On the evening of February 20th, a domestic terrorist opened fire in three separate attacks in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This mindless tragedy left six people dead, at least two injured, and a community searching for answers that will likely never come.
Beyond being a city with a funny name, Kalamazoo is about an hour and a half away from where I live. It's the home of Western Michigan University, where my husband and many of my friends went to school, with some of them continuing to make their home there. It's the home of Bell's Brewery, which crafts some of the best beer in the country.
Kalamazoo is a city that, like so many others that have been in this situation before, did not deserve the horror it endured.
The loss of innocent lives isn't the only tragedy that occurred. There is now a secondary tragedy in the form of a vicious cycle that starts before the blood of innocent victims even has a chance to hit the ground.
Here's how it goes:
In the wake of a tragedy, people try to figure out how to prevent similar attacks from happening in the future. Most often, this includes proposing some form of firearm restriction. Like clockwork, some firearm advocates feed on this fear, telling citizens that they need to fight back against their guns being taken away and buy more guns to protect themselves from these very same sorts of attacks. They then head to the store, buying up guns and ammo as if it will never be available again. Because, they claim, it won't.
This happens again and again. Though many call it a "gun control debate," there's not any actual conversation going on about how to improve things. It's just two diametrically opposed sides shouting as loud as they can, with the same predictable talking points:
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!" "No person needs a [insert whatever gun looks scary and is relevant]! They should be banned!" "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns!" "People who own guns are all crazy rednecks who are looking for a fight!"
The reality that human lives have been lost is overtaken by these sound bytes that are so chronically regurgitated they become little more than white noise.
It's time to end this cycle and get real about the fact that there is a problem in this country and something needs to change.
Full disclosure: There are several firearms in my house.
My husband's extensive collection includes everything from pistols (one of which is usually on his person every time he leaves the house) to shotguns to rifles, including a dreaded "assault rifle" that some people don't believe private citizens should own.
Like many people who grew up in the Midwest, guns were always kind of there when I was a kid, but they were never really a big deal. Hunting didn't come with any kind of a stigma as it now does with people who live in more urban areas. My brothers and I understood that real guns weren't toys and never messed with our dad's firearms. For a large number of gun owners, I would suspect that their upbringings were fairly similar.
Despite the complete sense of normalcy with which I view gun ownership, I absolutely do not believe that everyone should have a gun.
Of course, there are some who feel that any kind of regulation on gun ownership is a violation of their right to keep and bear arms, as guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. These sorts typically forget that James Madison wrote the need for a "well regulated militia," not a firearm free-for-all.
On January 5, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order, mandating certain gun control measures. The reaction, as expected, was fervently mixed. While some lauded his actions, others predictably opposed everything POTUS said, before he even said it.
The Executive Order ensures that those who have a business selling firearms (not just selling one personally) obtain a license and comply with background checks, which is as it should be.
Obama also called for increased funding for the overburdened Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), so the agency can bring on 200 additional agents to help enforce laws that are already in place.
Mental illness is often cited as a reason for these horrific mass shootings, though the facts don't support that. Nevertheless, $500 million will be given to extending mental health services to those who need them, hopefully preventing some of the suicides that make up the bulk of gun deaths.
Ultimately, nothing Obama put forward warranted the amount of pandemonium it caused. In fact, I don't think these actions go far enough to protect society from those who wish to harm innocent people while at the same time preserving the rights of those who are competent enough to own firearms.
Competency is the issue that needs to be at the heart of gun ownership, particularly for those who carry.
The process of getting a concealed pistol license (CPL) varies state-to-state, with some states not requiring any kind of training or licensing at all. Even still, these training courses leave a lot to be desired.
In Michigan, the CPL course lasts one day. There is a general overview of basic firearm information and safety, the legalities of carrying and discharging the weapon, instructions on how to de-escalate a confrontational situation, followed by some range time when each person is required to fire at least 30 rounds.
In order to pass the class and receive a license, you need to score at least a 70% on the exam. Marksmanship at the range, or complete lack thereof, doesn't factor into getting a license.
I find it frightening that someone who missed 30% of the questions regarding basic firearm safety and laws, and who didn't demonstrate the ability to shoot with precision or accuracy, can still be regarded by the state as competent enough to carry a gun. This leads to an inflated sense of confidence and is sure to cause disaster should that person ever find themselves in a dangerous situation.
Carrying a weapon and possessing the power to use deadly force shouldn't be taken lightly.
Instead of staging mock mass shootings and advocating that everyone carry a gun, regardless of their skill level, why not advocate for higher levels of tactical training? To assume that a person can become an expert in the course of an afternoon is ridiculous.
Instead of callously turning our backs on victims and plugging our ears when someone brings up gun control, firearm owners need to realize there is a pressing need to have an actual conversation about guns in America.
Will increased regulation and training completely eliminate tragedies like the one in Kalamazoo? No, of course not. Those who wish to commit acts of violence will always find a way. But there is an answer that lies somewhere in between taking all the guns away and doing absolutely nothing, and we owe it to the ever-increasing list of innocent victims to find out what it is.