Independence to blame?

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We’re an independent people.  From the Declaration of Independence on, Americans have liked to do it “our way”.  No one tells us what to do or where to go.  We’re free.  To protect this freedom, we’re always concerned about our rights, what’s ours and not having to sacrifice our “freedoms” for any reason.  Many of us hate to think our tax dollars help the unemployed. Those are our dollars, dammit.  A large portion of Americans say that small government is the key.  Let the market work itself out.  We don’t need regulation.  We’re smart.  Besides, it’s our “right” to do things how we want.

Do we really need each other? The popularity of the survivalist/zombie/prepper themed blogs and entertainment seems to bear something out: we fantasize about going it alone, conquering the end of days with just our rifle and our bug-out-bag (BOB).  Or maybe instead of bugging out, we’re going to hunker down, get some land, a diesel generator, a small armory and a german shepherd and greet anyone who steps on our land with a barrel in their face and a strong suggestion to leave.  Some families are spending tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing for some sort of apocalypse.

I confess, I’m not immune to this type of thinking.  I have a 72-hour plan.  I have bags ready to go in the event something forces  my family from our home.  I even have a rifle that is nearly identical to the one pictured above, along with hundreds of rounds, ready to bug out with us, along with other long guns and handguns.  Why?  Is the world ending or am I a sucker for some clever marketing and some far-fetched stories?  Probably both but tempered with some good ol’ common sense.  It’s good to be prepared, to be a boy scout (without the homophobia).  Even sites like ready.gov suggest having a 72-hour bag for emergencies.  The Red Cross just leaves out the part about having to conquer a zombie horde on the way out of town.

Is it something larger? These doomsday scenarios are fun, but unlikely.  Are they harmless, then? A kind of fantasy coupled with mental exercise in “what if”?  Are we just stockpiling otherwise useful supplies or are we isolating ourselves in more than a literal way?  I think it goes beyond the gun in the safe and the BOB in the closet.  I think we’re genuinely becoming needlessly suspicious of our neighbors.  Sensationalized news reports tell us every night of the latest sprees of shootings and killings and robberies and frauds.  What happens 1,500 miles away is beamed right into our living room, reminding us that the world is a dangerous place.  The viewer forgets that “if it bleeds it leads”.  These sensational news stories are ratings wonders.  No, now they’re necessary.  The other network is going to interview an eyewitness on scene so your network needs a relative of the deceased hugging a picture.  We need a shot of the sheet-covered body and the shell casings.  Add to this media madness the fact that many religious denominations warn their flock of an impending attack of the devil on the faithful, marking the end of the world at some climactic battle, and you have a genuinely freaked out culture.  God and Guns have us on edge.

As a society we used to sleep with our doors unlocked.  We used to turn to our neighbor, not away from them in suspicion.  Wasn’t there a time when we were all in this together?  When did that end?  When did everything that showed empathy, compassion or charity become socialism or weakness?  Don’t get me wrong, horrific events like the Newtown school massacre still draw us together in sorrow and empathy.  How long did it take, though, for us to bicker over how we felt the story should be covered, how our friends should cope with the news, what they should post in social media?  Now we’re mired in a gun debate that has been a longtime coming.

In the United States there have been 31 school shootings since that awful day at Columbine.  The rest of the globe had to endure the pain of only 14.  Our gun-hugging culture is ours alone.  We own it.  It’s our right.  It comes at a disgusting cost, though.  We’ve got our guns but we’re losing our kids.  Even now, in perhaps the most heart-wrenching event we’ve ever seen, there is incredible pushback against any kind of discussion of restrictions of firearms.  Why?  Because my “rights” may be infringed upon.  It’s about me.  These are my rights.  Never mind the right we have as a society to know our kids are coming home from school.  In this case, the needs of the one are outweighing the needs of the many.  That is unacceptable.

We can’t go it alone any longer. This individualistic, selfish, me-centric approach has cost us.  Few of us knew those kids in Newtown or their families.  But those were our kids.  At least they should be.  We are in this together.  We used to help each other.  We used to compromise.  We used to empathize.  Never would the thought, “yeah, but that takes away my rights” enter into mind at a time like this, let alone be uttered.  Is my ability to buy some 30-round mags for my AR15 more important than keeping such deadly tools out of the hands of a villain?  Should the convenience of buying a firearm at a gun show without a background check be so vital that a parent has to receive a terrible phone call after their child never got off the bus?

We’ve been so selfish about other things: taxes, social programs, marriage equality.  We can’t afford to be selfish any longer.  It is time to limit magazine capacity.  It is time to make it more difficult to get a gun.  Background checks must be required on any sale, even at a gun show as well as private transfers of firearms.  I understand that criminals aren’t known for following the rules or putting the needs of others ahead of their own.  I’m not ignorant enough to think that these villains won’t be able to get high-cap mags or find a way to avoid a background check.  But shouldn’t we do everything we can to make it as hard as possible for such dangerous weapons to make it into such horrible hands?

Our free-market economy has no concern for the kindergarten class that was forever torn from their families.  In fact, sadly, that tragedy has further fueled the gun industry.  We all need to buy more guns to protect ourselves from all those people buying more guns.  Capitalism at its finest.  The opportunity is here.  It’s our right to sell more guns.  We can’t be bothered with regulations.  We don’t mind having our Sudafed purchase tracked (because drugs are evil), but we expect to be able to buy 500 rounds at Wal-Mart without intrusion.  The market demands it.  Where is the market that values a child’s life?  What index rates how 20 kindergarteners compare to magazine sales?  Are there actuaries who rate the risk not for the children but for the gun industry?  Sadly there are.

Our independence has driven us to great heights. It should never be discounted.  We should never be ashamed of our individuality.  However, we must at times yield what is ours individually to what is ours as a nation.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  It’s not weakness.  To the contrary, it’s what has made us great before.  Compromise, empathy and sacrifice can make us great again.  Giving up something we want for ourselves so that others can be safe should be an honor.  I’m not suggesting we give up our means to protect ourselves.  I can assure  you I don’t intend to give up my weapons.  However, I have no problem giving up some convenience at my next firearm purchase.  It does me no harm to have to reload a little more at the range.  I am no less safe carrying a 10-round magazine in my Springfield than the 16-round version.  It’s time to compromise.  We can’t bear the pain of another one of these tragedies.  Let’s take care of each other.  Our communal spirit can actually strengthen our independence.  If we all face the end of the world together instead of alone, maybe the world won’t have to end at all.

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