If you told me I would ever find myself at a shooting range, holding some kind of Glock, I would have done far more than laugh at you. I was vehemently anti-gun and shooting was was not something I could ever imagine.
Yet there I was, at the insistence of a friend who felt I should know how to defend myself from Millennium wackos and other ill-intentioned people I might encounter in the year 2000. He had recently purchased two guns to protect his home and his office (a bank) in case the power went out and the ATMs stopped working on New Year’s Day 2000. I didn’t share his fears, but the idea of knowing how to handle a gun in an emergency appealed to me. I took him up on his offer to teach me.
The guns came in slick, miniature briefcases like something out of a spy movie. My friend brought his own targets that looked exactly as they do in cop shows. If the plastic eye protection and the giant ear protection spoiled the effect, I could ignore them because the gun felt solid and heavy in my hand and I was ready.
The first shot missed completely. Even with my ears covered, it was so much louder than I expected. The force was greater than such a small machine should give off. Some adjustment was needed.
After the first two shots my aim was better, much better. Ultimately, I hit the target in the head, twice. My friend was pleased, proud even. He reeled the target back in for me to admire my own handiwork.
I burst into tears.
I could never imagine using that kind of force on another living thing, knowing I could end a life. Here I was staring at a pockmarked paper target and all I could think of was the person on the other side of the gun who might not ever have another day on this Earth. I knew if I ever found myself in that situation, I would spend the rest of my life wanting to take back that moment, no matter what.
But now I understand that power.
On Friday afternoon, as we discussed the unspeakable massacre at Sandy Hook, I found myself explaining the Constitutional origins of our nation’s gun culture to a co-worker from another country. But our national love affair with guns is not really about history or freedom, it’s about the personal appeal of the power of a gun, and all the money there is to be made from the people who crave it.
For the next several days or weeks, we will have to endure gun rights supporters maintaining that there is nothing to be done about gun violence in this country except allowing more guns. They will suggest that you can’t control for the mentally ill, and the presence of “evil.” They will advocate for things like arming teachers and bringing prayer back to our schools. They will use any tactic to avoid admitting an addiction to that power.
Let’s be clear: Evil is just an excuse. This is not about taking God out of our schools. It is about taking too much money out of our mental health budgets. It is about letting too many guns onto our streets and into our homes. Mostly though, it is about a steadfast refusal to address the reason that anyone buys a gun in the first place – a willingness to kill and the desire to have the ultimate power over another living being.
Our country has successfully confronted other abuses of personal power in the past; slavery, child abuse, sexual molestation, discrimination, rape. In every case, we not only legislated these issues, we changed the conversation about them. With twenty tiny schoolchildren going to their graves this week, it is past time to add civilian gun ownership to that list.
Melissa Tingley is a writer, instructional designer, and ten-year veteran of her local school board. She invites photo and story submissions to her latest blog project, Artifactual, which re-launches in January 2013.