I have fond memories of growing up watching Westerns with one of my grandparents. My father’s father was an avid fan. “Gunsmoke,” “Rawhide,” “The Rifleman,” “Big Valley” and a host of other series and movies made for compelling television. Action packed, with moving storylines and characters, it was easy to become engrossed in this genre, which hit on themes that seem to resonate easily with males of all ages: heroes versus villains, cowards and defenders, the courageous and the yellow-bellied. In this world, a man — a real man — was slow to speak, but quick on the draw. I loved it all.
However, for all the mimicking I did of my cowboy heroes, there was always one thought that would come to mind from time to time: “Man, I would hate to have to live in a world like that.” Why? Life seemed so capricious. Danger, disaster and death seemed to always be a heartbeat away. Though it made for great entertainment, I just couldn’t see living in a world where someone with a gun and a grudge was ever present.
Unfortunately, it seems like such times are now upon us. Like many, I watched in stunned disbelief as the horror of another mass shooting unfolded on the television screen in Lafayette, Louisiana. A week after the slaying of five service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a month after the killing of nine in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, once again the nation is confronted with another gun-toting, murderous psychopath. Truly we are reaching a kairotic moment, a critical juncture, a moment of truth in our society.
The central question or truth we must grapple with: What type of society do we want to become? The gifted writer James Baldwin declared, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” In America, we need to face the reality that easy access to guns is a recipe for continued tragedy, heartbreak and pain. As someone who’s served in the military and been a cop, I definitely harbor no anti-guns bias. But enough is enough. Either we make serious efforts to bring common-sense policies to bear on the availability and acquisition of guns, or we settle into the fact that mass murders will tragically become the new normal in our society.
Just last month in Texas, and with strong opposition from police chiefs and law enforcement officials in the state, the governor signed a series of open-carry laws which led one police chief to frustratedly say, “It is going to be difficult for the beat cop to know who should have a gun, who shouldn’t have a gun, and frankly there are people out there who shouldn’t own guns.” Yet, despite those committed to keeping the public safe saying this was a patently bad idea, during the signing Gov. Greg Abbott stated the new laws were “a salute to the genius of the country’s founding fathers.” Yes, in his mind, crafting legislation allowing Texans to openly tote their guns in a shoulder or hip holster, or being able to have one while on a college campus (although concealed), exemplifies the intense intellectual Enlightenment thinking of our nation’s founders. It’s exasperating.
But we in Alabama beat them to this perplexing place. In 2013, Alabama greatly expanded its open-carry laws as well, allowing, among other things, concealed weapons to be brought to sporting events, on college campuses, in a vehicle at one’s workplace, issued to 18-to-20-year-olds, renew a permit for up to five years, etc. Alabama also went from a “may issue” to a “shall issue” permit state, curtailing but not eliminating sheriffs’ discretion to issue gun permits.
Speaking about Rusty Houser and his murderous shooting rampage in Lafayette, Russell County, Alabama, Sheriff Heath Taylor (whose jurisdiction includes Phenix City, where the gunman resided), noted the sheriff’s office was able to deny Houser a concealed-carry permit in 2006 due to a previous arson charge and domestic violence allegations. However, Taylor added, due to the 2013 changes, “It would [now] be extremely difficult to potentially deny that very [concealed-carry permit] case.” Additionally, today, for example, if a permit holder committed a crime the first year he or she had their pistol permit and it was then revoked, if they maintain physical possession of the license and had paid for a five-year renewal (which the new law allows), for the next four years he or she would carry a card identifying them as a legal gun-permit holder. This validity could also transfer out of state if the permit holder traveled to a state that recognizes an Alabama permit. This is an issue that our own Sheriff Sam Cochran expressed concern over during the time the legislation was enacted.
The tragic epidemic we’re facing is not going away anytime soon. An FBI report issued last year studying active-shooter situations between 2000 and 2013 showed that for the first seven years there was an average of 6.4 active shootings per year. In the last seven, the number jumped to 16.4 per year. Of the 12 deadliest shootings in the United States, half have taken place since 2007. Examining mass shootings over the last 30 years, in most instances the shooter obtained weapon(s) legally. All this just makes current gun show loopholes and the ease of buying weapons and ammunition through the Internet more egregious.
Without a doubt there are many factors to consider in contemplating how to address this very serious problem, but I believe one prescription that will not work is increasing the availability of and access to guns. If we continue trying to convince ourselves otherwise, we will most likely continue to be stunned by the continued wanton and senseless taking of life.