Sometimes it feels like I grew up with a gun in my hand…probably because I did. Everyone I knew did. Going out in the woods? Wear sturdy boots and take the .410 snake charmer because there are copperheads and timber rattlers out there, just leave the black snakes alone – or if you get a chance catch one and bring it back to the barn – because they kill rats. Walking fence? Take the .22 – you might get a chance to shoot a rabbit or two for supper. Going to the barn? Take the .22 and see if you can get a shot at that damned rat since the black snakes we catch and turn loose in the barn make a beeline for the sileage pit as soon as they’re out of the gunny sack.
I am the resident gun nut around here, which we define as someone who owns way more guns than they need but not nearly as many as they want. That’s me. I have guns I talk about like they are my children and I give them names. When I was growing up, guns were part of our lives and we used them judiciously. No one hunted for sport. Everyone ate what they hunted, and I knew people who ate because they hunted. I knew people who filled their freezers with rabbit and quail and pheasant, but sat out deer season; but I also knew people who planned their entire year around deer season and never hunted birds or small game. No one threatened anyone else with them. They were respected for what they were – they were made to kill. Gun control may have meant that you could hit what you were shooting at, but it was also meant you could control your temper. It was simply understood in that culture that you just didn’t shoot at people. Period.
Then I grew up, and I took a career path that put that reality up against the one filled with the carnage that I dealt with every day when I put on my uniform and went to work saving the lives of people who, for the most part, ended up crossing paths with me because they were dumbasses, or at least lacked the good judgment to keep themselves out of danger. It really is that simple. When it comes to gunshot wounds, not that many are random, and the number of innocent victims is dwarfed by the number of people engaging in – ahem – high risk activity who end up catching a bullet.
Let me tell you a story…This happened at Research Medical Center in Kansas City. RMC is an inner-city hospital with a trauma center in the southeast area of Kansas City. This happened in the summer of 2004. Dude gets shot in the ass and in the bottom of the foot. He drives himself to the hospital, and damned near knocks the glass doors to the ambulance bay off the tracks hurtling his car toward the ER. He leaves his shotgun in the front seat, gets out of the car dripping blood, and hobbles to the trauma bay. He lays down on the gurney, face down, and waits for us to swing into action. When we cut the clothes off him little bitty ziploc baggies of rock cocaine, foils of tar heroin and small bags of sticky green pot flew all over the room. I am the person from the lab, I have to help the cops catalog this stuff for the crime lab. I turn around and look at the cop who is responding to this incident and say “I’m not touching that shit.” I have his clothes to bag up for the crime lab, but first I check for contents, and I find something in his back pocket. There are seven hundred dollar bills, folded over and covered in blood. A bullet hole right through the center. The cop who was cataloging the dope he had just crawled around the room on his hands and knees looking for looked at me and, with a mischevious grin said “I’m not touching that shit.”
Later someone asked him how he knew where to go? He responded that he had been brought to that room the other two times he had been shot.
The thing is – I have a thousand stories like that. For every hunting accident I saw, there were a hundred cases of using a firearm to settle a grudge or an argument or a twenty dollar drug debt.
The smell of a gunshot trauma was the first thing that hit me when I was a young medic. It is, for want of a better word, distinctive. It is a co-mingling of olfactory offenses. The blood and the urine and the emesis and the bowel content…and the lingering aroma of the black powder. The sickening sweetness of the cologne of a young man, mingles with his blood and body fluids, to generate a sickening hybrid of a smell; and it is the only thing emanating from his lifeless body. His eyes are usually not closed, his tongue is purple and protruded. The sponges and bloody sheets and clothes litter the floor of the trauma bay, waiting for collection by the forensics person who will be in charge of the chain of custody; and the victim lies there, waiting for the medical examiner, or if we need the room – and we always need the room – security to come take the body to the cooler.
When my realities collided, the tricorn hat got knocked off the Second Amendment, and I started putting firearms in their proper context.
Guns changed society in immeasurable ways. Guns changed geopolitics when a single shot from a handgun felled Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the end result was a world war.
A mail-order deer rifle killed an American president and yet another handgun killed that President’s brother just months before he would have been elected President himself.
When I say that guns changed everything, I am not exagerating. They are the biggest god-damned deal mankind ever unleashed upon ourselves.
If you don’t think about the fact that you have in your hands an instrument that has the raw, unbridled power to change the course of history in the blink of an eye every time you touch one…you should not have access to a gun.
There is no question that we have a serious problem in this nation with gun crimes.
The question is…what the fuck do we do about it? We live in a somewhat free country, and the fact that ordinary citizens have that power I just waxed poetic about enshrined in the Constitution is ostensibly a pillar of our freedom – but most of the folks packin’ today I quite frankly can’t imagine as patriots and freedom fighters, so can we take the tri-cornered hat off the second amendment?
We all need a gut-check.
We need to start by fully enforcing the laws on the books, but we can do something more, and we ought to, even though it will be politically volatile and make the right wing freak out and buy even more guns and ammo in their never-ending preparation for the always-coming (when there is a Democrat in the White House) revolution.
We need to bring a basic framework of laws into standard compliance across all 50 states, with common sense adaptations. States need to share information. Thorough background checks for all firearms purchases should be mandatory, including psychiatric/psychological occurrences. I would go so far as to mandate that private sales, those currently unregulated, would have to take place through the county sheriffs office; and any unregistered sale proven in a court of law carry a stiff penalty, with mandatory prison time and the loss of the right to bear arms after a conviction.
I have been saying this for years: All the states need to have the same basic framework of gun laws because there are a few “donor states” with lax laws that flood the streets with cheap guns and that is why we have an epidemic of gun crimes clogging our ERs and our court dockets.
Now I am not alone in saying it. A coalition of fifty mayors – including Mark Funkhouser, the Mayor of Kansas City and someone who I have given no small amount of grief lately – has released a landmark study [.pdf] that analyzed date from the ATF that basically boils down to “Well, hell, we could have just listened to Tammy and saved a shitload of money.” I was right. Just ten states supply almost half of the guns out there used in street crimes, with Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky leading the pack.
We can’t make guns go away. And I don’t want them to. But we can – and should – make new ones harder to get, and we could control the ones that are out there by actually enforcing the laws that are on the books right now and getting serious about bringing the ones that are out there currently untraceable into the system one-by-one. It ain’t ideal, but it’s a start – until smarter people than me can get serious about this. Which will require standing up to the NRA and telling them to stop whining like whipped pups that the Second Amendment is under assault because the majority of people – who are not NRA members – want gun owners to have some rules they have to follow or they lose their right to carry weapons that were designed with one purpose – killing – in mind.
A good place to start would be with passing a basic federal gun control law that established purchase limits (who the hell needs 25 handguns at once that isn’t a licensed dealer? I’ll tell you who…an unlicensed dealer.) But the odds of something common sense like that happening are nil in this political climate, with teabillies in high dudgeon and an islamofascistcommunistsocialistnazipaganmooslimkenyanusurper in the White House.
So hold the states hostage and point their own guns at them to do so. If they take in more money than they send to Washington, limit the amount of money that flows back to them to dollar-for-dollar until they toughen up their gun laws at the state level. That ought to get the attention of states like Mississippi, West Virginia and Kentucky in a right-quick hurry.