have great respect for police officers who are often confronted with situations many would run from. These people have been trained to use their guns. In fact, some have paid a terrible price for using them. I personally have spoken with a number of soldiers and one police officer who have killed in the line of duty. Despite doing what they were charged to do memories of deadly confrontations often prove difficult. Does the average "Joe" have any idea what it would be like to actually shoot someone? Getting a gun is the easy part. Living with the responsibility of having one another.
Let’s strengthen the gun laws and requirements. Let’s think really hard about assault weapons, huge magazines, and metal-piercing bullets. I am hoping that the NRA and responsible owners of firearms will become part of the process to address gun violence. We should all be working towards ways of protecting ourselves from in many cases, ourselves.
Mental health issues, a culture that promotes violence and an ever increasing population that spends more time with technology than with others are significant pieces of the gun violence puzzle. All of these cannot be ignored. Addressing access to firearms should merely be a starting point for doing some soul searching regarding significant social concerns.
As of this writing politicians are chirping in, the NRA is gaining membership, some folks are rushing to buy guns and those who have had their lives altered by firearms are urging change. I am hoping that politics and entrenched ideologies do not skew things to ridiculousness. Water down change too much and you have nothing. Going to the extreme of banning all firearms and you deny basic freedoms. What is needed is common sense. Folks like me should not have guns without additional background checks, a bit of education, training and a viable tracking system. Oh yeah – nobody needs a Bushmaster to shoot deer or for home protection. We have put people on the moon – this should be a bit easier to sort out. Freedom of speech has been an essential part of our culture yet we have placed limits on this freedom. Why can’t we do the same with the right to bear arms? Freedoms come with responsibilities. Then maybe I should be able to get a gun.