Monday, December 17, 2012

how high a price

It takes a lot to get me to write about politically charged subjects and share them on my blog. I know I don't have a large readership, but still I don't want to attract the ugliness that exists in political discourse these days. I've been working on this essay since the shooting in Colorado and it seems that now is the right time for me to share my thoughts. The irony of finishing this essay on ninth anniversary of the day my brother died in a ski accident, or that it's eight days before Christmas is not lost on me.

For a long time I have been thinking about the right to bear arms, and the risks involved. Those Many who choose to carry a weapon, do so, presumably, because they want to protect themselves and loved ones. And that to me is a sad statement about humanity and our society as whole. The fact that we need to protect ourselves against violence from others breaks my heart. This is not who we are meant to be.

I learned how to shoot when I was growing up, and I didn't like it. I knew that what I held in my hands could be used to deliberately end a life. I didn't want that responsibility, even then.

I carried weapons every where I went in Afghanistan. I was prepared to use them. While I was in pre-deployment training, I knew that I had to overcome my reluctance to point a gun at a fellow human being. So in my head, I went there. I went to that place where I could actually point a gun at another person, pull the trigger and watch what happened as a bullet struck and did mortal damage. I went there again and again, because I didn't want to be the weak link and have someone on my team be in danger because of my inability to act.

My heart broke again and again as I went there. I cried long and hard about what I was forcing myself to do. This was the stuff of nightmares and horrid fantasy, and I was confronting it in my head. There are movies that I will never watch because I know I will see awful violence in them, and there I was reluctantly and deliberately creating my own violent fantasy movie. I prayed, as I never prayed before that I would be able to do what I needed to do to protect others, that I would be able to actually shoot someone to stop them from hurting someone on my team. Imagine that paradox; praying to my Father in Heaven, the creator of all life, to be able to kill and end the life of His child if needed.

Thankfully, I didn't have to use those weapons while I was there. Every member of my team returned home safe and without lasting physical injury. I came back home, boxed up my horrific fantasies, made peace with myself and God, and got on with my life.

Life in Washington, DC isn't always fun. I was once mugged at gun point. Being on the receiving end of that kind of violation is scary, and having a gun pointed at my mid-section... Well, just try to imagine it yourself. My home was broken into and belongings stolen. Both times, I was safe. I only lost things which were easily replaced.

Had I been carrying a weapon would it have made a difference in either case? No, I don't believe so. I walked away safe from the mugging because I did what the perpetrator told me to do; I handed over my purse and phone. I was not present when my home was robbed. If I had a weapon, chances are it would have been stolen and fallen into the hands that could have used it for ill. I walked away from both incidents refusing to give another ounce of power to the individuals responsible. I made clear choices to let go and move forward.

I have also made a choice not to carry or own a weapon. I believe that if you do, then you must be prepared to use it. You must be able to picture yourself using it against someone who might do you harm. Having been there and done that, that's not how I want to live my life. Nor is that who I want to be.

Think about it for a second... A person who carries a gun is prepared to use it. Whether a person has obtained the gun legally or not, they are prepared to use it to injure another person or end a life. And people who choose to do this legally are supposed to make me, all of us, feel safer somehow.

The right to bear arms comes with a great risk. And everyday there are more and more people left to wonder if the risk is worth it, because they've experienced the price first hand.

I do not know if anyone with a weapon could have stopped the killer in the movie theater, or in a school, or a church. It seems foolish to me to play the "if game" and it does not change a thing. It also seems a bit arrogant and disrespectful. None of us truly know what we would do in a situation until we are there.

I understand and have faced the hard realities of our day head on in some very personal ways. All I know is that for me, right now, owning a gun is something I am not willing to do. I know this might change at some point and I am okay with that possibility.

We need meaningful change in our gun laws with regard to assault weapons. We need to somehow make it a little more difficult for people with mental illness or violent histories to get weapons.

Somehow we need to take care of people who have mental illnesses and prevent them doing such violence. This moving and powerful essay by Lisa Long recounts her nightmarish life with her 13 year old son, and the difficulties in getting treatment for him. Her fears that he will become the next monster are real. We need to make changes in how we take care of families like this one. I have no answers and I do not know the correct way to go about doing any of this, but something must change.

As a nation we cannot afford to watch as twenty children are buried in the coming days, and simply say, "No, you cannot take away my right to bear arms. Make no changes to our gun laws, because if you do then my rights will trampled upon." If we do that then we are disrespecting those children and their brokenhearted families who are left paying a price way too high for one man's right to bear arms. We are telling the families of the innocent victims everywhere that the loss of their children and loved ones is indeed the price just right for our right to bear arms. And to me, this is just as horrific as a lone gunman walking into any school, mall, movie theater or church, and killing the innocent.

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

What a thoughtful, beautiful essay. I knew you had to do some very hard things for your training and deployment, but it had not entered my mind that of course you would need to be truly prepared to shoot to injure or kill. Thank goodness for the kindness of your heart.