I've written several drafts of this article, but am finally settling on this version because it evolved from my personal experience as much as from news events.
In the early eighties, I purchased and rehabed a nine room house in the northeast section of Kansas City, MO. It was in a section north of St. John Avenue and was supposed to be safer than areas south of that line. Although we came home two or three times to find our door open and a trail of match sticks littering the floor, the thefts had been inconsequential and we made the best of things. For the most part, I felt safe there.
There was a three-room mother-in-law's suite in the house. I turned this area into my private get away. I used the kitchen as my office where I did my writing. I quilted and did other crafts while watching television in the living room. Of necessity, I placed two bookcases, loaded with books, in front of the kitchen door. The living room door had a safety lock. Nights when my teenage boys were at their father's, I pulled the headboard of the bed in front of the bedroom door, thus blocking entry. As you can tell already, I am your basic coward. Thank God for that.
One night I heard someone slam against an entry over and over again. I told myself I was being paranoid until I heard someone running up the stairs and trying to enter my bedroom. There were at least two of them, because one said to the other, "this is where she is." I rushed to the phone, but could get no dial tone, because they had taken the receiver off the phone downstairs. I screamed out the window calling my neighbors over and over until one of them hesitantly stepped out on the porch. He called the police for me and then began checking the perimeter. The intruders had entered by removing a wooden cover of a basement window. The body slams had been them breaking through the locked trap door to the basement. They exited through the front door, leaving it wide open. By the time the police arrived, they were long gone. I gave my statement, but they left little hope of finding who had done it. I still don't know.
A couple of weeks later a third officer stopped by to discuss a potential suspect. While there, he encouraged me to buy a gun for protection. He said his wife would still be shaking if this had happened to her. I told him I couldn't use a gun, because I would be afraid I would mistakenly shoot one of my sons if they let themselves in during the night.
I'd like to be able to tell you this was my only close call, but I can't. I've been stalked. Two individuals have tried to strangle me and another held a gun in my face, demanding my purse. Such is the way of city life, at least city life on a budget. I'm in smaller, less appealing digs now, and the old neighborhood has been taken over by Hispanic gangs. My home here also has a revolving door with people -- including staff members -- helping themselves to my food, trinkets and especially my books. So far they haven't walked off with the mother-lode, but they have taken a place setting of silverplate, a wedding gift long ago as well as other sentimental items. If ever a citizen needed to be licensed to carry concealed-- now possible in both Missouri and Kansas -- I know I am the one. What I saw as overcorrection in the beginning, I now know to be basic common sense.
Despite this knowledge, when news about the Sandy Hook tragedy began to hit the airwaves, I was so sure a single mother did not need automatic weapons, that I assumed the son had used her credit card and name to purchase them through the mail. By the time the truth was known, I experienced the same knee-jerk reaction as the parents and many other Americans did -- "let's get gun ownership under control." But I was wrong and so are they. Here are reasons why.
Most "bad guys" don't buy their guns legally. They prefer street and under the table purchases of untraceable weapons. This slows the possibility of being caught. Since they do not purchase legal weapons, criminal background checks are unworkable.
Most serial killers are not deranged in a manner that causes them to use their mother's guns. Supposedly, the mentally ill who are considered a danger to themselves or others are the only behavior disordered people in mental institutions. If they are locked up, they cannot purchase guns anyway. So, what good are mental health background checks if the illnesses have not been diagnosed?
Most of us are not paranoid enough to believe our federal government is out to get us, causing us to need an arsenal of weapons to protect ourselves from them. It was my first thought to dismiss such militants as disturbed fringe. Then I remembered the This Week town hall meeting some months back where an extremely radical Muslim from the Middle East said he was looking forward to the day when the Muslim flag would fly above the White House. Now that would be a lunatic with arms and that would be government to fear. But by then it would be too late to arm ourselves for protection against the government.
It is an admirable characteristic Americans have that they want to turn unbelievable tragedy into learning experiences and ways to jumpstart good for others. Trying to squeeze a drop of meaning from utterly meaningless disaster is their way to cope. How much better it would be if they focused their efforts toward getting better mental health treatment for the disturbed -- for training individuals in self defense methods -- for fighting drugs and crime -- and for making contributions to research. These funds could be used to research methods to control or cure alcoholism, drug addiction and to heal mental health issues. We could attempt from Kindergarten on to make our citizens all feel accepted and to train and encourage them to be contributing members of society. At this point, we are failing massively in these endeavors.
Let's not continue to let our knee-jerk reactions be overcorrections. As parents we know that moving back and forth from too much negligence to overcorrection is ineffective. We need to find ways to eliminate the issues that cause the dysfunction rather than controling guns and making it easier for the bad guys to eliminate the good.