Then came the weekend and we rode the LUAS. That's when I always remembered that while Ireland doesn't tend to have much gun violence now, it wasn't always the case. The security force wear bullet proof vests, carry semi-automatic rifles (or perhaps automatic- I never asked), and look rather like you would expect security to look in a country where terrorist bombings aren't all that far in the past.
While we were in Ireland I heard about the little boy who shot a playmate as well as rumbles about the latest NRA convention, mixed feelings about the lock-down of Boston, and all manner of discussion about the need for expanding or relaxing gun control.
I spent a lot of time walking from place to place in Ireland and that meant I also spent a lot of time thinking. And, during my walking, I realized just how very little I knew about guns.
- I had no idea what to tell my children to do if they saw another child pick up a gun.
- I knew to call 911 if my children found a gun but no idea what to do if we were somewhere out of reach of the cell phone towers. I didn't even know how to safely pick one up.
- I had no idea how to identify a gun beyond big or little; no idea if I was looking at a rifle, shotgun or pistol.
- I had no vocabulary to even join in the conversation about what guns made sense for civilians to own and which didn't.
As I pointed out to a Swiss friend (which does quite well in the militia department), if the goal of allowing for private gun ownership is the ability to raise a well-armed and trained militia, the US is really falling down on the job. The thing is that I had been raised with a mentality that guns were across the board bad. There was no viable reason to own a gun. I had the vague impression that if you touched any part of a gun it would randomly fire and kill a) a small child b) your best friend or c) your childhood pet
When it came to any element of gun ownership, I was pretty much flying blind, the victim of my own willful ignorance. The US population seems to fall into a couple of general categories when it comes to guns. The first group, that I was in, would pretty much like guns to just go away. The ideal move would be to just take out the 2nd amendment- sort of like we did with slavery. Barring that possibility, (and it's slightly terrifying implications) the first group would like to make it really hard to acquire bullets or maybe just make it hard to actually get to your gun doing some sort of complicated regulatory system involving firing ranges storing your gun. The second category is the "take this gun out my cold, dead, hands" group that also sees any restriction in gun ownership as a decisive step down a slippery slope that ends up somewhere between The Hunger Games and North Korea. There are a few groups with somewhat more nuanced opinions but they are, at the least, not loud enough in the political arena.
The thing is, in Ireland, where strenuous attempts have been made to limit gun violence, you still have heavily armed and armoured guards wandering around the public transit systems. When I was teaching in rural upstate New York and even when I was living in suburban Maryland, there were families that relied on wild game to complete their basic dietary needs. Now, in rural Virginia, I know that there are people who have to defend their hen houses from coyotes, foxes, and even the occasional bear. We have completely decimated the predators that kept the forest ecosystems in balance and there are deer pathetically foraging amongst my hydrangeas. A friend doing doctoral research on parasites, had to kill periodically to get vitally needed data and the most humane method, as determined by the Forestry service and Fish and Game, was a quick and decisive shot to the head. I don't think pretending guns will go away is really a viable nor responsible method of dealing with the issue. Further, coming to the table with many opinions but little knowledge, tends to make for fiery but unproductive conversation.
I came to the conclusion that if I learned cpr, boating safety, water safety, and air crash survival tips, in the unlikely event that I would ever need any of those parenting skills, it made just as much sense to learn some basic gun safety. As a citizen of a country where we are actively debating gun ownership, I needed to develop some basic gun literacy. I wanted to be able to touch a gun without hyperventilating; identify it in a basic way; be able to tell if it was loaded; and how to safely pick on up. My focus was 2-fold. First, I wanted to be able to respond intelligently in the highly unlikely event that I or my children came across a gun. Second, I wanted to be able to have an informed conversation about responsible gun ownership.
I needed to find an instructor. The NRA hunting classes are for people who actually want to shoot a gun, or, at the very least, aren't petrified of them. I needed a class for people who really didn't like guns, didn't really want to fire one, and didn't have a goal of getting a carry licence but do want to be informed citizens and responsible parents. So, I did what every sensible girl would do and turned to Facebook.