I still remember the day my father taught me how to shoot a gun. We walked into the woods behind our house and he balanced a .22 rifle on my shoulder. He showed me how to aim it at an old tomato juice can. Then he helped me pull the trigger. The noise in my right ear terrified me and as the bullets blasted holes in the can, I remember how the red label peeled away in strips. I was four-years-old.
Growing up, guns were a part of everyday life. We had hand guns, antique guns, rifles leaning against corners in the closets, my brother's BB guns left all over the house along with discarded board games and building blocks and the silver, toy pistol I cradled like a doll when I was two. We all admired my uncle who invented guns for Browning. I learned that guns were for hunting, self-defense and defending liberty long before I learned how to read. But by the time I turned 21, I knew three people, two of them children, who had been shot and killed in gun-related accidents. My belief in that old-west, American tradition was beginning to unravel.
I certainly understand the principle of defending liberty, but the practice of it has steadily evolved beyond all reason. With so many innocent Americans dead, what war are we fighting here? Why are Americans killing Americans?
The number of American soldiers killed in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars since 2001: 6,500 souls
The number of American citizens killed in gun violence since 2001: approximately 390,000 souls
The number of American civilians killed defending their political liberty since 2001: 0
This situation is a distinctly American dilemma that exists no place else on the globe. Why is America so different? Why do some of our citizens fear the government and feel they need to purchase as many guns as possible? Why do they feel the need to protect their own liberty from a government that has sworn to uphold their liberty in the first place? Is this war about fear? Fear of what? And why are we a breeding ground for troubled young minds who kill out of revenge? Revenge for what? Is that what this war is about?
Any discussion of the culture of violence in America must include the bullying, rejection and abuse that the shooters in mass shooting cases have all experienced. Violent movies and games may make the situation worse, but bullying, rejection, loneliness, isolation, paranoia and abuse are the seeds of violence in America's bloody, homegrown war against the innocent and the blameless.
We need to act as a nation, for 'We the People' are the United States government. We need to bring about change that will stop the bloodshed. We need increased compassion for the innocent thousands who are murdered in cold blood. But we also need to find some compassion for the shooters who were innocent up until the moment they decided to pull that trigger. The shooter's problems are our problems as a nation. We must find and help these troubled people long before they buy their first gun.
It doesn't have to be the way it is now. We can change as a society, but it will take a radical shift in the way many Americans feel about guns and gun ownership. When I turned twenty-five, my father gave me three guns as a birthday gift but when I moved to Japan, I left them behind. In Japan, private citizens are prohibited from owning guns. In part, this is due to the Japanese constitution, which was drafted by the Americans after WWII. Their constitution prohibits the development of a Japanese military, and the ban on civilian weapons was a logical next step. As a consequence, Japan has very little crime or violence. During the years I lived there, Japan averaged two gun-related deaths a year. It was a wonderful relief to walk the Tokyo streets and take the trains at night without fear for my own safety. For the first time in my life, I had no fear of being attacked or shot.
When I returned home to visit my father, a lifelong NRA member who had just been elected president of the local gun club, I gave my guns back to him. "Guns create more problems than they solve," I told him. He was shocked, but he was a reasonable man and he respected my decision.
My decision to give up my guns was a personal decision. I'm not advocating a no-gun policy in the United States but we need to look at the situation rationally. It was Thomas Jefferson who said,
"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action, according to our will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others."
Jefferson knew that it is impossible to talk about liberty without also talking about the equal rights of others. Never forget that our basic right as Americans is the right to live. In order for this undeclared, bloody, American war to end, rightful liberty and equal rights must both be protected, never one at the expense of the other. As American citizens, we are all entitled to both.