An answer for our ills?

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 6/12/20

Inside the city limits where I live, it’s illegal to discharge a firearm.

That means as much as I might like, once in a while, to shoot a .22 rifle at soda cans for a few minutes’ thrill, I …

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An answer for our ills?

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Inside the city limits where I live, it’s illegal to discharge a firearm.

That means as much as I might like, once in a while, to shoot a .22 rifle at soda cans for a few minutes’ thrill, I can’t. With neighbors close — and a .22 bullet capable of traveling 2,000 yards — and not to mention I rarely take a notion to shoot anything, I don’t quibble with the legal restriction.

But nearby, just beyond the invisible boundary line where the city limit meets the county line, the law loosens and property owners may — responsibly, of course, and adhering to other applicable laws — fire away.

And open fire some folks do.

I can’t see the origin of the gunfire. It’s too far away and there’s woods in between. And certainly there’s never been any physical evidence, such as a stray bullet my way, that would alarm me.

But my ears bear certain witness to the occasional barrage of gunfire; not that I begrudge anyone their pleasures, including target practice, as long as no one is getting hurt.

Occasionally when I’m outside in my yard — in addition to being a safe zone for soda pop cans, it’s a veritable bird sanctuary this time of year, and usually quiet — I can hear in the close distance a bevy of gunfire commence with such gusto, and for such extended periods, that I wonder what transgressions those poor cans over the county line committed. It makes one wonder: what’s with all the shooting?

Of course these mighty and lengthy displays of sound are not just audible outdoors, though it’s outdoors where they are most dramatically experienced. We were watching the evening news a night or two ago when the nearby shooting began. Hearing the initial rounds, and in awe of the shooter’s stamina, we muted the TV’s sound to better behold the long succession of shots, an almost comically absurd performance punctuated (eventually) with a cannonade-concluding boom, pointing towards Tannerite, more so than tin, as the likely target.

The sometimes sideshow — it’s only an occasional thing, otherwise I might move — ended, and other than ostentatious (sometimes it’s so persistent and intense I wonder, truly, if the zombie apocalypse isn’t underway) had caused no harm or foul.

Who am I, as I said — professed, though inactive, target shooter of cans that I am — to begrudge another person’s lawful hobby?

“Hobby,” however, wasn’t among reasons cited by CBS News in an April report about what was fueling “record numbers” of gun purchases in the U.S. in March. “One store manager told CBS News,” the network reported, “that the main reasons customers said they were buying firearms is for protection during quarantine and fear of the unknown.”

And those heavily-armed folks on the grounds of Michigan’s state capital last month, there to protest stay-at-home orders, looked more like militiamen than hobbyists.

Gun sales, which tend to rise following incidents of mass shootings, may serve as a gauge of human fear and uncertainty; but with gun violence a huge public health concern, resulting in more than 30,000 deaths every year in the United States, and with firearms the second-leading cause of death (behind vehicle crashes) among young people, stockpiling weapons would seem a dubious and ineffective balm.

I’m not convinced the unknowns along the road ahead are best met with bullets; if it’s a “Mad Max” or “Hunger Games” future that’s feared or anticipated, I hope that by the actions of the armed discontented, such a future doesn’t become self-fulfilling. It isn’t reassuring, though, when the armed Michiganites refer, as they did, to their demonstration on the capitol as “Judgment Day.”

Since March, with people absent from such places due to COVID-19, there have been zero incidents of school or church shootings, two phenomena we had — as we had with racism and the ugly ways it manifests — seemingly grown accustomed to, as if it’s routine, or at least beyond our ability to tackle.

It’s been a welcome reprieve, of course, this break in people being shot and killed for worshiping and studying.

But it’s unlikely, based on historic record, that it’s more than mere reprieve.

CBS News’ April report on gun sales further noted that “gun safety advocates fear students are not only facing more dangerous situations at home, but could also face a major increase in shootings when they return to school.” The news agency quoted Igor Volsky, executive director of a group called Guns Down American (their message is “fewer guns, safer communities”): “When the pandemic ends and we emerge from this physical distancing reality, the guns will remain. Will there be increased mass shootings, school shootings, shootings at home, at work, at concerts?”

There have been many moments that could have been — and seemed, at the moment, to be — tipping points in America’s gun violence problem: Sandy Hook, the Charleston church shooting, Stoneman Douglas High School. But those moments passed, faded into history and we forged forward without much change.

Right now, it’s racism — our long history of it and it’s prominent place in our present — that is rightly at the forefront of our national consciousness now, the death of George Floyd its tipping point.

Will this moment, too — as powerful and necessary ad overdue as it feels — pass without real action?

We’ve got problems. We need to fix them.

Firearms — for all their sound and fury and whatever comfort possessing and brandishing them may hold for some — would seem the worst tool we could reach for now to cure our current ills.


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