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Disclaimer: I am an expert on almost nothing. The following represents my evolving views on gun violence and the issues surrounding it. 


This week, a school shooter gunned down 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

After events like this, I find it hard to tear myself away from the television. I want to hear the stories of the people that died. I want to find hope and inspiration in the heroic stories. Teachers, administrators, students and first responders who put others before self. They saved lives. I want to know what was going through the shooter’s head when he entered the school with the intent to cause mass casualties. Unfortunately, we hardly ever get any meaningful answers.

I am a gun owner and hold a lifetime carry permit in Indiana. At a young age, my brothers and I would go target shooting up at our cabin the Northwoods of Minnesota with our Dad. I’m familiar with weapons and understand the power they hold.

It shocked me a few years ago when I finally got my lifetime carry permit. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get. A bit of information, fingerprints, a check and there it was a couple weeks later in the mail.

I don’t have a problem with people owning guns. I feel safer knowing that I have the opportunity to defend my family in the event someone breaks into our home to do us harm. I also don’t have a problem with increasing the measures each of us has to go through to obtain a gun and license to carry.

 

Traditional Response to Gun Violence

I grew up in a conservative family. It wasn’t until the last election when I voted for members of both parties as well as the Libertarian party. Before that I had only voted straight ticket Republican. My Grandpa was a gun owner, my Dad and Uncle are gun owners. Both my brothers and I all own at least one gun each. I understand and appreciate the right to bear arms.

In the last few days, we’ve seen the expected response by Conservative lawmakers.

  • Let’s wait until all the facts are in
  • Let’s not jump to conclusions
  • There is no reason to think new gun laws would have prevented this shooting
  • We need to take a look at mental illness, not gun laws
  • Nothing will prevent a madman from getting a gun if he wants a gun
  • Etc.

I can respect the idea of waiting until all the facts are in. That sounds reasonable and appropriate. The problem is that this isn’t the first school shooting in the United States. Every single time this happens we hear the same responses.  Excuses to avoid having hard discussions on whether anything can be done to keep our children safe. Our leaders have yet to ever sit down and discuss the facts we do have on dozens of past school shootings. The facts have been in for a while now. Maybe not on this specific shooting, but almost every other shooting before this.

We have to look at mass casualty events in our country and take action based on reality and facts.

I understand the argument. It’s a slippery slope argument. Where do you draw the line? If you want to ban “high-capacity” weapons, how would you define high capacity? 30 rounds? 25? 15? 10? How many rounds per minute are appropriate for a civilian to be able to shoot? Does it make sense to raise the legal age one can own a weapon? What about the 18-year-old kid that joins the military? Does it make sense to prevent him from owning a weapon at home when he can die for his country overseas?

There are a lot of questions. As a gun owner, I definitely don’t want to lose my ability to own a firearm for self-protection. I don’t think anyone (or most anyone) is suggesting a complete ban on all firearms in this country.

 

We have to do something about gun violence

I’ve always been a 2nd Amendment supporter. I just can’t sit around and make the same excuses over and over for why we can’t do anything to at least TRY and reduce the insane frequency of gun violence in our country. We have to do SOMETHING. I don’t think it’s a single issue fix either. We have to do something that addresses the availability of guns, or course. We also must address mental illness, school safety, public awareness and more. It’s not a single fix issue.

 

Gun Control

Senator Marco Rubio was right in his statement on the Senate floor. If a madman wants to get a gun and commit a violent act, he’ll find a way to get a gun. He’s not wrong. Does that mean we shouldn’t do SOMETHING to at least TRY and prevent that madman from getting a gun? We don’t have to make it easy for them.

I believe I should be able to own a reasonable firearm for my own protection. At the same time, I see no problem with limiting the kind of firearms I can own as a citizen. For me, there is no issue with increasing the depth of the background check needed before I can get a license to carry a weapon. I’m even fine with the idea of registering any weapon I might own. I don’t see how registering the weapon restricts my rights. Although, I do question the ability of the government to effectively oversee a massive gun registration effort. I’m not against it in theory.

 

Mental Health

I’ve witnessed firsthand what mental illness can do to a person. I had a friend in college with bipolar disorder. It manifested itself in college and a smart, driven, great guy was swallowed up by the disease. At one point he attempted to commit suicide in college by driving his vehicle off of the interstate going well above the speed limit. Miraculously, he wasn’t severely injured. I remember having to tell his parents that it wasn’t an accident. He intended to harm himself. That was a terrible day.

As often happens after college, we went separate ways. I haven’t seen him in years. I found out recently that he did, in fact, end his life last summer. I’m not aware of how he did it.

There needs to be more we can do for people who struggle with any form of mental illness. For sure, people that struggle with mental illness who present a clear concern for self-harm or harm of others should not be able to get a weapon. Chances are if they want to hurt themselves, or another they will find a way. We just don’t have to make it easier for them.

At the same time, we need to be sure not to stereotype all people who deal with mental illness as dangerous. It’s simply not the case.

 

School Safety

I remember after Columbine, talks of massively increased security at schools. Metal detectors and increased security personnel and more. At the time I thought it was awful. The idea of having to walk through metal detectors to get into my school seemed excessive. No one wants to go to school in a prison.

My oldest daughter was just registered for public kindergarten. It has me rethinking my position on school safety. If we can’t prevent people from obtaining firearms with the intent to kill maybe we should better fortify our schools.

Reducing someones ability to obtain a firearm who wants to kill is one step. We need to also find better ways to prevent them from entering schools if they are able to get their hands on those kinds weapons.

As a youth pastor, I visited many of the schools in our township and surrounding townships. Some schools I could just walk in and go wherever I wanted. Other schools were locked down like a military fortress. I had to get buzzed in, then check in with the office.  Sometimes I had to get a background check before being allowed to have a guest badge and enter the building. In no way was it consistent from school to school even within the same districts.

 

Social Media

The internet is forever. That’s what we tell kids these days. ANYTHING you post on the internet could come back to haunt you in the future. Future employers WILL search your social media before hiring you. So, you better be sure everything you post is something you’d want a potential employer to see. Yet, that doesn’t seem to apply if you’re someone that might cause someone harm.

The suspect in this latest shooting had an extensive social media profile. Pictures of weapons, himself holding weapons, and a Youtube comment stating he wanted to be a “professional school shooter”. The FBI was alerted multiple times but they couldn’t do much to help. We just learned that the FBI just flat out failed to act on a detailed account left on the tip line. The call noted this shooter’s “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.” They did nothing.

Yet, if someone threatens the President of the United States the Secret Service investigates.

I’m all for personal freedoms. I tend to lean Libertarian. Most of the time I would say, “Do whatever you want as long is it doesn’t harm anyone else.” Yet, law enforcement has to have the ability to follow these kinds of leads. There needs to be a greater ability for school administrators, local and state officials to question people and investigate when they post things online that might allude to potential future violent behavior.

 

See something say something

This is maybe the hardest part of all these school shootings. I am a former youth pastor. I had hundreds of teenagers, grades 5-12, come through the ministry I helped lead for 5 years. That being the case, I follow tons of teenagers on social media. From time to time, one of them posts something questionable. Sometimes, it’s a kid I know well and know it’s not a problem. There have been times that a student I don’t know well posts something that is concerning. It is so hard to know whether I should report it or reach out to the student. Is reporting it or reaching out (and potentially causing even more stress in their life) worth it?

There have been times when I’ve reached out. I’ve had students that I believed were suicidal. I’ve made the 2 am phone call to parents before telling them to find their child immediately. A couple of times I came close to calling child protective services. There have also been times when I let it go. More and more, it’s becoming harder to justify letting it go. You just never know when reporting a tweet might be the difference between life and death. Or even life and many deaths.

Unfortunately, as we’re learning, saying something when you see something doesn’t always work. In this instance, the FBI dropped the ball multiple times when this shooter was reported to them as a possible threat. Still, we have to continue to report people that we think might be a potential threat to themselves or others. Of course, everyone is entitled to explain themselves and representation by legal counsel if they are wrongly accused of anything. Is it better to say something than not?

 

Frequent gun violence pushing me to evolve my position

I hate everything about the last few days. The horrible act of gun violence against young people in our country. The reality that this person could have been stopped. Also, the realization that if nothing changes this will get worse right as my kids enter public schools.

I’m an expert on pretty much nothing. I feel the whiplash of having always aligned myself as a political conservative. Now, there is the realization that conservatives are failing our children on this topic. I don’t want law-abiding gun owners vilified. I also don’t want those that live with mental illness stereotyped as violent. I don’t want an all out gun ban, but I’m just at a point where I cannot see doing nothing as an option. Even as someone who would tell the government to leave me alone and let me live my life, I find myself more and more willing to lose a few so-called “freedoms” to be sure these acts of gun violence don’t happen again.

Gun violence is a real thing. Clearly. We can blame it on a long list of different things. I don’t think it’s just the gun. It’s not just the person. Nor just the mental illness, or just the culture, or just (insert a hundred more things). It’s everything. We have to comprehensively address the issue on all fronts. If we continue to just focus on the gun, or just focus on the mental illness things won’t get better.

They have to get better.

 

Do you think we can fix this? How?

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