We've had a bloody past couple of years here in America. Statistically, an American citizen is the most likely person on the planet to die in what's considered a "mass shooting," which is defined as a shooting incident with more than four victims (excluding gang violence) that are not members of the same family. These acts are random, sickening, and have been happening more and more often in this country over the last several decades. The issue has come to a head with events like the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn. later that year, and most recently, the racially charged church shooting in Charleston, S.C. this past June.
Between 1966 and 2012, the U.S. accounted for almost a third of the entire world's "mass shooting" incidents. With striking statistics like these, the American people have the issue of gun control firmly in their crosshairs and have made the 2016 presidential hopefuls very much aware of it.
Personally, I am a proponent of people doing whatever the hell they want as long as they aren't hurting anyone else. If you get a kick out of having a small arsenal in your bedroom closet, more power to you. If being in the same room as a firearm makes you uneasy, I get that too. Guns aren't for everyone, but they affect us all and what this country is going to do about them in 2016 is something that weighs on voters and politicians alike. So, being the novice firearms user that I am, I wanted to get some perspective on the issue from all sides.
First, I talked to an avid and responsible firearm owner and fellow Purdue student named David Odle. Like many gun owners in America, David grew up on a farm and, as you might have guessed, also grew up with a variety of guns. His family owns several rifles, pistols, and shotguns, many of which I have shot myself (and had an exceptionally safe and fun time doing so). When I asked David why he chooses to exercise his right to keep and bear arms, he replied, "Guns have always been a part of my family."
From a very young age, David and his siblings have been conditioned to treat firearms with the utmost respect. For the Odle family, learning how to shoot, take care of, and behave safely around guns was as commonplace as learning to ride a bike for mild-mannered suburbanites like myself. Aside from guns being a family tradition, David also mentioned how therapeutic being a responsible gun owner can be. Some folks have stress balls and breathing exercises, David has a smooth trigger pull and a 12-gauge shotgun.
While recreation might be the setting in which the Odle arsenal is used most often, David said something during our conversation that resonated with me, as I'm sure it will with any other firearm owners reading this.
"When my little sister has her .45 automatic on her, there isn't a person on this planet that can mess with her, and that puts me at ease," he said.
Protecting life and liberty is one of the many reasons that pro-gun Americans choose to arm themselves, but that right there is the divisive issue that Americans have polarizing opinions on.
Drew Cagnassola, another fellow Boilermaker, had this to say on the issue of guns in America: "If someone with a gun wants to kill me, I'm pretty much dead whether I have a gun or not." He explained that unless he already has his gun drawn, locked, and loaded, he's in no position to defend his life from someone that means to end it even if he is armed.
Drew went on to say that, "Owning guns is a basic right and shouldn't be taken away from anyone, but they need to be controlled more." Citing the Virginia Tech shooting of 2007, he mentioned that (to the best of his memory) the shooter was not a licensed gun owner and purchased his murder weapon legally. And he's absolutely right. In Virginia, any person 21 or older may purchase one handgun per month without a license. In 2007, the shooter purchased a .22 caliber pistol in February, a 9mm Glock pistol in March, and killed 32 innocent people in April.
From our conversation, it's clear that he respects the rights of responsible gun owners and values the opportunity for those people to save lives in certain settings, he's just not going to be that guy with a pistol under his jacket. Like many Americans, it's just not for him.
So the real issue seems to be keeping guns out of the hands of cold-blooded murderers. "Taking away guns isn't going to stop evil people from being evil," said Stuart Corcoran, my student representative from the moderate stance on gun control.
Stuart's family owns a firearm or two, but they are certainly not what you would consider your stereotypical gun-crazy Americans. What he was getting at in our conversation is that if someone is serious about getting a gun and using it to kill someone, they're not going to worry about purchasing it legally. Outlawing firearms will simply drive them underground like the drug trade, he explained.
When asked whether or not he would ever get his own gun, he said something to the effect of,
"Why not?" If we have the right, we might as well exercise it, he supposes. His idea of gun ownership involves a trip to the range on a free weekend with some buddies to pump some lead into paper targets for the fun of it. He personally doesn't see the need to carry a gun every day because he doesn't live in a high crime area. He just likes the idea of having a gun, because this is America and no one can tell him he can't.
One's surroundings is another point that Stuart brought up in our conversation. He sees no reason for a federal ban on any gun in particular because the reason someone owns a legal firearm on the south side of Chicago is very different than owning the very same gun on a ranch in Montana. Sensible gun laws that are tailored to the needs and environments of the citizens in each state are what this country really needs.
With so many different perspectives, statistics and proposed solutions to the innumerable problems with guns in America, it will be interesting to see where the conversation goes once the election finally does roll around. Perhaps 2016 will be the "Year of the Gun."