In A Rush?
Watch a gun debate and you’ll see a fiery offense on the Left versus a brick wall on the Right. With every horrific mass shooting or inner city homicide, comes another plea for gun restrictions, which is met by gun lobbyists downplaying the statistics and shouting about infringements on our constitutional rights.
On one side: Gun enthusiasts that claim nothing is wrong, parents who do not safely lock-up their firearms, and NRA-affiliates.
Me: A pediatrician trying to understand both sides. I am not “anti-gun” but I do think we need progressive legislation. I may not be a gun owner, but I grew up playing an incredible amount of Contra on the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
I understand the childhood fascination with guns.
One day, after getting berated on twitter, I had a realization: we can debate all day, but if we don’t convince our youth of the proven dangers of firearms, we all lose. Children are 9 times more likely to die from a gun in the United States than any other country in the developed world. I know where gun lobbyists stand but how do kids feel?
I sought the wisdom of two current event analysts: a friend’s two sons aged, 15 and 8. Everyone knows that boys dig guns so I figured they would have sound opinions. Here are the highlights:
(For anonymity, I renamed the 8-year-old, Lance, and the 15-year-old, Bill. These are also the names of two main characters of Nintendo’s Contra.)
Are guns a big problem today?
Lance: Yeah, I see things on TV a lot. Like people shooting other people.
Bill: Doesn’t everybody think that?
Are they a bigger problem today than 20 years ago?
Lance: Um…I don’t know. (why would he?)
Bill: Probably. I wasn’t alive 20 years ago but things seem pretty bad today.
We’re in a new age of mass shootings, media hype, impressionable children (like these two), and internet-laden paths to gun access. Nonetheless, while 56% of Americans believe that gun crimes are higher now than back in the early 90’s they are actually down 49% from 1993. Gun-lobbyists use this statistic to tell us we’re being over-zealous but I see it as proof that interventions work. Press on.
What does our constitution say about owning guns?
Lance: I don’t know (At this age, major points of contention are irrelevant)
Bill: We have the right to bear arms. Like back in the day, people needed them to fight the British.
Give Bill’s history teacher an apple. That’s right, back in the late 1700’s, rifles were an American staple, but not semi-automatic weapons or concealed hand guns. I bet it would be hard to sneak into mommy’s purse and accidentally fire her Kentucky Long Rifle.
Alright so why do regular people own guns?
Lance: Oh, to shoot bad dudes!
Bill: For protection, hunting, collecting, or like, some family antique.
These kids included, why do so many people think we need guns for home protection? This isn’t The Purge. A Texas police chief, and David Workman, of the Second Amendment Foundation, claim that people should take arms because “police can’t always be there”. Sure, it’s possible that mass shootings may be thwarted by armed civilians, but this runs into a very slippery slope of vigilante violence. For every 43 people that die at home from gun violence, only 1 is a justifiable homicide. But in the off chance you’re important enough to be a target of the Russian mob, your mounted AR15 may be your life line.
Do you know anyone with a gun?
Lance: I think my friend’s dad has one.
Bill: Yeah I know a few kids at school who go shooting.
Safe gun storage is the bedrock of accidental firearm injury prevention. Some folks bark at pediatricians who ask about gun ownership (I’m looking at you, Florida) but firearms, alongside drugs and alcohol are high-risk topics that should be fair game for chats between parents and pediatricians.
Have you heard of Eddie the Eagle?
That’s what I thought. The NRA’s safety campaign is about as effective as a 2:00 A.M. hair loss infomercial. The NRA also says: “For every bad guy with a gun, there should be a good guy with one.” Where does a curious, armed, child fit into that slogan?
What do you see on social media? (Directed to Bill although I know, and hate, that 8-year-olds are snapchatting, gramming, etc.)
Lance: Hah yeah, people post gun-selfies and hunting photos every now and then. The Kardashians too!
You don’t see kids posting photos smoking cigarettes, trying to be “cool”, anymore do you? Not unless you’re a James Dean reincarnate. Yet so many young rebels-without-a-clue garner plenty of social media hype from gun pics. Are they trying to defend ‘Merica? Or sell rap albums in a back alley? Bottom line: if you are a responsible gun owner, you don’t need social media to reaffirm your firearm ownership.
Way to be a role model Khloe. Let’s at least agree that dangerous, ludicrous, photos do NOT represent American values.
So should we just get rid of guns in this country?
Lance: If people are getting hurt, then they’re bad and we should get rid of them. (I swear no one put him up to this answer.)
Bill: Maybe but that would probably never work. People love guns.
Let’s be real; a gun-ban would be a very tricky maneuver in America. Topics such as gay-marriage and reproductive rights brought on huge cultural clashes – stripping guns from the land would see an even larger uproar. Australia banned guns successfully but America is far more complex and divided. Remember the roaring 20’s and the alcohol prohibition that turned violent criminals into incredibly wealthy violent criminals? Let’s not empower arms dealers.
What do you think of when I say: rabies, chicken pox, and food poisoning? What about gun violence?
Lance: Those are ways you get sick. Gun violence is when people shoot each other.
Bill: Chicken pox and food poisoning are natural diseases. Gun violence is more like a social problem.
My vote for the most promising future stance: gun violence is an infectious disease. Dr. Gary Slutkin translated his strategy of fighting tuberculosis (TB) and cholera in Somalia to fighting inner-city gun violence. It’s simple epidemiology; if you have TB, you may pass it on to someone else, who can then infect others. With his organization, Cure Violence, Dr. Slutkin employs community leaders to halt the “disease” of gun violence with activism and awareness.
I retired Lance and Bill from their analytical duties at this point. Everything they talked about was so pure and based on instinct and disseminated knowledge, not hardened opinions. They’re an impressionable and critical audience in this debate. And maybe they should play less Grand Theft Auto.
What’s My Point?