I was 6 years old the first time I shot a gun. As the daughter of a man from Texas, my childhood was surrounded by them. The safe they were kept in extends its reach far back into my memories, along with the allure of something locked away that was irresistible to a child. So of course, the moment I was considered old enough to pull the trigger myself, I couldn’t have been more eager. In my head it represented a shift in my perceived maturity, a seat at the ‘Grown-Up's Table.’ Inclusion. This mindset remained as I frequented the shooting range and eventually started preparing to get a hunting license of my very own after watching my sister flawlessly down an elk at 400 yards. Because of inconvenient timing, that license was placed in the safe to be used at a future time. As far as I’m concerned now, it’ll sit there indefinitely. It was something I knew from the news and from common sense, but I had never truly connected the cold metal I held in my hands with its capability of so violently and instantly ending a life.
As I grew up, I became more and more familiar with the reality of mass shootings. December 14th, when they let my school out early because of weather, I remember getting into the car THRILLED about the extra 3 hours of freedom I had just gained. This mood quickly turned to ashes after I saw the withdrawn faces of my father and sister. That day, I learned that a shooter had killed 26 people at Sandy Hook elementary school -- 20 of them children (1). Shootings seemed to occur with much more frequency after that day. I wish I could say that this was only due to the increased attention I started to give the subject, but in reality, mass shootings have increased year after year, unrelenting (2).
As of June 28th this year, “there [had] been nearly as many US mass shootings as days in 2018” (3). Even with the outcry heard from protests and marches, the government has refused to set forth any real legislation to end this growing crisis. However, the government is not our only adversary, as many choose to believe. The problem lies deeper in the core of the United States, in the beliefs of some who think that owning a weapon of any size or power is a fundamental right, and therefore refuse to acknowledge how much damage their hobby or ‘right to self defense’ has inflicted on the lives of schoolchildren and other citizens alike. This has led to a prioritization of guns over life, seen, for example, after the Sandy Hook shooting when “donations to [the NRA] surged as gun owners worried that their rights to buy and own guns were at risk” (4).
After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, focus began to turn to the weapon that was used, and has been used in so many other tragedies -- military grade assault weapons. Somehow, weapons like the AR-15 have fallen into the category of something that US citizens have a right to own. Even considering the argument that we need access to guns because they are crucial for self-defense, in no possible way is it justifiable to own a weapon capable of inflicting such a severe amount of damage. An AR-15’s impact is devastatingly and almost assuredly fatal.
A few months ago, reading an article written by an ER surgeon that received students from the Stoneman Douglas shooting, the crisis began to feel profoundly personal. These students were my age, my peer group. I felt sick to my core reading the description; the surgeon likening the wound left by the bullet of an AR-15 to a “cigarette boat traveling at maximum speed through a tiny canal,” how “the tissue next to the bullet is elastic—moving away from the bullet like waves of water displaced by the boat—and then [returning] and [settling] back” (5). This feeling was not caused by the graphic nature of his description, but by the reality that this is something that could happen to anyone I know. This is something that could happen to me. No citizen needs to own a gun whose bullet doesn’t need to be aimed perfectly to cause catastrophic damage (5).
The drive that inspires people to donate money to an organization that supports guns directly after such profound tragedies can’t continue if we are going to turn the country into a place where I am not afraid for my life in an environment that is intended to help me grow. In the minds of many pro-gun advocates, the words ‘gun control’ inspire immediate fear that this is a slippery slope that will lead to the government taking ALL of our rights away. The more they’re pressed, the harder their heels dig into the ground. We must learn to cooperate for the sake of our own safety if we’re going to get anywhere, and we must rid ourselves of the mindset that someone with opposing views is an enemy.
If we cannot put our own self-interests aside enough to heavily limit access to guns, we can at least take away those that have the ability to do an amount of damage so profound that it should be clearly unreasonable to place them in the hands of an untrained individual. The United States is the only country that consistently suffers from this fixable problem (6). Dear reader, if you are one of those who enjoys the thrill of using this weapon -- or one like it -- for sport, I understand. I’ve felt that same thrill. But this has become personal, and I should not have to be the price that is paid to allow your hobby to continue. At some point, we must consider what we are willing to sacrifice in order to have what we want.
I am sure as hell not willing to sacrifice myself.