While in the Army, I lived in the South in a house filled with guns. One day, some prospective house buyers wanted to take a look inside. They were interested in another house in the neighborhood and this was the cookie-cutter kind of subdivision. “Of course, come in,” but after one second inside the handguns on the coffee table, the piles of bullets, and the AK 47 leaning against the wall must have thrown them off. Wide-eyed smiles, now forced, they backed away, thanking me. Apparently they had seen enough.
I chuckled because all these guns had not bothered me in the slightest—part of my job description, I suppose. And now with this reaction, the guns were almost a badge of honor. So F - off if you can’t handle militia level guns!
It was a different time, and I was a different man then. It’s not easy to draw a straight line from there, where guns seemed a natural part of my life to now where the sight of the protesting Parkland students fill me with renewed hope for the future of this nation. It is not that I think that any single gun control measure alone would be a panacea, but we need to have the conversation about all the factors that go into gun deaths, including suicide. This is a necessary step in our growth as a country.
Of course, there’s been a lot of backlash from the extreme right. It resorts to a mixture of goalpost-moving, projection, strawmen-slaying, and personal attacks in the usual attempt to stifle any debate. This smothering of discussion shouldn’t come as a surprise, for how did I make my own journey from that young man to who I am today? By reading, thinking, debating, and discussing with others.
Case in point is Jesse Kelly’s essay against veterans who dared to march with the Parkland students. I think the essay is worth discussing, though I get the sense it is between a witch’s brew of right-wing bumper stickers and a conflation of the 2nd Amendment and the Constitution—that all Kelly really wants to do is knife-hand some veterans and call them dirtbags for disagreeing with him. If I’m to understand Kelly’s position, it’s that only certain veterans can speak out and then only for right wing positions.
Kelly makes the point that veterans entering any debate do so with a level of reverence that shields them from criticism. In my view, such a separation should never exist and now that these veterans have entered the public arena, like the Parkland students, they should expect to defend their positions in a worthwhile discussion.
This isn’t to say every gun control idea is great. Using unaccountable lists like the no-fly list or making outright bans would be problematic, but again an honest discussion is needed. Not the yelling and tribal signaling we’re currently seeing. Not the usual mendacity, claiming the 2nd Amendment has only one interpretation. It has more ambiguity than other, more stifled amendments. We need to see that most people agree that “arms” in the 2nd Amendment has a limit and parses what exactly a “well-regulated” means. The paranoia from the extreme right needs to be called out for what it is: a siege mentality with no place in any country.
Kelly mentions despots in his essay, but does not mention how Saddam Hussein allowed Iraqis to own guns. Seems disingenuous. To claim all our freedoms are here because of guns is also outrageous. Making outrageous claims with great bluster is a time worn tactic. It has no place in a proper and civil discussion. Veterans must take part in these conversations, not as sacred cows, but as citizens. In fact, many veterans have already done some great work toward common-sense gun control. I’m all for intellectually robust conversations: it’s part of being a citizen. I am glad the Parkland students have rekindled the gun control debate. As a veteran, I will do what I can to help them.
Nelson Lowhim is a writer and veteran. He has traveled the world and is the author of several novels which include CityMuse, Ministry of Bombs and Labyrinth of Souls. Read more from him at NelsonLowhim.blogspot.com or on Twitter @nlowhim