COMMENTARY: Insights from Indiana: laying off the trigger

Growing up, I’d listen in awe to stories of my uncle, an expert skeet shooter, and how he could draw and fire in the time it took you to blink. I’d grow envious of other family members, who shared thrilling tales of entering the wild, exiting several hours later dragging a bloodied buck behind them. Sometimes, out of curiosity, I’d peruse gun catalogs, or beg my parents for a hunting license. Though I’ve since had a change of heart, it was an alluring culture, one that anyone could get behind.

I don’t mean to pretend that I was raised around guns, or that my corner of Indiana (at least the corner of that corner) is a place where guns are welcome. If I had ever asked my mom for a gun, she would’ve handed me a novel. My hometown — although a confused admixture of the pretentious left and the all-American right, where residents think both postmodern art and tractors are sexy — generally discouraged firearms.

Caleb Owens

But nevertheless, whether on the outskirts of my hometown or 20 minutes down the highway, guns were around, and lots of people loved ’em. Not just loved them, but saw them as integral to a lifestyle, steeped in symbolism. Guns were more than recreation. They were a craft, something to take pride in, something worth voting for at all costs, a means of protection, a goddamned constitutional liberty. As a coworker told me a couple summers ago, driving through the sweaty, rural expanses of Porter Township, Indiana, “I grew up with guns. I just can’t really imagine not having them around.”

When I first read about the Parkland shooting, I shook with anger, sadness and a profound disappointment. Many people tell me they’ve grown desensitized to violent tragedies, having become so commonplace. But I seem to have more difficulty stomaching them each time. My first draft of this op-ed was a slew of radical proposals and derogatory comments, lambasting the NRA and its imbecilic following. I nearly took to Facebook (a rarity for me), calling for the immediate seizure of all firearms.

And that’s precisely what many people did, and frequently do, in response to controversy. Acting on impulse, they buzz around in the self-indulgent reverberation of the echo chamber, eliminating any and all inhibitions as they spit out nonsense. If anyone was around me, or if I went on Facebook, I would’ve called all gun owners heartless bastards, and can say with certainty that, judging by their posts, at least 20 Facebook friends would have supported me.

But my family members, friends, coworkers and classmates aren’t heartless bastards. On the contrary, they’re some of the most generous, compassionate people I know. Their hearts would send love and prayers to the victims of any shooting, and they would offer aid and condolence without reservation. They’d grow just as angry as I at the shooter, rebuking them for abusing the Second Amendment. Many, if not all, would call for tighter restrictions. But they wouldn’t see any reason to give up their guns. What seems like such a clear, simple solution to me is absolutely unacceptable to them.

After my finest attempts, I must confess that I simply don’t get it. I don’t really project sentiments onto objects, and see little harm in disposing of something with a capacity for such extreme harm. But I do understand that, to many Americans, guns are more than just an object. As people who love this country and everything it entitles us to, acknowledging the worth and importance of every citizen, the least us Lefties can do is try to understand, demolishing rather than strengthening the mutually reinforced wall between left and right.

We’re not Australia or the UK. Uncompromising demands to relinquish or stringently regulate firearms can’t, and won’t, be accomplished. This country, its kids and its future, won’t be safe until we sit down and have a real conversation, fully appreciating the issue’s complexity. It has to do with firearms, and mental health, and ideology, and culture, and the left, and the right, and everything in between, but no one factor in isolation.

And when that conversation happens, we’ll find that we’re all after the same thing: the freedom to live and be happy in this country. For some, that means the inviolable right to property, extended to firearms, and a capacity to defend oneself without government obstruction. For others, it means purging society of the means to destroy itself. For both, it means peace of mind.

Each side has an obligation to take the other seriously, face-to-face and not in a vicious online comment thread, making immediate strides toward reform. If not, we’re all complicit in this inexcusable, endless, day-to-day murder. And if we can’t put forth the mutual effort to fix this, then we’ve shot our democracy right in its heart.

Caleb Owens, of Valparaiso, Indiana, is a sophomore majoring in History, English and Philosophy at the University of Delaware. He is Managing News Editor of The Review, the student newspaper of the University of Delaware.

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