Six days ago, a young idiot with multiple automatic weapons killed nine people in Roseburg, Oregon. As we are all reeling from the insanity and pain of this tragedy, it struck again a half-mile from my home. Steve Carter, a beloved teacher and counselor, was killed on a trail I’ve hiked many times, his dog shot also, apparently by three random young characters who stole his car and drove to Oregon.
The first event was horrific, of course, and I along with most of my friends immediately called for stricter gun control laws, licensing, something to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of unstable people. The second event had an opposite effect on me: I went and checked the automatic weapon I have in my house at 1:00am on a restless night, because I felt very afraid.
Most of my friends do not know that I was a competitive target shooter for six years, firing well over 100,000 rounds slowly and deliberately at harmless paper targets, capturing some medals and championships. I’m comfortable with guns in most forms, and even had Army ROTC training with fully automatic weapons in my teens. Once upon a time, I went hunting in the southern Arizona desert with a friend, killing several harmless rabbits and quail, then took them home and ate them. Once was enough, and I have no appetite for hunting ever since. However, I have inherited a variety of rifles and shotguns that I keep stored away, and I do have a classic Colt Model 1911 .45 automatic that I purchased for target shooting almost 40 years ago (all legally registered, by the way.) The Colt is an “antipersonnel device”, a gun designed for shooting people, even though it makes a good target weapon.
So here is the first conundrum. When I am afraid, I want to have the power of a gun at my disposal. Yet I am buddhist — with vows to avoid killing anything — and a liberal who would put legislation in place to improve society and reduce death by gunfire.
Meditation has given me the space to see much of how my ego operates. My fearful reaction is an ego response. When I breathe and meditate, I can dissolve the fear and regain a sense of balance. The power of a weapon is not needed, the universe is a good place, and the random act of three (possibly drug-addled and/or otherwise unbalanced) characters does not mean that I am in danger, or need the power of deadly weaponry.
But most of us don’t practice internal stabilization like that, and so the fact that Americans cling to their guns is not a surprise. I can easily feel the place where I want to do that, dammit. So the first conundrum just is, and I would be happy to insure or publicly declare or be tested for my weapon safety…but I’m not sure I am willing to just give up the Colt. Perhaps I would, but my ego would want to know that the measures around surrendering weapons were effective, so that others surrendered them too. Perhaps I’m not as good a buddhist as I thought I was. The part of me that creates safety, part of my core complex, still exists after decades of meditation. Hmm.
The second conundrum is about privacy and government. It turns out that the alleged killers of Steve Carter were identified by convenience store cameras and a random photo taken by someone else in the area. And the stolen 2003 VW Jetta had some kind of tracking ability, that enabled authorities to follow it to Oregon. When it’s revealed that our mobile phones keep a record of their location, and law-enforcement can access this info, we get all freaked out. When this capability is used to find the suspects, we are delighted.
Both conundrums are about trust. If I trusted my elected officials to have logical discussions and do the ‘right thing’, I could relax. I so admire the Australians, who have successfully done this; the Ozzies destroyed 20% of the guns in the country, and saw suicide rates plummet by 57% and homicide by 42%.
We do not trust our government, perhaps we haven’t been able to since the Nixon debacle more than 40 years ago.
We are not a nation divided about ideology, we are divided by trust. Here we are with a black president who is by all economic and social measures doing a fabulous job, unable to trust. AM radio pundits continue to pour venom about how bad ‘Obamacare’ is, how immigration is destroying us, Republicans create fake Benghazi investigations to change electorate opinion, and congressional action comes to a standstill, requiring the Supreme Court to deal with the backlog. Americans who trust the governmental process seem to be Democrats, those who do not seem to be Republicans.
As a person, I’ve had to heal my own trust issues to let go of weapons. As a nation, we must do the same. And it would really help if our congressional leadership and our media started consistently behaving in trustworthy ways. The Supreme Court is making good consistent decisions (not that I always agree with them). The president is exhibiting good, consistent leadership. It’s time for Congress to do the same. Then we can start to address our insane addiction to weapons.