Monday, January 14, 2013

What should we do with our guns?

It’s difficult to contend with aging parents.  There’s the emotional drain associated with hearing changes in their voice and watching them move slower to get to the other side of the room.  Frequent long distance phone calls to inform you that mom or pops is in the hospital, again, stirs loads of guilt related to not being home to take care of your parents.

There’s a long list of things that must be done.  You find yourself between wanting to be present with your parents while struggling to keep your head above the water.  There is never enough time, money and support to bring balance to a life made fragile by the one thing none of us can avoid – time.

My recent trip back home to watch over my ailing father revealed a truck load of needs.  They fluctuated from arranging for his bills to be paid by automatic bank withdrawal, to contacting home health care agencies to find services for him when he returns home.  There are emotional needs that can’t go unmet.  I had to be sensitive when talking to my dad about renovating his home to make it easier for him to move around on his own.

Some problems go away by signing a check.  Others require patience.  Some involve being present to hold his hand when his feet are too weak to stand.

One of the biggest worries involves my father’s guns.  He has lots of them. He has collected them over the years.  He was a hunter back in the day when he was strong enough to walk on his own.  My father grew up hunting.  It was the way my grandfather fed his family.  It was more than a sport.  It was a way of life.

Those guns are a part of his life.  Each has a story.  It’s what my father did to release the burden of work.  The rifles in the gun case share space with handguns.  My father believes in his right to protect his family from intruders.  It’s a view rooted in a past that forced him to do things with his hands and guns to keep enemies away.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do with my guns,” my father told me during my visit.  “I know you don’t want them.”

He’s right. I deplore the guns sitting in the living room like furniture.  I don’t like the gun hidden near the bed.  I hate guns, and my father knows it.

I’ve hated them since the day I killed a rabbit with the gun my father gave me to prepare me for life as a hunter.  I was a natural.  My first kill scared me.  The force after squeezing the trigger was too much for a 10-year-old to comprehend.  I held in my hands the power to take life.  I knew it.  I felt it.  A part of me enjoyed it.   The other part feared the power to end life.

“Why don’t you take the guns with you,” my mother demanded. “Someone can break into the house and steal his guns.”

Her anxiety was intensified after the Sandy Hook Elementary School became known for more than teaching kids to read.  The national debate regarding the need for stiffer gun control laws demonized those who own guns.  The National Rifle Association made things worse by pitching an agenda that protected people’s right to own assault weapons. 

“No one should have the right to own an assault weapon,” my father said as we watched the news coverage from the Sandy Hook Elementary School.  “You can’t hunt with one of them.”

Guns mean different things to different people.  People like me view them as an evil that needs to be eradicated from society.  People like my father have guns because they are part of their history.  Others keep guns to kills people.  A few have them to prepare for a revolution.

I don’t know what will happen to my father’s guns.  Some are collector items.  I do know that my dad has the right to decide on his own.  I can’t take them away because of the disgust I carry for guns.  I’m tempted to, but those guns are part of his journey.  He has to decide when it is appropriate to let them go.

My father’s grapple over his guns reflects America’s tension over what to do with the same.  We each come to the debate rooted in a culture that sways opinion.  Some live in communities that require guns for protection.  Many love to hunt.  It’s a mixed bag that reminds us of the rich diversity that makes us states and people united despite our differences.  It’s tough finding consensus when we bring such complexity to the conversation.

I don’t know what to do with my father’s guns.  America doesn’t know what to do with its guns.

The answer will come.  We simply have to keep talking and listening.

1 comment:

  1. The compelling American flag handgun graphic is from 1980. It was a poster created by Rick Boyko after John Lennon's assassination. (makes me think, "imagine all the people, living life in peace, [...] nothing to kill or die for").

    The poster says 10,728 US gun deaths in 1980. I wanted to know the more recent data, and the most reliable source I could find analyzed gun deaths in 2010. There were 31,328 gun deaths in 2010**, and the trend for the last decade has shown a significant increase every single year. That means there will almost certainly by 32,000+ gun deaths in our country this year, Sandy Creek included.

    **based on my own quick calculations, the US population has gone up 33.5% since 1980, although the adult population has increased less rapidly. Gun deaths have increased about 150% since 1980.

    More people die for almost every reason, almost every year--- there are just more people. But for almost every non-medical way to die (like car crashes), the trend is towards fewer and fewer death. Our cars and roads are getting safer and safer.

    For guns, that's obviously not true. Guns deaths are going up and up and up, even while everything else goes down. I don't know why. It scares me, and saddens me.

    In 2011, here in Durham, there were 23 gun deaths. The victims ranged in age from 1 year old, to 63. Eight of them were women.