I grew up in a small town where the right to own and carry guns was deeply embedded into the psyche of most people. Many of my friends in School, although too young to hunt themselves, were part of families that were very active at the local gun club.
When I was about 14 or 15 years old, I got to go the gun range with one of these friends and watch the men take turns shooting a military style, semi-automatic, assault rifle similar to the one in the photo above.
I remember daydreaming for months after that experience, about having to defend our town from some sort of Red Dawn like military invasion, or even our own government turning against us. When you get down to the meat of it, my young brain wanted a good excuse to shoot and kill somebody with that gun. The gun inspired me. The look and feel of it made me feel powerful at a time in my life when I had very little power.
Much later, in the summer of 2011, at the age of 33, I went shooting again. This time it was with a stag party of close friends, using shotguns to shoot clay pigeons at a gun club in Massachusetts. As a group we weren't very good (there were a couple of outstanding individuals), but it was a lot of fun. The shotguns we were using carried a maximum of 4 shells, and, after a little practice, they were as comfortable in my hands as a golf club or football. Then one of the club members brought out a semi automatic pistol with a laser sight to show off. He removed the clip and presented it to me to demonstrate that it was not loaded and then encouraged me to hold it, exclaiming "now, doesn't that feel badass?!".
It made me sick to my stomach. This weapon was obviously designed for the efficient destruction of human life. The feeling it gave me was in complete contrast to the shotgun I had just shouldered to knock down clay pigeons. I had gone from a bit of sporting equipment to a death machine, and the contrast was palpable.
So, why were my feelings towards an assault weapon so different in 2011 than they were in 1993? Well, in 2011 I was older, more experienced, and had a small family. In 1993 I was a powerless and confused adolescent boy. By all accounts I was of sound mind as a teenager, but imagine if I wasn't. Imagine if I was on the receiving end of all the bullying. Imagine if there was something a little "off" in my young brain. Now, imagine me entering my 20's, when a mental disorder typically begins to manifest itself, and the feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness that I would be feeling. Now, remember how that gun made me feel? Remember the inspiration it gave me to kill?
There are three things that I think need to be done:
Absolutely refuse to let the @NRA convince us that what we need is an arms race between "good guys" and "bad guys".
Find a way to intercept the mental conditions that our young people are facing (especially our boys) before they manifest into early adulthood. Calling law enforcement is currently our only option for these people, and that is a sad state of affairs.
Clearly and legally define the guns which inspire killing, outlaw them, and then implement a buyback program. Do not grandfather these weapons into our society.
Framing the Debate
I know the cultural origins of the belief in independence that these weapons represent in the minds of most rural people. I grew up in that culture. The NRA has succeeded in framing the debate as one between people who "know guns" and those who "don't get it". We need to re-frame the debate, away from the "us vs them" mentality.
We need to acknowledge the beliefs and fears of others, without belittling them, while standing firm to make the changes we know we need to make to remove certain types of weaponry from our culture. Everyone knows, even people who tie weaponry to independence, that young men and assault weapons don't mix.
Psychological Studies and Guns
Does anyone know of any studies done regarding how assault weapons make young men feel? The impact certain types of guns make on their fragile minds? I'd love to know about any information you might be able to find in the comments.