We’re led to believe mass shootings are the cost of freedom, and the real issue lies elsewhere. But new policies are needed for a popular but age-old amendment—or we will continue to lose our children.
MICHIGAN—I was 10 years old when I got my first gun. I remember it being Christmas morning, and my brother and I were sitting on the living room floor in our childhood home. I sat in the room, adorned with a photo of former National Rifle Association President Charlton Heston on the wall and a mounted World War II-era rifle mounted above the fireplace, and reached for a gift that was long and wrapped in green Christmas paper.
It was a Daisy-brand BB rifle, a short, pump-action number that I later fitted with a scope so I could hit clay targets from several feet away. I’d spend hours on the back deck at my parent’s house, shooting at targets I lined on the edge of the woods, often without supervision.
Guns were a normal thing to me, having been surrounded by them from a young age. It was a cultural thing where I lived, on a stretch of road in mid-Michigan, near where the rural counties of Shiawassee, Saginaw, Clinton, and Gratiot intersect. You couldn’t drive a mile down the road without seeing deer blinds visible on the edge of a cornfield. In November, people would drive their trucks around, the legs and antlers of their latest kill sticking out of the bed.
My dad had a gun safe with a glass front, and inside I could see a series of rifles lined up. The safe was always locked with a key tucked high above where I could reach. Even so, firearm safety was stressed in my house. We were told numerous times that even if a gun has a “safety” mechanism, there’s no such thing as a “safe” gun.
It was for this reason that I never really understood those clamoring for stricter gun laws growing up. To me, these normal tools for hunting and sport were dangerous, sure, but shouldn’t we just raise awareness of firearm safety?
As I write this, I’m sure a lot of people are doing what they’ve done numerous times after Columbine, Sandy Hook, and countless other mass shootings. They are trying to point the finger at the person pulling the trigger, rather than the trigger itself. But are we missing something?
It’s a politicized issue where you often hear people cite the Second Amendment as we all grapple with the deadly week at Oxford High School, where four people were killed and seven others were hospitalized from a school shooting. In fact, it is the deadliest school shooting in the US this year, according to The New York Times.
When you’re born into a Second Amendment family, you do whatever you can to find excuses for tragedies like what took place on Nov. 29, 2021, and every time before. But what if we overcame this modern day dilemma with policy and action rather than thoughts and prayers until it happens again?
The importance of the Second Amendment was essentially preached in my house growing up. And it always seemed to make sense. In my family—and across Michigan, really—guns are essential for deer hunting and other forms of sport. We’d shoot clay pigeons in the backyard or set up targets and have friendly competitions of who could shoot the target more accurately. I rarely won, but it didn’t make it less fun.
As soon as I knew what the Second Amendment was, I believed it was one of the most important things. It was my right to have these guns, and nobody could take that away. But as I got older, the significance of the Second Amendment paled in comparison to the hundreds of people killed because they were in a classroom the day someone decided to bring a gun to school.
It’s 2021, which means we’ve been having this conversation for too long, but it might be worth taking another look at how we interpret the Second Amendment, because its origin is rooted in an era from long ago.
What need do people have to bear arms? While I have enjoyed hunting with family members, spending a weekend up north at “Deer Camp”—a fancy name for a bunch of men sitting around a table, drinking beer, playing cards, and sharing stupid jokes—it goes without saying that I’d be more than happy to never do that again if it meant that 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin and Justin Shilling, 16-year-old Tate Myre, or Hana St. Juliana, just 14 years old, were with us today.
You could even argue that the cultural need to have guns is only persisting because of the presence of guns. I’m willing to guess that the reason most people feel the need to have firearms is the same reason you feel the need to have a security system at your house on a well-lit street in town. We’ve grown paranoid. Think shootings at your local school district have something to do with that? I do.
The Second Amendment was originally formed for protection against foreign entities. “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” the amendment reads.
But in 2021, we’re not talking about militias when we cite the Second Amendment. The amendment is used as a loophole to carry guns freely, and when those guns are used for violence, it’s touted as an immovable and unmistakable part of our constitution that we can’t reimagine. These shootings? We’re led to believe they’re the cost of freedom, and the real issue lies elsewhere.
Whenever a tragedy like what happened at Oxford High School happens, the same argument is presented. One group will say guns are the issue. Another group, supporting gun rights, believes the issue is deeper than firearms, that mental health is to blame for school shootings.
Isn’t it possible that both are to blame? Are those of us who support the Second Amendment turning a blind eye to how important interpreting and reimagining this law is? How can we stop battling this from two different sides of the political aisle as more and more of our children are lost?
I remember reading an editorial from Robert Sheehan, the chief executive officer of the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, who was critical of those using mental health as a catch-all scapegoat following the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
“In the wake of the Florida school shooting, I am calling, as are many others in the mental health and public safety arenas across the country, that we stop derailing this difficult but sorely needed examination by scapegoating, in the wake of tragic mass shootings, those with mental illness, while doing nothing to address this nation’s gun violence nor its mental health needs,” Sheehan wrote.
He went on in the story to bring up that, statistically, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Well, sure. But I think it’s safe to say that someone doesn’t make the decision to take a gun to school and shoot their classmates unless they have been dealing with their own form of mental illness.
In fact, many mass shooters in America suffered from a mental illness that wasn’t being treated when they committed their crime, according to a report from USNews.
But another point raised by Sheehan is that if mental health was to blame for these acts of violence, other countries would be seeing similar incidents. They aren’t. That’s where lax gun laws in the US come into play.
In the US, where a firearm can be purchased quickly, like at a reduced price for a Black Friday sale, it can also be used for violence quickly. It presents the opportunity for violence.
That’s what happened in Michigan, when a man bought a gun on Black Friday and his son used it just days later to shoot 11 classmates at Oxford High School.
Only time will tell what the 15-year-old accused in the shooting was dealing with that motivated him to do what he did, but already we can say that his access to the gun used in the shooting was made too easy.
And it looks unlikely to change, unless more people shift their perspective. The day after Tuesday’s shooting, Michigan Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers) said he plans to introduce a bill that would let schools keep lockboxes for teachers to keep weapons in case of an emergency, as if fighting weapons with more weapons in a classroom is the answer.
We see, too, whenever we are faced with another tragedy that lawmakers often either say a bunch of words with little substance, or they say nothing at all. In this most recent instance, in addition to Carra’s belief that middle-aged educators armed with guns is the way to protect students, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey was asked about whether state leaders would offer a bill aimed at protecting students or if they’d continue offering “thoughts and prayers.” His response?
“If we get obsessed with eliminating all risks, we will then develop and evolve into a country we won’t recognize.”
Well, Mike, we currently live in a country that is easily recognizable as the only nation on the planet that has mass shootings with some regularity. Maybe change is good?
As a parent who will, in a few years, be sending my child to school, I feel strongly about change. I would feel much safer if our nation had safer gun laws. Maybe we slow the process down, make sure more thorough background checks are used, that the person getting the gun has the means to own it safely. Safer gun laws would allow people to still practice their Second Amendment right but in a way that doesn’t lead to others being killed.
The Second Amendment isn’t going anywhere, and that’s okay. But we all need to stop hiding behind it. The right to bear arms means something entirely different in 2021 than in the 18th century. It’s time we start updating our interpretation, our minds and our traditions, so we can do what we need to protect our families and future generations.