America is a gun culture. That is without a doubt. If you live in a gun culture, you may not even notice it. When you leave it (and come back again), that’s when you feel its prominence.
As a child it was perfectly normal that we had guns at home. My father has a large gun cabinet containing all sorts of guns, but the majority are hunting rifles including his prized (and completely useless) muzzle-loader. Maybe I should explain that my father is not a cult leader defending his compound from the authorities. It is all much less sinister than that. I’m from rural Pennsylvania where hunting is a very popular sport and practically everybody I know has a gun of some sort as well as a gun cabinet or even a gun safe at home. This particular gun cabinet of my father’s is as tasteful as a gun cabinet can be but has remained a point of contention in my parents’ marriage as it doesn’t exactly “go” with my mother’s decor. Anyhow, it just has always been there and it still is there. Oh, what an inheritance I will have. I pretty much ignored the cabinet and its contents growing up. My father tried to interest me in shooting several times throughout my childhood. I wasn’t into it, so he gave up.
I will mention here that the keys to the “gun” part of the gun cabinet are locked in the bottom part of the cabinet. The keys to the bottom part of the cabinet are locked in a safe along with the keys to the Harley. And the ammo…I have no idea where that is kept. If we wanted to shoot something just like that, well, good luck. It would take us a good half an hour to get ourselves set up. I know because one year around Thanksgiving my father thought it would be a good idea to try to shoot a turkey from the flock of turkeys that had wandered into our yard. By the time he unlocked everything and realized that he didn’t have any ammo, those poor birds were long gone. And if we wanted to shoot an intruder, well, we would have to break the glass of the cabinet and then beat the intruder with the butt of a rifle.
When I moved from home to start my teaching career, I still was not far from guns, just a different kind of gun use. The school where I worked had a metal detector. It wasn’t for detecting belt buckles.
At my class reunion, one of my classmate’s husbands tried desperately to convince us that it is much safer if everyone carries a gun. He, himself, had decided to leave his gun at home, well, because he was drinking and he thought it best. He was chagrined when we didn’t congratulate him on the wisdom of his decision. He was absolutely sure that the Batman movie theatre killer would not have shot, killed and injured so many people if everyone had had guns. My argument was that the Batman movie theatre killer would not have shot anyone if no one had a gun. He proceeded to explain to me the error of my logic…and the conversation went around and around and around. Then he added some false statistics concerning some “European” countries and when I told him that we live in this mysterious place called “Europe”, he changed his tune. Misiu stated quite rationally that it is hard to kill a whole cinema of people with only a knife, even a big one, and we left it at that.
We were in America on vacation for 6 weeks and we managed to not get shot, on purpose or by accident, so I consider that a success. We had a lot of time to do what we wanted so I read a lot of books and tried to watch some TV (it is difficult to do with all those commercials). Our local library supplied me with an excellent selection of John Irving’s. I started with “Last night in Twisted River” which couldn’t have been written without a gun culture. That book couldn’t be set in Poland. Same goes for “The World According to Garp” and practically all the other books I read and the films I watched.
The news each evening was horrifying. The shootings. The people carrying guns. And as an aside, the fires…wood-framed homes catch on fire quite frequently. Who would’ve thought?
Sometimes I think what I would do if the Germans or the Russians attacked Poland. (I usually have such thoughts when I am in my village house with the kids at night and I think about the German family who had to move out of my house years ago and the Polish family who moved in. I get weird thoughts at night.) How would I defend my family? We don’t own a gun. We have 2 axes and a pretty wonky pitchfork, but that’s all. And then I think about the probability of this scenario -my family standing alone against foreign invasion. What if the freedom of Poland depended on me and my shooting ability? Poland would be in deep shyte, if that were the case.
The way we behave in these cultures is different. I don’t behave as if someone could shoot me here in Poland. There in the US, I do. But who am I to question the right to bear arms protected in the United States Constitution? I’m just one, small person who would prefer to not get shot.
A quote from a nytimes article
Every day 80 Americans die from gunshots and an additional 120 are wounded, according to a 2006 article in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Those 80 Americans left their homes in the morning and went to work, or to school, or to a movie, or for a walk in their own neighborhood, and never returned. Whether they were dead on arrival or died later on in the hospital, 80 people’s normal day ended on a slab in the morgue, and there’s nothing any of us can do to get those people back.
And that is the human cost of our Second Amendment right. In my opinion, the cost is too high.
So I have a request for proponents of unlimited access to guns. Spend some time in a trauma center and see the victims of gun violence — the lucky survivors — as they come in bloody and terrified. Understand that our country’s blind embrace of gun rights made this violent tableau possible, and that it’s playing out each day in hospitals and morgues all over the country.
The nytimes article quoted above was written by Theresa Brown, an oncology nurse and the author of “Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between.”