Project 52, Week 51 — A Fact of Life in the United States Today

Recently my daughter’s cell phone went on the fritz, so while she’s trying to decide on a new phone she’s been using my old one, which still works well enough for getting by.

My daughter never calls me; for years she’s been sending me text messages instead. We generally have something to text each other about every day, even if it’s just to determine who’s going to pick up dog food on the way home. So I was a bit taken aback last Wednesday when my phone rang and I saw her name on my caller ID. When I answered I heard what sounded like a struggle going on and someone trying to speak, unable to get the words out. I immediately began shouting for her to answer me, but to no avail, and after several agonizing seconds, the phone went dead. Trying not to jump to frightening conclusions, I called the bakery where she works, but there was no answer as I let it ring 20, 30 times. Trying then not to sound frantic, I called her boyfriend, who also works at the bakery, but he was away at the time and I implored him to have her call or text me as soon as possible to let me know everything was all right. About 45 minutes later I received a text message from my daughter stating she was fine, that although she puts the touchscreen phone on “lock” when she has it in her pocket at work, it doesn’t seem to stay locked, and the phone must have dialed me by accident. That she had it in her pocket in a busy bakery accounted for the muffled sounds I couldn’t interpret at the time. All was well, I was relieved.

You might think I had a bit of an overreaction, that it should have occurred to me that the phone called me in error in the first place, and yes, I did think of that. But this occurred on Wednesday, the day after the tragic shooting at the Clackamas Mall here in the Portland area. As a community, we were still reeling from that and feeling on edge, and I was still thanking my lucky stars; my daughter used to work at that mall until a few months ago when she began working at the bakery. At that time of day she would have been in the food court where the shooting was taking place. It’s not that I necessarily seriously thought a shooter had entered the bakery and had shot my daughter, who was struggling to talk to me as she lay in a pool of blood, though I have to admit the thought did cross my mind. The fact that it was even a realistic possibility was frightening, and depressing, but it is a fact of life in our country today.

As the Portland area sank from shock into sadness and was beginning the long road of healing, on Friday the unthinkable happened in Connecticut, where young, innocent children were shot multiple times in their classrooms and the staff who tried to help them were gunned down as well. This new shock has put the entire nation on edge, and the world mourns these young innocents, and is sad for a country where firearm abuse is out of control, and no one in power seems truly willing to do anything that will help change the situation.

There have been two issues that have been at the forefront of my “causes,” if you will, throughout my entire adult life. I am a staunch believer in universal health care for all Americans, as a right, not a privilege, and strict gun control laws. However, I am willing to concede that even just reasonable, practical gun control laws would considerably reduce the deaths in this country from firearms, so I am in favor of whatever legislation will help reduce the carnage from gunfire that mounts up daily in the United States. However, gun control is not a popular issue, for some odd reason, and once this country begins to heal from this heinous crime in Connecticut, cries for sane gun control laws will begin to lessen until it is no longer part of the national conversation. Until the next mass shooting, of course, and these shootings will continue, and the cycle of “We must do something!” and the dwindling of these cries will continue as well. Nothing will change.

In this country, when something is deemed harmful and capable of severe injury and even death, legislation is passed that will reduce the harm as much as possible. A car can easily be a deadly weapon. Over the years efforts have been made to make cars safer, to make drivers safer, from seatbelts to shoulder restraints to child safety seats to airbags to outlawing cell phone use while driving. These laws are passed and though some may grumble a bit at the loss of “freedom,” we realize they are for our own good and we adjust, as these new regulations become part of our daily lives. We have regulations for workplace safety through OSHA, we have restrictions and laws regarding food safety, medication safety, traffic safety, airline safety. Though these laws don’t always work perfectly, they do reduce the harm to our fellow citizens.

So why are guns, which are capable of producing harm and death every bit as much as a car and more so, not regulated the same way? There are outcries from many gun owners, and the gun lobby, not to mention the NRA, invoking the Second Amendment as an unlimited freedom to carry, both openly and concealed, firearms of every kind, with no restrictions whatsoever. But the freedom to bear arms also has a converse freedom, that of unarmed people being entitled to safety and freedom from fear of those misusing their Second Amendment rights. If limiting firearms goes against the Bill of Rights, then it’s time to change the Bill of Rights with a new amendment. I firmly believe that if our founding fathers had known what the state of firearm abuse in this country would have been like over 200 years after that amendment was penned, it surely would have been written differently.

This article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof summarizes what, in my opinion, sensible gun control should look like. It can save many lives; not all, of course, but many. Gunowners, no one is taking away your guns. If you are a responsible, mature gun owner, there’s nothing here you should object to. There will still be less regulation than in owning and driving a car. But in a civilized country, this is what needs to happen.

But it won’t happen. And more’s the pity. We are a nation of violence. And until we stop loving it that way, our children will keep on dying. As a nation, we should be horribly ashamed and moved to change at last.

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