In the wake of yet another tragic school shooting, the United States finds itself at the same cross roads it has so many times before. Violence is an unfortunate byproduct of existence – even acts of senseless violence against one another aren’t without precedent in nature – but we, as a people, are tasked with finding a way to mitigate the influence of that universal truth within the framework of our own society, without violating the rules and rights that form the very basis of our way of life.
And when it comes to violating those rules or rights, each political party has a short list of allowances they perceive as acceptable. If you learn hard Left, you tend to think freedom of speech extends only as far as your emotional tolerance, and that the right to bear arms is an outdated, even barbaric concept. If you lean hard Right, you’ve got your own problems with the First Amendment any time a movie with a black or female protagonist gets a little media buzz and those cranky “SJWs” start applauding. “You want all-women screenings of ‘Wonder Woman’ Not in MY America!”
It’s all stupid, but not because we are. We’re animals: prone to herd behavior, defensive when threatened, and hard wired to survive. In the absence of legitimate threats, a little internet outrage will do; we choose sides, muster our defenses, and prepare for meme-warfare. May the snarkiest Facebook post win. Then, once the adrenaline fades, we regroup and prepare for tomorrow’s battle. What will it be? Now way to know until we check the morning’s hashtags.
But what if we want to actually affect legitimate change that might save lives? What if we’re scared for the safety of our children, or we worry about the gradual degradation of individual liberties? What is that we can do?
The whole country has watched this song and dance before. We’ve watched presidents talk about what needs to happen, we’ve seen Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert cry and tell us that gun owners are monsters, and we’ve seen it all die down in the face of a new trending outrages without anything at all actually changing. Maybe you’re sick of that, maybe you’re pleased, but in either regard… you’re looking in the wrong places.
We don’t live in a fascist dictatorship where all of our country’s decisions are made by a single man – that much shouldn’t’ surprise you, but what might surprise you is that our nation actually has 50 state level governments that address the same kinds of complex issues we all watch on the national stage – the only difference is, at the state level, there’s a chance to pass legislation that actually makes sense for the state.
Over the years, I’ve lived in Red states and Blue ones. From the Northeast to the Southwest and eventually, the deep South, and under state level governments that ranged from tax-heavy and oppressive to hardly present at all – and while I’ve griped about some and applauded others, one thing has held true throughout: what works in one place probably wouldn’t work in another.
Massachusetts, for instance, maintains gun laws that are so silly that during my time stationed there as an Active Duty Marine, I had to keep my firearms at a friend’s house in Vermont. Securing a license to even have my guns meant applying for a non-resident license and jumping through a series of bureaucratic hoops that included a written request to the local chief of police, complete with letters of recommendation. Let me remind you, that was just to have a gun locked in a safe in my house, not to actually carry one in public.
Of course, any time I was in uniform and carrying my service pistol, everything was hunky dory… it’s just once that uniform came off that the state was worried I’d become a menace to society.
Here’s the thing though: when you’re in Massachusetts, a lot of the folks you’ll talk to like it that way. It’s a liberal state, with lots of liberal voters. They elected officials that established legislation that was in keeping with the beliefs of the majority of their constituents, otherwise, they would have been voted out. Vermont, on the other hand, which shares a border with Massachusetts and also historically leans Left, has extremely lax gun laws by comparison. I bought my first shotgun out of another high school kid’s trunk when I was growing up in Vermont. My first AR-15 at Walmart, along with a few hundred rounds of ammunition and a six-pack of Mountain Dew.
Why is it that two states with similar political leanings, located in the same part of the country, can find themselves so divided when it comes to guns? Honestly, it’s pretty easy to show you: here’s a picture of Massachusetts’ capital city, Boston:
And here’s a picture of Vermont’s largest city, Burlington.
The way the people live in Vermont is just different than the way people live in much of Massachusetts. The ideological divide about guns in our country often has a lot less to do with politics, and a lot more to do with how many trees there are between you and your neighbor’s house. Urban environments simply function differently at a legislative level than rural ones do.
When people who live in New York City say they want to ban firearms, I shrug my shoulders. In a place where eight and a half million people are crammed into just over 300 square miles, the government plays a huge role in keeping the structure of society in place. Compare that to my home state of Vermont, where a bit more than 600,000 people are spread out across 9,600 square miles. Law enforcement is everywhere in the city, and for the most part, you can count on them to keep you safe. When they’re not close by, your proximity to hundreds, or thousands of others serves as form of protection as well.
In contrast, when I had someone try to burn my home down last year, the local volunteer fire department made incredible time by finding my little house in the woods within thirty minutes or so, but I didn’t see a police officer for another hour after that. It’s not that the police don’t care, it’s that there are only a few of them with a lot of ground to cover out here in the sticks. If the arsonist had stayed in the area, planning to attack when my pregnant wife and I evacuated, it would have been on us, or rather, on me, to keep my family safe for that 90 minute window.
Maybe one of the reasons we, as a nation, are having so much trouble coming up with solutions to the gun violence problem that will really work across nearly four million square miles of real estate housing more than 320 million people is because that, in itself, is a ludicrous undertaking. As I mentioned previously, when a New York City liberal tells me he hates guns, I shrug, but for some reason… when I tell him I like them, he views it as an affront to humanity.
My 2A buddies aren’t much better a lot of the time, arguing that what we need is less legislation rather than more in those places, as though my buddies out here in the foothills of Georgia somehow have a better understanding of what they need to do in places like Boston, Los Angeles or New York City that those living there every day. Don’t’ get me wrong, Chicago is a mess, but we should make sure our own houses are in order before we start lobbing our way of life at folks a thousand miles away.
Maybe we should stop telling the rest of the country what to do, and focus on talking with our neighbors, friends, and local politicians about what makes sense for us, where we live. I don’t need to vote on gun legislation in Boston – I don’t live there anymore. I care about keeping the massive possums in my neighborhood from killing my cat. I care about defending my family against a home invader while I wait for local law enforcement to find us out here where the closest street light is miles away. I don’t need national legislation, I need common sense and a government that understands my challenges and concerns.
States have always established their own gun laws – it’s one of the things I heavily research before moving, because I want to live in states that won’t force me to keep my guns in another man’s home ever again. It makes perfect sense to me that the gun laws in Montana aren’t the same as the gun laws in New Jersey – they’re different places full of different people. What doesn’t make sense to me is trying to pass a series of new national laws that can somehow give New York City the restrictions they want, without adversely affecting the cattle rancher in Iowa.
In the United States, we treat politics as a spectator sport except for twice a decade when we vote for a president and congratulate ourselves for doing our civil duty. If you want things to change where you live, try engaging with the government that’s there with you.
If instead, you just want to force your will upon a broad and diverse population regardless of their feelings about it… then maybe you’ve lost sight of what democracy was supposed to be about.
Feature image courtesy of the Associated Press