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To Stop The Next Shooting, Gun Rights Advocates Must Be Part Of The Solution

A woman looks at the bullet holes on the window of IV Deli Mark where Friday night's mass shooting took place by a drive-by shooter on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
A woman looks at the bullet holes on the window of IV Deli Mark where Friday night's mass shooting took place by a drive-by shooter on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Isla Vista, Calif. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
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Again, the gun used in a mass shooting was purchased legally. Again, there is no thoughtful response from gun rights advocates. Like other perpetrators of mass violence before him, Elliot Rodger is alleged to have used a legal firearm to murder people in Santa Barbara last Friday.

I know Rodger’s actions don’t represent the majority of gun owners. But the fact that a person capable of depraved violence was able to get a gun license means we have work to do. And more than anything I want people who believe that guns play a positive role in our society to be part of that work.

I respect law-abiding gun owners who believe being armed makes them safer. But I deplore their silence when one of their own commits murder.

As the executive director of a self-defense organization I have always had a complicated relationship with the gun rights movement. I believe unarmed self-defense is the best option for most people since most violence is committed without weapons. I also believe many gun rights advocates overstate the evidence that firearms deter crime, though I acknowledge there is some data to support the claim that armed citizens successfully stop home invasions and robberies.

I have devoted more than 10 years of my life to teaching self-defense because I believe other efforts to stop violence like community organizing and policy change are necessary but inadequate. Like many Second Amendment advocates I believe any person faced with the threat of imminent violence should have the right and the skills to protect themselves. Public policy is important but it won’t protect me from a predator who disregards the law.

I respect law-abiding gun owners who believe being armed makes them safer. But I deplore their silence when one of their own commits murder.

It doesn’t matter that most crimes are committed with illegal guns. Enough murders are committed with legal guns to warrant a serious, nuanced look at how our legislatures and police departments determine who can own a firearm without posing a threat to others.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, right, walks past a board showing the photos of suspected gunman Elliot Rodger and the weapons he used in Friday night's mass shooting that took place in Isla Vista, Calif., after a news conference on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, right, walks past a board showing the photos of suspected gunman Elliot Rodger and the weapons he used in Friday night's mass shooting that took place in Isla Vista, Calif., after a news conference on Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

I’m sure, in most cases, that people who value their firearms would not argue that their rights are more important than the shooting victims’ lives. I’m sure they are as sad and angry as the rest of us when they see parents of the victims grieving for their daughters and sons.

But if the self-defense tools I use killed as many innocent people as guns do I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I’d lie awake ruminating about what I could do to prevent the tragic consequences of those tools falling into the wrong hands.

If I advocated armed self-defense I would take a painful look at how Adam Lanza got access to his mother’s guns. I’d develop therapeutic interventions and safety planning resources for my fellow gun owners with family members they can’t trust. I’d be humbled and saddened by every domestic violence homicide perpetrated by an abuser who had no other criminal record. I’d be working with experts and community leaders to identify batterers whose violence is escalating and take necessary action to revoke their gun licenses.

And I’d be doing it publicly. I would want every thinking, feeling person to know how seriously I took the tragic misuse of state-sanctioned guns.

People whose lives will be forever diminished by gun violence deserve a response that is as complex and nuanced as violence itself.

Instead, the responses I’ve seen from gun rights advocates fall into two categories: silence and distance. Pro-gun bloggers are distancing themselves by declaring the problem to be one of mental illness, not gun access.

Most legal gun owners never harm anybody. A few even protect themselves and others. But the atrocities allegedly committed by legal gun owners like Elliot Rodger are tragic and irreversible. People whose lives will be forever diminished by guns deserve a response that is as complex and nuanced as violence itself.

There’s no simple explanation for why the United States has so many more gun-related murders than our industrialized peers. But one contributing factor is that our political discourse about guns is often devoid of deep reflection. Both sides knee-jerk in the wake of tragedies, public concern disappears when mass shootings are not in the news, and the much more common violence against poor people of color is largely ignored.

We need to do better. Our lives depend on it.


Related:

Meg Stone Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Meg Stone is the director of IMPACT. She also leads IMPACT:Ability, a program that empowers people with disabilities & communities to prevent abuse.

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