I’m trying to understand why guns are so ingrained in American culture, why gun possession is one of our defining characteristics. Is it residual from our frontier-taming history? Does it reflect our passion for individual liberty? Is gun-collecting a hobby or investment? Or is it darker drives bordering on paranoia or the need for macho expression? Carry a big stick. Don’t tread on me!
Why do citizens need military-style assault rifles? It can’t be for target shooting because rapid-fire guns with high-capacity magazines are not at all necessary to test one’s accuracy. Nor can it be for hunting because those types of guns only indicate that the hunter is not very skilled.
I was once a gun collector. I owned several pistols, a couple of shotguns, three assault rifles, and a World War 2-era German machine gun (deactivated so it could not fire). As an engineer, army veteran, and student of military history, there was a sort of beauty, an artistry of mechanical design function that I admired. I rationalized that I had acceptable reasons for owning weapons of war. I am still a gun owner today. I own one pistol. Do I need it? Not really. Do I want it? Yes, for the same reason I gave above.
Now, most of us agree that we have a gun violence problem in America. Gun murders in the streets of our large cities have become so common that they are hardly newsworthy. Business as usual. When our kids are mass-murdered our hackles raised a little more – but only for a short while. Our outrage quickly subsides, only to reappear the next time. It’s a reoccurring nightmare that we seem powerless to end.
I will illustrate our situation by analogy.
There is a large boat which has sprung a leak in its hull and is sinking. The people on the boat are divided on what to do. One group says “We have to bail out the water”. Another group says “Good idea, but while we’re bailing out the water, we should be working to plug the leak.” Another group says “We should call the Coast Guard.” A fourth group says “Why not do all of these?” Which is the most sensible group?
Gun people adamantly insist that the gun is off limits; the problem is with the shooter. He should be our sole focus. They demand that there be no legislation on gun control, none, zero, nada, no way. Let there be more guns. Arm teachers. Hire retired soldiers and police for school security. Gun-makers, their stock-holders, and Fox news-junkies couldn’t be more pleased.
But isn’t the problem complex enough that it requires a (forgive the simile) shotgun approach? If we really agree that we have a serious problem, why not attack it with everything we’ve got?
Restrictions or banning the purchase of weapons optimally-designed for killing the most people in the shortest time, and background checks on all gun purchasers should be part of the fix equation. That seems clear to me. The other part, the mentality of the shooter, is another. But how do we predict when someone who has been acting normally, up to a point, is suddenly going to freak out? Are danger signs always telegraphed? And even when they are, history shows that we have not done a good job of reading them and reacting. Besides, how can we arrest or order someone to accept psychiatric help before they commit a crime? I am not skilled enough to suggest answers to the shooter part, but somebody wiser should be.
Should we excoriate lawmakers for not helping with this problem, for putting job security over conscience? Remember one thing: Their jobs depend on our votes. If gun violence was considered a priority problem in this country, the representatives we elect would be forced to accede to our demands to fix it. Apparently, it is not a priority problem for lawmakers. Maybe the problem is us!
Bob Moores retired from Black & Decker/DeWalt in 1999 after 36 years. He was the Director of Cordless Product Development at the time. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University