Survivors of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, responded to the devastating experience they had lived through by taking action. The students came together to grieve and comfort each other and then organized the upcoming March For Our Lives event on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. on March 24, to demand of their country that their lives and safety become a priority, to demand the end of gun violence and mass shootings in our schools. Over 500,000 participants are expected and, as of this writing, 730 marches are planned in other towns and cities across the country, including Ely, Hibbing, Grand Marais, Two Harbors, Duluth, Brainerd, Grand Rapids, St. Paul, Rochester, Willmar, and North Branch.
Ely resident Dayna Mase also looked to transform her dismay into action, unwilling to stay on the sidelines. She talked with many individuals and some groups to see if people were concerned about the issue and interested in having a local March for Our Lives gathering to raise awareness and come together around this issue. She found common ground. Of course, people didn’t want children terrorized and people murdered. She discovered a lot of agreement on some basic measures that would make it more difficult for inappropriate people to get their hands on weapons:
Universal background checks.
Sharing data across state lines.
Banning bump stocks, a modification that increases a semiautomatic rifle’s rate of fire.
A waiting period for guns.
Limiting magazine size.
I asked some friends for their thoughts. One woman who will be attending the event said, “I’ve been concerned about gun violence for many years. I was thrilled to see the young people rising up and speaking out.” I asked if she could imagine using a gun, shooting someone to protect herself, and she said, “Absolutely not. Never.” I asked if she could imagine using a gun if someone was threatening her grandchild. She hesitated and said, “Wow. Maybe. I don’t know.”
Another friend who lives out in the woods bought two handguns after she started distrusting a neighbor’s strange behavior. A woodswoman I know, who was married to an avid hunter, joined in the deer hunt because she thought it was hypocritical to eat meat and not be ready to kill for it. However, she got to the point where she wasn’t willing to pull the trigger, not to mention that she wasn’t very good at it. The only shot she got off in five years missed the deer and killed a balsam tree. She helps out with the gutting, hauling, butchering and other aspects of the effort to put meat on the table. But she abhors the semi-automatic weapons designed for killing people as rapidly as possible. Her husband owns rifles and semi-automatic pistols. He is knowledgeable and responsible about gun use and safety, and while not opposed to the modifications mentioned previously, he doesn’t think they’d do much good.
Minnesota Gun Control Laws are stricter than in many states, which I will quote so as not to misinterpret: “Minnesota law requires purchasers of handguns and military assault-style rifles to present either a handgun transferee permit or carry permit, or undergo a seven-day waiting period and must undergo a criminal background check. Illegal Arms include a silencer; machine gun or machine gun conversion kit; short-barreled shotgun; spring gun; swivel guns, set guns. Who May Not Own: 1. Minor under 18: Pistol or semi-automatic military-style assault weapon, except under supervision of parent/guardian, military instruction, firing range, successful completion of training course; 2. Convicted of crime of violence unless 10 yrs. has elapsed or civil rights have been restored, including juveniles; 3. Mentally ill; 4. Convicted for unlawful use, possession, sale of controlled substance other than small amount of marijuana or person who’s been hospitalized or committed for treatment for habitual use of controlled substance or marijuana unless proof that they haven’t abused in 2 yrs.; 5. Chemically dependent; 6. Peace officer who is informally admitted to treatment facility for chemical dependency unless he receives certificate for discharge; 7. Pistol or semi-automatic military-style assault weapon: aliens, fugitives from justice, those dishonorably discharged from armed forces. Firearms are prohibited on or near school grounds.”
The banner on the National Rifle Association website reads, “It’s not just about guns. It’s about freedom.” Even though 90 percent of the American public supports background checks for all gun sales, the NRA opposes any expansion, arguing they are ineffective, while it assiduously promotes the expansion of boundaries where it’s acceptable to carry guns, successfully working to allow firearms on college campuses, and into bars, churches, day care centers and government buildings. In 2016, it spent $6.6 million fighting a universal background check initiative for gun purchases in Nevada. That’s more money than it spent on any Senate or House race, second only to the $30 million spent to get Donald Trump elected. I get it that people want to keep their guns for hunting and protection, but I do not get their willingness to be duped by the fear-mongering of the NRA.
The initiative passed with a very thin majority, but the Nevada attorney general said that the measure could not be enforced. The law requiring firearm transfers to go through a licensed gun dealer went into effect in January 2017, but as of October 2017, the FBI had not conducted a single background check on a private gun sale in the state. Stephen Paddock, the gunman who killed 58 people and injured over 500 others on Oct. 1, 2017, on the Las Vegas strip, bought some of his guns through a dealer and passed a background check.
The underlying causes of imbalance and violence in our society are many-tentacled, not easy to disentangle. In the last century, our bodies and minds have been assaulted by conditions and chemicals never experienced by humans before: pesticides, insecticides, chemical additives in foods, reduced nutrition in our food supply through high levels of processing and depleted soil, excessive noise, overload of information from around the world, inadequate medical care, inadequate mental health care, and an acceleration of the pace of our daily lives, often resulting in chronic exhaustion with little sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. In spite of being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, many Americans must work two or three jobs to survive while others live in grinding poverty. At the same time, the gap between rich and poor widens as political decisions are made that benefit only the wealthiest. Any one of these things can damage the immune system and the nervous system, causing imbalance, and we often experience many of them simultaneously.
The issue is obviously not simple, even when clearly defining many of the terms used in the laws.
But, I think, our responsibility is clear. As adults, it is our responsibility to protect the children as well as other vulnerable people in our communities. Period. That’s our job. So I think we need to seek out solutions and find some good answers around this issue and others. We need to remember we have far more in common than what divides us.
Come join your neighbors on Saturday, March 24, from 11 a.m. to 12 noon in Whiteside Park on Sheridan Ave. in Ely. People may bring signs, and we’ll walk together quietly around the park. It will not be boisterous – it’s not a protest but a demonstration of our commitment to non-violence, keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, and protecting the children.