Chacos column: We love our guns, but how do we address it responsibly?
As a mother of three, I’ve spent a lot of time observing the esoteric connection children have with guns. A stick, a broom handle, or part of a cardboard box can be magically transformed into rudimentary weapons. Then, as my children got older, and their dexterity and imagination grew, I watched them make expertly shaped pistols made out of rolls of duct tape and play elaborate games of war.
I assured myself this primal behavior was cute and quaint because I actively parented my kids away from a culture of “boys and their guns.” I was confident peace would eventually prevail in my house.
Yet guns found a way to infiltrate our home even though I banned them over 20 years ago. We did not hunt, did not serve in the military, did not own video games, did not live near a shooting range, and did not watch television shows with guns. I never shopped the aisles of weaponry at the big box stores, and even went as far as demanding my husband rid our home of his childhood .22-caliber rifle.
I was basking in futility, so I slowly relented my stronghold against guns one foam bullet at a time. About five years ago, there was a Nerf gun birthday party for one of the kids in the neighborhood. I could either decline the invite or go in all guns a-blazing. Weeks later, we had a stockade of artillery protecting us from all the other armed kids on the street. I never felt so safe in suburbia and so shocked at my permissive behavior towards guns in my home.
Then, two years ago my children fell hard for paintball, and I found that nothing bonds three generations of family faster than a rousing game of Capture the Flag. Unfortunately, no one has ever admitted to tagging grandpa in the gullet with a neon green paintball. I can neither confirm nor deny my participation that sunny afternoon.
Now all my kids want to do is play airsoft. An airsoft gun replicates a real firearm and uses biodegradable BBs that produce a painful sting. The protective gear is costly, trendy and necessary unless you want one of your children coming home eyeless looking like they’ve been infected with chickenpox. And when a pack of teens dressed in ghillie suits come parading through your kitchen, it’s time to marvel at their elaborate hobby and bring up gun safety again.
This time, because I now have two teenagers (and a third who is unfortunately privy to more than he should be at 11), we talk about current events at school and what they hear in the news. Children at this age know what to do in an active shooter situation, the unlikeliness of a mass shooting, and that suicide by a gun is the most likely traumatic event a high schooler may have to deal with in school. Therefore, my husband and I choose to loop them into the polarizing conversation between gun rights and gun control advocates.
Preventing my children from playing with toy guns as toddlers may have curbed their developing brains from patterns of violent behavior. I also know robust talk and education as they mature does not singularly decrease murder and suicide by guns. These are individual measures, mere tactics, that help me feel proactive in the war on guns.
Ultimately, what we need are tighter gun laws. First, no matter the point of origin of purchase, individuals in the United States must go through a comprehensive background check prior to being able to purchase a firearm.
What we currently have in place is a gun show loophole the size of Texas. All you need to do is bypass the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and avoid purchasing your firearm from a licensed dealer. Easy peasy.
Secondly, we can reduce gun violence by taking guns out of the hands of violent offenders. If you commit a crime you should not be able to own a gun. I’m not referring to granny running a red light; I am referring to individuals convicted of assault, sexual battery, robbery and domestic violence. Bad violent behavior predicates your Second Amendment gun rights. Period.
Lastly, and certainly not the only other measure beneficial in reducing gun fatalities, is the understanding that not everyone should have the right to carry a concealed weapon.
Just because you clear a background check, you may not be the right candidate for owning a gun. Responsible ownership must also address overall mental health and well-being if we are committed to reducing gun violence.
There’s a sense of power, protection and rugged individualism we intimately feel through our guns. And there are plenty of corporations, organizations, businesses, and lobbyists who will make sure the love affair continues.
As for my children, I’m convinced they enjoy playing with guns, in part, because they know I don’t approve. Years after I spent a day rummaging through thousands of Legos disposing of the little plastic guns, I am now spouting, “Check your guns at the door and never aim at your mother.”
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.
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