In light of the recent shooting at the church in Texas, my wife and I were having a conversation about gun violence in this country, and I thought I would take this opportunity to put my thoughts down on paper.
I think it’s first important to give some background regarding my stance on the issue of gun control. I am a military veteran who has been around the world, an “Endowment Member” of the National Rifle Assocation (one level higher than a “Life” member), and a firm believer in individual liberties. I fervently support the notion that the 2nd amendment to our constitution was written with the intent of endowing the people with constitutional protection of their power to defend themselves from a tyranical government if that time ever came. Hunting was a way of life in those days, it was something that many, many people did, so it doesn’t make sense that there would be a constitutional amendment protecting something as essential as hunting, without naming “hunting” specifically in the verbiage, especially given numerous personal statements from early founders and leaders of our country. George Washington has been quoted as saying, “A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.” and I agree with that statement whole-heartedly, regardless of how folly the defeatist anti-gunners might say those efforts would be. I own several firearms myself including the dreaded AR-15 (civilian, semi-auto version). That’s not to say however, that I am completely opposed to any sorts of controls over the distribution of weaponry such as background checks, but those details are for another time, I just wanted to make clear my stance on the right of individuals to keep and bear arms.
Something has occurred to me, specifically regarding the region of the country in which I grew up and now live. I grew up in, and now live in eastern Kentucky, specifically Magoffin County. People here are a lot of things, but one thing they are not, at least generally speaking, is exceptionally violent, and it contradicts the narrative that the mass media loves to portray on their nightly news hours that “Guns” are somehow the problem. I grew up around guns. From the time I was old enough to understand how to operate one safely (5 years or so) I had my own BB gun, and I was regularly, under adult supervision, allowed to target practice or shoot vermin such as rats with my dad’s larger rifles and shotguns. This region is inundated with guns; almost everybody owns one. I own a gun, my wife does, my parents each do, my aunts and uncles do, every neighbor I can think of does, my grandmother owned one, my wife’s grandparents own guns. People who don’t even like guns usually own at least a .22 rifle or something. If I don’t like the prices at the local gun stores, I can go to one of several local flea markets on the weekend and just walk in with a wad of cash and walk out with a gun, ammo, etc., with no background check, from regular Joe citizens looking to offload part of their collection. I even recently took my 3 year old daughter to a local pumpkin patch on a school field trip and the guy directing traffic in the parking lot had a pistol on his side. With these guns literally everywhere, you would think this region would be a hotbed for gun violence, but we’re not. I can’t tell you the last time I remember hearing about somebody being shot in this county. When somebody actually gets shot, or tries to shoot somebody, it’s a huge deal that makes the local newspaper. Even our local Radio Shack doubles as a gun store; the front counter has an assortment of pistols, rifles, and ammunition. Tons and tons of people carry concealed weapons everywhere it’s legal to do so, myself included, because it’s just what people do around here. That’s not to say that we don’t have crime, even violent/gun crime on occasion, but gun crime around here is pretty rare compared to the rest of the country.
The people in the theater in Aurora, Colorado didn’t go to the movies expecting to get shot, but it happened. The people at the concert in Vegas didn’t go there expecting to get shot at, but it happened. The people at the church in Texas didn’t go there expecting to get shot, but it still happened. For that reason, I carry everywhere I go, it has become a part of my normal clothing, as normal as my socks and belt, it’s something I don’t really think about other than to make sure I have it. It’s like a fire extinguisher; I have one in the kitchen and one in my truck because, like my pistol, I figure it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it, even though thankfully, so far, in civilian life, I have not needed to use a firearm against a person.
This is what boggles my mind about the rest of these United States; even the more liberal areas of Kentucky. Places like Louisville and Lexington are, culuturally speaking, more akin to places like New York or California than they are to my hometown of Salyersville, Kentucky; the big “Lexington Herald Leader” newspaper is even owned by a Californian media company. Now I’m not saying that Kentucky or eastern Kentucky is some perfect utopia where nobody ever gets shot. Personally, I think we need more regulation over the un-licensed sale of personally owned firearms at places like flea markets (we have a reasonably high rate of crime gun exports, guns bought here and used in crimes in other states). We also have a huge problem with drugs such as meth, high unemployment, obesity, poverty, etc. It’s also true that we’re very sparsely populated; with the entire county only numbering just over 13,000 in 2010 (a density of 43 per square mile), with recent estimates actually showing a decrease (Source: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/magoffincountykentucky/PST045216). What I am saying however, is that it seems to me as if there’s something culturally wrong with this country. I am an atheist, yet I can live in this community that is predominantly Christian, all of us loaded to the hilt with weapons, and I have no problems. I am not particularly concerned that the next mass shooting might happen in Salyersville, KY. Why does it seem that here, in a place some people might refer to as, “The asshole of the country”, where guns are literally EVERYWHERE, gun violence is not a huge issue, but these bigger population centers around the country seem to be, at least according to the mass media headlines, inundated with gun violence?
The answer, it seems to me, is people, culture, and the media. Perhaps it’s even the notion that, as stated by Robert Heinlein, “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” The vast majority of Americans these days do not exercise, let alone care about their right, their responsibility to keep and bear arms, especially in more politically liberal areas; that much is common knowledge. Most people these days don’t seem to care about their responsibilities as citizens; they only care about their “rights” and what kind of personal benefits they entail. Record numbers of people don’t care about their right to vote and can’t be bothered to take an hour out of their day once every couple of years to go cast a ballot, but they’ll sure as hell run to Facebook and write a novel about the evils of the candidates who won after the election is over. People don’t sit down and write (or type) letters to their representatives, but they’ll sure as hell complain when those same representatives make decisions they don’t like.
It’s not necessarily movies or video games, because I grew up playing violent video games, and still do to this day. I don’t think it’s religion because I and many of my friends are either atheist or agnostic AND gun owners, and we don’t feel some unnatural compulsion to go on a killing spree. I think the problem is that the average American citizen does not feel as if they have a personally vested interest in the well being of the country. Right now, less than 1% of the American population is serving in the military, and less than 10% of the living population has ever served in the military at any point in their lives. As the son and nephew of veterans, and a veteran myself, I can’t help but think that the military has helped shape me into the person I am today and given me a deeper appreciation for my rights and responsibilities as an American citizen. It has however, made it more difficult for me to relate to the people my age who are still living with their parents, unemployed, etc., but have no problems finding inordinate amounts of time to pop out children they can’t pay for and voicing opinions about a system they’ve made little to no effort to actively participate in.
My intent here is not to laude the perfection of the military or to suggest that military veterans should be venerated as some kind of superior breed of mature and politically intelligent human beings. I have no problems voicing my disapproval of the US government and its members, including military members, whenever it is appropriate, and depending on the subject, I have a lot of opinions on the matter. I’m also not trying to make myself sound like some perfect flag waving American, because like everybody, I have all kinds of personal flaws, opinions and problems that make me less than a model citizen of the arbitrary entity we call the “United States”. What I am saying however is that we all need to do the best that we can to improve our lives and the lives of our fellow human beings within this society, and the best way to do that is to participate. Get out and vote, consider military or government service, read and defend our constitution and educate our fellow Americans. It seems to me that the vast majority of us are too pre-occupied with social and mass media to care about those things that really matter any more. The end result is that perhaps people are less capable of empathizing with their fellow human beings; their mental problems go un-treated or become exacerbated by our social and economic problems, or by a mass media industry that thrives on drama, to the point that, without a personal investment in the society we live in, and without the ability to empathize with our fellow Americans, random acts of violence are becoming more and more common.
I’m droning and going off topic. I don’t think the point of this blog post was necessarily to answer questions; like usual I’m just sitting here brain dumping onto paper. This was just an opportunity for me to put my thoughts down on paper, and perhaps get some feedback from the community. The end result is that as a society, we are sick, and I think that, at least with regard to violence and having a sense of respect for human life, there’s a lot the rest of you city slickers can learn from small towns like Salyersville, KY.