America is finally talking about gun control. Chicago recorded 500 murders last year. New Orleans alone had more homicides than all but one nation. But it wasn’t these shocking stats and the harsh realities behind them that started the conversation. The shootings in a suburban movie theater and grade school sparked the debate.
Why did it take these two tragic events to get people talking? Because they occurred in areas where Americans are supposed to feel safe. In an Aurora cinema, or an elementary school in Newtown, Americans shouldn’t have to worry about a mass slaughter.
But now they do. And because of that, an extremely important discussion is taking place. The shape of that discussion, however, was warped from the start. Talking heads on televisions have spat out the most eccentric possible opinions for the past five months. It seems everyone on the news either wants to incinerate all American guns or fight a war to keep them.
TV stations are in the business of high ratings, and the most eccentric opinions are the ones that keep the viewers watching the longest. The most logical and necessary question to ask is: what are real Americans saying about gun control? What is in the best interest of the people?
Chelsey McKee is an SAU senior from Rock Falls, Ill. She’s just one of millions of Americans trying to get a gun right now.
“I think everybody should have the right to own a gun,” she said. “Lately I’ve been looking into it and decided it really is something I want to do.”
She’s already received her Firearms Owner Identification card. McKee called it a fairly simple process, in which she answered about 16 questions ranging from mental health to criminal history. After she takes a safety course her father will give her his .22 Derringer—a popular pistol.
The safety courses McKee is looking into are seeing record attendance. President Obama has recently proposed legislation that could ban certain weapons, limit the purchase of others and increase background checks. It might take a miracle to get those laws through Congress, but many Americans feel their Second Amendment is at risk.
Davenport’s Duck Creek Armory has seen a massive increase in sales. Jason Bidden, the owner of the Armory, says demand has likely tripled or quadrupled since last year. A proposed ban on assault weapons has been postponed—so the Armory’s AK-47s and AR-15s are still on the shelves—and the Senate rejected a new system on background checks last week. Like many gun enthusiasts, Bidden blames gunmen—not the guns—for recent tragedies.
“If you write a bad book report you don’t blame your pen. If you drive into a wall you don’t blame your car,” he said. “But if a mentally ill person shoots another person we somehow blame the firearm.”
Stephen Tendall is a psychiatric counselor at SAU. He worries that Americans will begin to think all mentally ill people are dangerous.
“The reality with mentally ill people in this country is that they are statistically 4 to 5 times more likely to be a victim,” he said. “The assumption can be that everybody who’s running around shooting people is mentally ill, when in fact the opposite is the fact.”
Tendall says that the American media and the Nation Rifle Association have an agenda to shift the focus towards mental illness. The NRA’s board is stacked with gun industry kingpins—including Pete Brownell, whose Internet gun store sells “ultra-high capacity magazines.”
Early this spring, a former NRA member led a discussion on gun control at SAU. Glenn Leach ceased his NRA membership when he stopped competing as a marksman, but he still insists not all NRA members share the opinion of their leadership.
“They [NRA] have become capable of disciplining gun manufacturing companies that do not support the NRA’s position.”
Leach recalled a time when he could ride the bus to school with a .22 caliber rifle and store it in his locker. That was when Leach was growing up on the south side of Chicago in Hyde Park. A lot has changed since then. There have been 141 violent crimes in Hyde Park in the past year.
“I sense within the entire country a withdrawal into ourselves. Into becoming individualists—exclusively concerned with our own prerogatives and our own feelings.”
Violence in McKee’s hometown is part of what prompted her decision to get a gun.
“It has about 9,000 people but it’s a big area for drugs,” she said of Rock Falls. “We actually had quite a few murders a couple summers ago.”
McKee was referring to convicted killer Nicholas Sheley’s summer 2008 killing spree. The crimes drew national attention—putting McKee’s small hometown on display for all the wrong reasons.
“Eventually I do want to move to a bigger city,” she said. “[A gun] is something that would make me feel safer, definitely.”
Stories of self defense with a gun have become rampant in recent months. Everyone’s heard them—a grandmother fires six shots into a man trying to steal her purse, or a man guns down a thug breaking into his car. But many of these stories are urban legends, which begs the question: Does this stuff only happen in the movies? Is there really a “Dirty Harry,” out there?
The issue isn’t so clear-cut. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that under 63,000 victims use a gun to defend themselves annually. A study from Florida State University contradicts that, claiming that 2.3 million people a year gun down a criminal.
Bidden says a gun in the right hands can make all the difference.
“If there were more firearms at Sandy Hook Elementary School, then this gentlemen would have been stopped.”
But a vigilant would have had to act quickly. Shooter Adam Lanza fired roughly one shot every two seconds. Many Americans, including Chelsey Mckee, are taking to the range to practice their shot. Still, McKee laughs when the suggestion of more guns comes up.
“America is more desensitized than a lot of places,” McKee said. “Something we’re doing is just not going right. I’m not sure what it is.”
Father Joseph DeFrancisco has served as a teacher and mentor to thousands of students throughout his tenure at SAU. When he sees tragedies like Columbine or Sandy Hook, it hits close to home.
“I begin to question: where did this begin?” he said. “Where did their pain begin? How did it get to this? Why did it get to this?”
Individuals and entire communities throughout the country are being ignored by neighbors, police and politicians. DeFrancisco recalled that, throughout his childhood, he always had the love and care he needed. Today, people are so busy they tend to overlook those necessities.
“The rout of violence has to start within ourselves,” he said. “We have to live a more inner, calm and tolerant life.”
Leach expressed a similar sentiment.
“It has to start with me. It has to start with the individual. I can’t change you, I can’t change my neighbor, but I can be an example.”