Guns in America: Our Original Sin

There’s a renewed debate on gun control that’s popped up in recent days… which means there’s been another horrific, tragic shooting somewhere sparking the debate. And there has – whether you’re talking about Jovan Belcher, or the Aurora theater shooting, or Gabby Giffords… Or, really – check any major (or minor) market newspaper. There are tragic shootings every day in almost every corner of this country (which should eliminate any talk of “politicizing” the debate, or any day not being the “time or place” to discuss guns – if we wait for a shooting-free day for that debate, we’ll be waiting until three days after rapture).

Both sides of this debate make valid points. Yes, shootings are at epidemic levels, using weapons designed for no other purpose than to target and kill human beings, in a fashion that seems to be in conflict with anything the Framers knew when they wrote the Second Amendment. And yes, law-abiding and safety conscious Americans should not be told they cannot possess something (or an arsenal of somethings), simply because some of their neighbors seem unable to possess the same things safely.

But both sides seem to be missing a key point in our love/hate relationship with, and debate over, guns. The solution – lies not with the government – but with ourselves. It’s in our DNA as a nation.

The United States was founded with what I like to think of as 3 Original Sins. Slavery (and the difficulties with race relations that are it’s lingering legacy), Tobacco, and Guns. Without any of the three, I would argue, the nation would likely not have been formed. Slavery facilitated the economy that made the US a viable, independent nation; Tobacco was the first cash crop that made the colonies desirable, and made the US similarly viable as an independent nation; Guns provided the technological and military superiority that allowed a ragtag group of colonists to defeat the worlds major superpower (in the late 1770’s).

Yet, despite all three sins being critical to our forming, only one sin remains sacrosanct – not even debatable. Hint: It’s the one killing so many of our citizens.

So what happened? Why did we change our views on two practices so critical to our nation’s birth – while the other remains untouchable? The shifts began on a societal level, not a governmental one.

Before Lincoln could find the political will to abolish slavery (and take the country through civil war to make it happen), influential Americans first had to disown it, and begin to convince others to do the same. Tobacco took longer, but in time, enough people began to shun it, that tobacco use became unpopular. And, in both cases, that reversal was so widespread; it actually became “cool” to take the view contrary to our history.

That hasn’t happened with guns – yet. We’re inundated with images of film and TV heroes who save the day looking down the barrel of a gun. Kids still play cowboys and Indians – or laser tag – or paintball – or squirt water – or corner videogame bad guys – with guns playing central roles.

Guns are everywhere in America. Tomorrow, keep your eyes and ears open. Odds are, you’ll see something gun-related, or hear a gun-related comment (think of this as “target practice” as you “take aim” at “hitting the bulls-eye” of this topic), no matter where you are, or what you’re doing. And that’s where our national conversation on guns has to begin.

The absolute political positions in the debate over guns are getting us nowhere. Those calling for gun control will never succeed, as long as people think guns are “cool”. And those calling for greater gun rights are fighting the flow of the headlines… and the body counts… and all that needless bloodshed.

Let’s begin by trying to change people’s attitudes about guns and gun violence. That way, even if we still get stuck in the political impasse over guns… there will at least be more of us around to participate in the impasse. And maybe, just maybe, we can start to see a common-sense middle ground even more of us can live with.