Mass Shootings. A Gun Story

San Bernardino. Mass Shootings. These events result in predictable reactions from all sides– it’s exhausting and, ultimately, pointless. Is there really any need for me to express my outrage? Or for the militia to defend their constitutional rights? Those methods aren’t working.

When a mass shooting happens, we immediately start sorting people into their baskets: mentally ill, terrorist, criminal. Then we begin to argue about how people are sorted into those baskets (hint, it’s a skin pigment thing). Next we argue about what the founding father’s meant when they wrote the 2nd Amendment (hint, there wasn’t a National Guard). We move on to the arguments about gun permits, background checks, and whether criminals give a shit about either one. And finally, when we’re a week or so out from the latest tragic event, we gather up our arguments and deflate back into our corners, ready and waiting for the next opportunity to bring it all out again. Because it’ll be the 689th time we say the same thing, but maybe this time the other side will finally get it.

It’s time we change the story.

And by we, I mean all the semi-sane people on both sides. Pro-gun folks, I’ve been in your forums– I know, and YOU know, that some of your tribe are one roll of aluminum foil away from the fluoride poisoning conspiracy

Sidenote: The government’s fluoride poisoning plan example was a real thread on a gun rights forum. I read all 22 pages– guess what? All of them would defend Tin Foil’s right to bear arms, because Amendments! And most of them typed long messages that, in summary, told Tin Foil that he was going a little too bat-shit about the water poisoning plan.

All of this to say that I understand that liking/owning/loving guns isn’t the piece that turns a person into a gun-nut. Just like I hope that sometimes the reverse is true, that they know, deep down inside, that you can be liberal without being a dirty hippie.

A meaningful conversation between our two groups has got to start somewhere. Here, I’ll go:

My name is Stephanie, I’m an Army Brat who spent her formative years on, or next to, a military base. My Army father did not keep guns in the house, because the animal hunting he preferred used worms, not bullets.

Mom– you should stop reading now. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to come back. 

That does not mean I have not held, loaded, or shot a gun. That does not mean I’ve never had a gun pointed at me. One of my favorite memories involves a trailer, a drunk guy, and a rifle. And I mean favorite in the, “phew, glad I didn’t die!” sort of way.

I’ve shot targets with a gun that was not mine, that was probably not legally the gun of the person that handed it to me.

I took a lot of unnecessary risks as a teenager/young adult. I came home late one night toward the end of my Senior Year of high school, finally afraid about the situations I had put myself in, and I asked my Dad why we didn’t have a gun for protection. He paused for so long, quietly finishing his who-knows-what-number can of PBR before he saying: “you only shoot a gun at someone if you mean to kill them. I don’t mean to kill anyone with a gun ever again.”  I never touched a gun after that night.

Mom, it’s safe again. 

Now I told y’all that stuff that’s going to get me in major trouble with my mother because I want you to understand that it’s not ignorance, or a lack of firearm’s experience that prompts my distaste for guns. No, it’s when y’all started wanting to take them everywhere, instead of leaving them in your damn house, that I got antsy.

How do you tell the difference between a legally carried firearm on a law-abiding citizen, and a legally carried firearm on a citizen seconds from their big psychotic break? You live to be horrified by seeing the first, and the details of your murder is reported live on the news by the other.

If I see you carrying a gun, I call 9-11.

Yes, I get tangled up in the symbology of shooting my son with a water gun, and yes, when my then-5 year old shot me dead center of the forehead during laser tag I struggled not to burst into tears. No, I will not play gun-games with my kids anymore, which was more their choice than mine. I ruin the fun by quoting gun injury and death statistics. I own my hypocrisy– sword play doesn’t bother me, and I’ve helped both kids make bows and arrows, so I obviously don’t have a problem with weapons.

But I do have a problem with guns. I have a problem with the constant push-back against background checks and waiting periods. I have a problem with the lack of a photo on NC’s concealed carry permits. I have a problem with the gun trust and dealer show loopholes. I have a problem with 4 white guys openly carrying loaded rifles in Target, and I have a real serious problem when John Crawford gets shot by police, in an open carry state, for carrying a toy gun while black.

I do. I have problems with all of those things. But I have other problems too. I have a problem believing that increased regulations will stop a criminal from purchasing or shooting a gun.

They won’t.

I have a problem with open-carry, but if given the choice between open or concealed? I’d rather see you coming, thankyouverymuch.

To give me time to call 9-11. 

I have a problem with the idiot adults that don’t secure their firearms, ending the lives of their children, the friends of their children, or even themselves when accidentally shot by those children.

Trigger locks could help there. Birth control would probably help even more.

Whenever we start talking accountability, we hyper-focus on the guns, the permits, the background checks, the gun safes, the criminals, the law-abiding. We talk and talk and talk, the 2nd-Amenders might say, “well, this guy bought the guns legally, then went nuts. No regulation would stop that, criminals gonna do what criminals gonna do.”

They have a point.

Non-Gunners want more regulations, because fuck, loose regulations resulted in twenty 1st Graders being murdered right there in the middle of the suburbs.
They also have a point.

Now, let’s talk about the people that are sitting verra still and quiet during these conversations. Let’s talk about the data collected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that no one on Reddit has ever read. Let’s start with the how a person becomes a dealer– by getting a Federal Firearm License (FFL). The regulations are specific, for example a FFL allows you to sell guns at a single address, so you can’t load up your car and sell guns door to door. One application, a $200 permit fee (for dealers, it gets more expensive for importing and manufacturing) and you now have a FFL. At the end of November 2015, there were  138,949 active FFLs in the United States. The key for number codes for each column header can be found here.

Okay. So there are a lot of dealers/pawnbrokers with federal licenses to sell firearms. With privilege comes responsibility, so the FFLs are supposed to maintain detailed records because sometimes an ATF agent will come inspect your facility. For example, by 2014’s year-end, out of more than 140,000 FFLs, the ATF had inspected 10,249. That’s a full 7%, y’all!

The FFLs are required to keep detailed records, including inventory listings, sales (transfers), thefts, and losses. These reports are made available to… wait. Losses? Why is that separate from theft? Why would that be…oh. Loss means missing, not stolen, inventory. 

So losses are missing inventory– just poof, vanished. Which is probably a small number, because firearm theft is the way that all criminals get their guns. Except the losses aren’t small. The total number of firearms stolen at the end of 2014- 5,719. The total number “lost” – 13,510.

Yeah. I think maybe we need to focus harder on those compliance inspections. The number of guns just lost? Why, it’s almost criminal.