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I grew up surrounded by guns.

I never thought much of them. They were my father’s. I didn’t touch unless invited to do so. It wasn’t an unspoken rule so much as a commandment more fearful than those spouted by the pastor at church.

He wasn’t much of a hunter, though he’d occasionally bring home his friend’s animal carcass flesh, cook it, and get confused when his girls turned their nose up at Bambi being in the spaghetti sauce. (We both ended up vegetarian, but I’m not sure how much of this was chicken and how much was egg – especially since neither of us want to eat those anymore either.)

His arsenal was because he liked guns. He liked to collect the old ones the way I like old books. I don’t read the old books for fear I’ll spill wine on them, accidentally tear one of their delicate pages, or smudge its spine with my greasy human fingers. He never shot the old guns other than to clean them out, make sure all their parts work, replaced the ones that didn’t. He was a Smith by birth and a gunsmith by hobby. Still is.

He likes to buy used guns at yard sales and gun shows and repair them. He’s probably spent close to fifty years around guns, working on guns, talking about gun safety. He still managed to accidentally shoot a hole in the wall of his bedroom trying to take apart a jammed up old rifle. But he lives in a rural area. He had it pointed at the yard and the wife and dog were in the house. No harm, no foul. Except to the drywall. And his pride.

He has a concealed-carry permit. He carries his pistol just about everywhere. It makes him fee safe. Because he used to be a volunteer firefighter. And he used to be a volunteer EMT. And he used to repair telephone lines in dodgy parts of town. Because he lives in a rural area and he’s sometimes had problems, mostly with wild animals threatening him or his pets and his pistol is handier on walks or sitting on the porch than a rifle or shotgun.

When I took the conceal carry class in my state, he insisted I also read more about the consequences of carrying – even though I didn’t actually plan to apply for the license. I own a shotgun. I may purchase a handgun for target practice. Like him, I find that fun. Shooting it outside of a range? I have no plans to do that. I have no desire to do that.

He never has either. He’s a marksman sort of shooter. He likes competition and camaraderie and, now that he’s older, dressing up like an old west cowboy and firing antiques at paper. Growing up, he and the neighbor used to hang out in their sheds and barns reloading rounds, cleaning, discussing like TV dads hung out at sports bars and bowling alleys.

That said?

Yeah, we need stricter gun laws.

Do we need them to keep people like my dad from shooting at paper? No. Will they keep people like mass murders from harming our innocent? Maybe not. Do we still need them? Yes.

Because it’s harder for me to go buy decongestant than it is for me to go buy a gun. Why? Do we need to ban decongestant? No. Do we need to acknowledge than some people will misuse it? Probably. Does regulating decongestant stop meth sales and production? No.

So, what’s the point? It makes it harder. It’s another step. Let’s say I lose my job and decide meth sales is the way to make ends meet. I get to the store, ready to spend my last paycheck on a fat pile of cold and flu medication. But they stop me. Could I get some people to buy it for me? Could I drive all around and get it myself? Could I rob the joint? Sure. Could it also buy me the time to decide this is a terrible idea and maybe just pick up an application instead? Yeah.

Let’s say you’re pissed, irate, over the edge crazy-mad at your coworker. He slept with your wife while flunking your daughter and wrecking your sports car by driving it through your favorite bar. Or something. You want him dead. You head to the store to buy a gun. But they make you sign papers. They make you have a license to own it (not just to carry it). You need a license to buy the ammunition. You have to take a class in gun safety and learn how to hold it and all the legal ramifications of firing it outside the range. You have to pass a background check. By the time you’ve done all that, you forgot why you were mad at your coworker. You’ve gotten a new job and a girlfriend and hang out at a trendy new bar closer to her apartment.

In other words, you had time to chill.

But, you say, you’re not going to jump through those hoops. You’re a criminal and they do what they want. They do now. There’s no difference. So why bother? Why make it harder for Mr. and Ms. Responsible? Because if you have to be licensed to own a gun, to buy ammo, and you have to re-certify your license ever five years or so by taking a refresher class in gun laws and safety, you know you’re not part of the problem. (I picked five years because that’s how often teachers in this state have to re-certify and if I have to take classes and prove I still know how to explain vocabulary and multiplication, then I don’t see how expecting someone to do the same to walk around with a loaded weapon (even if they’re just walking around the stall at the range) is a terrible idea.) Eventually, the number of illegal guns will decline. It would take a while. Perhaps years. (I know, Americans aren’t good at “patience.”)

Because you remember how I said my dad got a gun at a yard sale? One that was jammed? One he shot a hole in a wall with? Because that gun shouldn’t have been allowed to be sold at a yard sale. Yard sales are for old Air Supply tapes and Members Only jackets, not deadly weapons. If someone less experienced had bought that gun, he/she could have shot a spouse, a kid, an innocent neighbor. If someone with neighbors, someone with kids…That could have gone differently.

I need a license to drive my car. It’s big (compared to a human) and it’s dangerous when used improperly. I had to take a class. I have to follow rules. I have to renew the license. I have to carry insurance. I have to have a title showing I bought it from somewhere – even if it was my cousin and I paid him a dollar (note: where do I find such a cousin?). If it turns out there’s a problem, like my cousin stole the car from his neighbor, his dad, the mall parking lot, he either won’t have a title to give me (red flag not to buy) or what he’ll give me is a forgery, which can be tracked back to him).

You have a gun? Sure. Where’s your license? The title? This thing came from a reputable seller, not some kid on the corner, right? You have a permit to purchase ammo? Sure. No, sir, I can’t sell you rounds for a gun you don’t legally own. No, sir, I can’t sell you 100,000 rounds at one time. No, sir, there’s no reason for you to need an automatic weapon or an assault rifle. If you think you need one of those to hunt deer or wild boar or pheasant, you’re not a very good hunter and should probably stay indoors for the safety of all involved.

I know there’s no getting all the guns off the streets in the US. We aren’t England or Canada. Taking up arms is coded into our cultural history. The vast numbers out in the wild today are just too great and the culture that protects them and the economy that profits from them is enormous as well. It’s like putting toothpaste back in the tube only large scale: like trying to get everyone to put their toothpaste back it the tube – and trying to get Crest and Colgate to back your efforts.

Would more licensing help? Yes. Would it solve the problem? No. Would it make a dent in the problem? Possibly not for ten, fifteen, twenty years. Long enough for it to become normal like car licensing. Long enough for it to be accepted, for the kinks to get worked out, for it to become part of the culture.

Will it solve the vast mental health problems in this country? No.

That’s another system. Another massive problem. Our jails are full of mentally ill people who can’t afford their medication, don’t take their medication because they don’t like the side effects, can’t get access to their medication, have been prescribed medications that counteract one another or that don’t work as promised. Our psychiatric hospitals are full of people with similar problems who either make a little more money or committed slightly less heinous crimes or who voluntarily show up for help.

We, as a nation, are stressed out, stretched thin, overwhelmed, and overburdened much of the time. Our returning soldiers are often ticking time bombs. But so are our fire fighters and bridge tenders and single parents who are a missed paycheck away from homelessness.

Licensing guns won’t solve that problem. That problem requires both economic reform that ensures all that “trickle down” money eventually trickles down instead of overseas, that keeps those at the top from skimming off everything but the rat feces in the bottom of the pot, and medical/mental health reform that gets people the help they need (and doesn’t always just hand them a pill and send them on their way) no matter how much money they have, that supports families struggling with children affected by mental illness rather than shunning them or abandoning them or blaming them.

What I know won’t solve the problem is arming teachers. Holy Jack Weasels is that not the answer!

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