Let’s Talk About Guns

Thank you to ponsulak via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

photo credit: ponsulak via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What is there to say about guns?

I don’t own one. I never have. My grandfather owns what I think of as a rifle (although given what I’ve learned about how I think about different types of guns, that may not be a specific enough term*) and the running joke is that when he has stories about crows, deer and other animals getting into his garden, you can always bet the story will end with, “And then I shot it.”

It didn’t make sense to me that one of the reasons people defended the use of “assault weapons” was because they were necessary for hunting. So I did what any self-respecting geek does.

I asked about it on Twitter. The tweet has, of this writing, had 111 retweets and 59 favorites. It also sparked a storm of replies, the answering of which has sent me over my rate limit three times in the last 18 hours.



A lot of replies were from angry NRA members and tackled one of my favorite topics – the specificity of language, and how we make it impossible for ourselves to communicate. As it turns out, the phrase “assault weapons” is read as an umbrella term by those who know their stuff – and it covers both legal semi-automatics (which can be modified into full automatics, although this is illegal) and illegal, expensive fully automatic rifles.

And a lot of people do use legal, semi-automatic guns for hunting. First surprise of the night. But hardly the last.

While some people replied to the tweet and discussion with blatant trolling, others stopped to get involved in the chat. I’ve been trying to keep track of those people, and have made a public list called “Discussing Guns” on twitter; I’ll update that list as I go.

After the first day or so of discussion, there are some points we seem to have found consensus on, from both sides of the debate. They are:

1. The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is as fundamental to the US as the right to free speech, or the separation of church and state. Some gun owners had fast reactions to the conversation that came out as, “Don’t take away my gun.” My interest in the discussion was in no way related to the idea of taking away any guns that are already in the hands of responsible gun owners.

2. More gun control is not the same as better gun control. There was widespread consensus that what we need are more effective laws, not more regulation.

3.  Participants had vastly different opinions on what steps can be taken to achieve better gun control in America. This is an area where we need to have further civil discussion/brainstorming, and where innovative responses may be required. Thus far the conversation has included ideas from policewomen, volunteer fire fighters, ex-military and other NRA members, as well as hearing those who do not own or participate in a culture that includes guns as part of their everyday life. Suggestions have included SROs and arming teachers, better mental health checks, the idea of “ammo cards” and more. I raised a question about what kinds of penalties are currently in place for people who own guns but don’t secure them properly, since there are cases where guns are stolen from licensed users. It was pointed out that there are already background and mental health checks in place, although a statistic was brought up regarding gun sales for cash at shows. Statistics were presented on gun deaths vs. other kinds of deaths, although they were from 1997.

One serious issue I’ve noticed in this region of the debate is that for many people who don’t use guns, having children in close proximity to guns makes the children less safe, whereas those who are familiar with “gun culture” feel that there is more safety with guns around than not. This is an area where compromise might be challenging. Many on one side feel it is there right not to be in the presence of guns. I personally agree with that point of view. I can’t scream “fire!” in a crowded building despite having free speech – where does the limit of one person’s freedom end, and another person’s freedom begin? I don’t know how we can dig into this area of the discussion, and we may not be that far along yet, but it’s definitely something that needs to be looked at by both sides if progress is going to be made.

4. Mental Health Care is coming up over and over again. Everyone seems to agree that more care needs to be available for those with mental illness, as part of a responsible culture that includes gun ownership and use. So far there has been no notable resistence to the idea of developing a system in tandem with increased access to mental health care, although there is not consensus on what form that might take. Some have raised the question of how mental health care services could be improved while also being paid for. Definitely an area worth further discussion, and as both NRA members and mental health activists have an interest in providing better care to our country’s mentally ill, it might be worth it for them to have a narrow discussion around that issue.

This has been a long discussion that shows little sign of slowing down, and the way in which people are participating is, for me (and hopefully others) clearing up a lot of the questions I had about why there aren’t easy solutions to what seemed, until yesterday, to be an obvious no-brainer. I’m grateful for the participation of those who’ve joined in so far and looking forward to seeing where this conversation goes.

Finally, since this is a summary of an extended and multi-faceted discussion, I encourage you to come over to twitter and check things out if you want to take part or have a fuller understanding of the live discussion. If you’ve been taking part and feel like I’ve missed a nuance, please point it out in the comments or let me know on Twitter and I’ll make an edit.

And finally, because we all need a smile right now, check out this BuzzFeed article: Moments That Restored Our Faith In Humanity This Year.


 *EDIT: 12/17/2012) Are there solutions we overlooked in our initial conversation? Do you have new ideas about how to explore some of the areas of consensus found above? Please join the discussion via the comments, below; I ask that everyone take part civilly and in the interest of a useful exchange of ideas.

*EDIT 12:58 EST – Just spoke to @Texasartchick, a police officer and firearms instructor who has offered to provide a more specific definition about types of guns mentioned in this article at her earliest opportunity. Check back/subscribe for comments. Thank you! And BuzzFeed is on a role with this new post.

15 responses to “Let’s Talk About Guns

  1. It’s rare when I can catch a writer with a grammatical error, but…

    “Many on one side feel it is there right not to be in the presence of guns.”

    I’m sure you can spot it. 🙂

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    • Rachel / @girl_onthego

      LOL yeah, thanks for the call-out. I saw it after I published and hadn’t had a chance to go back and fix. Will do, now. 😀

  2. Christopher Duncan

    Hi Rachel,
    As I have never done twitter, I thought I would chime in with a brief comment. As someone with much family experience with the mental health system and some professional experience with the mental health system I have discovered there is a concensus that it is a failure based system and not a recovery based one. An individual becomes eligible for additional support or services if they fail, that is unravel, with their existing services. The system is not based around wellness, prevention, recovery, or developing improved functioning.

  3. You’ve done a public service by conducting this Twitter survey. I learned about it only after the fact, and, like any lawyer, feel compelled to add my two cents!

    I disagree with the first conclusion that, “The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms is as fundamental to the US as the right to free speech, or the separation of church and state” if it means any of these rights are absolute.

    Speech and the practice of religion are both subject to constraints. One can’t yell “Fire” in a crowded theatre or utter obscenities on broadcast television. Similarly, in the name of religion, one can’t withhold drugs from children or kill those who’ve violated a taboo, e.g., honor killing.

    Before gun ownership advocates point to the Second Amendment, they should carefully parse its language and consider its history. Brian Levin does an excellent job on both these points in his Huff Post blog. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-levin/gun-laws-second-amendment_b_2285669.html

    • Thank you for your post, Kate. I agree – other rights have limitations (I mention the fire/crowded building issue later in the post) and I think we need to have a lot more discussion about what the limits of the right to bear arms are. And thank you for the Levin article – very interesting and informative.

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  5. Thank you. Thank you for the twitter conversation, thank you for the summary, and thank you for the link to the Moments that Restore Our Faith in Humanity. Thank you.

  6. Rache, You’re truly one of the most intelligent people I have the honor of having known, both online and in real life. I responded on sare’s G+ about my true feelings. But I’ll just reitterate here that it’s so refreshing when a person of an opposing viewpoint actually ‘discusses’ things and not just yells trite ‘buzzclips’ without thinking.


    Keep up the good work.

    • Today, minutes ago in fact, my child got angry with me when I took away her pink milk for being silly. She responded “I shoot it”. My heart sank. She is 2 1/2 years old. It is absolutely my responsibility to teach her how dangerous guns are and how it is never ok to “shoot it” if you are angry. She goes to nursery (day-care) 3 days a week. She is learning about this from children who are 2-4 years old. I cant tell you how frustrated I am that guns are finding their way into our tiny children’s lives. It’s no wonder adults cling so fiercely to their guns when they’ve been with them since childhood.

  7. “Common Sense” is good approach but unless attached to specific legislation is just noise in the wind.

    People can still make and sell nightgowns for children. They can no longer make them cheaper by using materials that easily burst into flame, as they once did. It took regulations to stop that practice and make it safe for parents to buy nightgowns for their children.

    The equivalent is guns for self defense that can rapid fire more than one bullet into each of 20 children in 4 minutes. Mass ammo cartridges and the guns that fire them is what’s within our power to stop.

    The fact that hunters like to use them on animals is not an argument against taking them off the market except for military.

    At least not a common sense argument.

  8. There’s a solid civil liberties argument to be made for privacy laws that prevent the sharing of mental health data, though the folks who push for them make strange bedfellows. Civil libertarians say reporting mental health info to the feds could open the data up to use for other purposes . The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law says that “many individuals who are not a danger to self or others may be included on these lists and there is a significant danger that those names will be shared with other agencies or entities (legally, accidentally or illegally) in addition to the FBI.” The American Psychiatric Association has also advised that the expansion of mental health data reporting proceed carefully, to make sure that those who need treatment aren’t deterred from getting help . The NRA, for its part, has lobbied in states across the country to keep mental health reporting requirements to a bare minimum, arguing that someone who was involuntarily committed decades ago (but has since recuperated) shouldn’t be barred from owning a gun.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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