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Cars, Guns and Other Deadly Weapons

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After last Friday's horrific events, I wrote a post on my blog entitled, "Where was God?" On that post, a reader left a heartfelt and insightful comment in which she reminded us all, quite rightly, that "[we] need to build a foundation, the soil so to speak, of love, acceptance, understanding, and real support for people in all mental and emotional states. Acceptance of the people, mentally well or mentally ill, not acceptance of all actions. This soil of acceptance will help us all to achieve peace -- to live in true community."

I couldn't have agreed more. But within her comment, she also said, "I do think the U.S.'s approach to guns is at the root of some of these tragedies."

I wrote the following in response:

"I don't disagree that guns MUST be controlled. I am baffled by the legality of assault weapons. I just don't get it. However, I think that saying that guns are the root of such atrocities is like saying that cars are the cause of drunk driving."

I start with this because I think it's important to tell you that I get it. That I understand that the gun is merely the vehicle by which the violent act is made possible -- it is not the violent act itself. But so too, I understand that without that vehicle, the act looks very, very different.

When horse and buggies evolved into automobiles, we set up a system to regulate them. In this country, we all accept and agree that one needs -- and should need -- a license to drive a car. The process to get one is rigorous. We impose age restrictions and test vision; we test the knowledge of those who would drive on our roads. We impose limits on the speed at which one can drive a car and we regulate the use of alcohol or drugs before one gets behind a wheel. We have police who patrol our streets and highways to ensure that anyone driving is doing so lawfully. And we don't question any of it. Why? Because we all know that, when used irresponsibly, a car can kill. And we know that our children ride in our cars. And we agree that maintaining public safety demands some compromise in our freedom to drive.

So why then do we balk at regulating guns just as we do cars? Why this visceral reaction to gun control?

Because in this country we believe that any attempt to limit our access to weapons is an assault on the principles on which we were founded. Because we cling to the long-outdated notion that we need them to be free. Because we refuse to acknowledge and accept that a document written nearly 240 years ago could not have foreseen the technological advances that brought us to where we are today.

When the Constitution was written, guns were necessary. We were fresh from a revolution, living in fear of uprising. We lived on farms, acres and acres apart from one another. And we traveled across those acres by horse. There were threats from wildlife and bandits. And those threats were very different in a world where help was not a phone call and a car ride away, but a foot messenger and a horse back ride. And the guns themselves were vastly different animals from the ones we talk about today -- than the ones that destroyed the lives of 27 people and all those who loved them just days ago. The ones that served to rattle us to our core, questioning our safety -- the safety of our children.

Guns were muskets. They took a hell of a long time to load and they held one ball that was barely more potent than a rock. You can't tell me that the Founding Fathers could ever have dreamed that they were writing about M-16s, Bushmaster semiautomatics and hollow-point bullets. The idea of a magazine of ammunition being fed into a repeating firearm was as foreign to the framers as would be Siri telling them where to find a good lasagna.

But now guns can kill 28 human beings -- 20 children -- in a matter of minutes. I know that it takes a person pulling a trigger to kill other people. We've all heard the refrain, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," and that's true, but it is the guns that make the devastation possible.

On the same day that Adam Lanza killed 27 people and then himself in Newtown, Conn., a man named Min Yongjun went into an elementary school in Chenpeng Village in the Guanshan province of China with a knife. The similarities were eerie. Until they weren't. Because the last line in the story about Chenpeng is this:

None of the wounded children died of their injuries.

Not one.

In Newtown, Conn., 28 people are dead.

So why? Why can't we allow our thinking to evolve? Why is regulating guns so unthinkable when regulating cars isn't? There's no good answer.

It's time to end the hypocrisy and be honest with ourselves about this conversation.