Meadville Tribune

September 25, 2013

Guns are only the problem because conservative owners allow them to be

By Tyler Mattera
Special to the Tribune

— To conservative gun owners: You believe that Americans are entitled to own guns, that the government should not regulate guns and that any laws that encourage the control of guns is anti-American. You believe this not because you think guns are inherently American, but because you are selfish. Before I point out the problems with your beliefs, let me acknowledge that, as a gun control advocate, there are things that you and I would agree on.

We would agree that guns kill people. Without discrimination, guns kill all races, genders and ages. We would agree that people have been killed by guns. And we would both agree that the U.S. Constitution explicitly mentions guns. That the authors of that document dedicated an entire amendment to guns proves that guns were important at the time that document was written. We would also agree that one side is right and the other is wrong. Either more guns will make America safer or they won’t.

Of course, not all conservatives share the same views. There are many on the political right who know that laws limiting the sale of guns and laws mandating extensive personal background checks will result in a decline in gun violence. These people, along with gun owners on the political left, can be described as “gun control moderates.” Comprising the vast space between the far left and far right, this group influences little about the gun control debate. In reality, the outcome of this debate is decided by the deep pockets of the conservative Republican right whose philosophy is supported by you, the conservative gun owner.

You continually cite the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when defending your right to own a gun. This document, written more than 200 years ago, was undoubtedly penned with concern for the citizens of an infant country. Its words are a brilliant reflection of the interests of a nation forged from the fields of battle. It is a literary time capsule.

The problem, however, is that America has changed. Much of the Constitution is outdated and irrelevant. The Second Amendment sits firmly in this category. We both know this. If you believe, as I assume that you do, that the founders of this country would not support changing the Second Amendment to provide for the safety and protection of American citizens, you are wrong.

It should be clear that the path we have been taking, a path that you support, is allowing the violence plaguing this country to thrive. Let me be clear. In no way am I putting responsibility on your shoulders for the terrible gun massacres that have occurred throughout the U.S. Blame for the shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, and the D.C. Navy Yard fall solely on the cowards who pulled the triggers of the weapons that killed. But you perpetuate a philosophy that enabled the perpetrators of those shootings.

We both strongly condemn their actions. But when our social discourse leans toward developing comprehensive gun control measures, you are unwilling to budge. Your beliefs are the foundation that supports gun violence.

You believe that any measure, by individuals or the entire government, which limits your access to guns, is anti-American. This explains why gun owners like you continually call for an increase of guns following a tragedy. Even when 26 people died in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School, including 20 children; your answer was to arm teachers.

Just seven days after that massacre, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre famously remarked, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” There is no evidence that adding more guns to any situation will create a safer atmosphere. In fact, the shootings at Fort Hood and the D.C. Navy Yard occurred on facilities where guns were present. Of course, your argument will always be to cite the number killed, followed by there could have been more. Another gun would have not prevented the first death. Even one death is too many.

You believe that guns are a deterrent against government tyranny, that having guns easily available keeps the government in check. In reality, you are speculating on your own future safety and prioritizing it before the present safety of our society. This attitude, and the distrust of your own government, is both selfish and anti-American. The idea that “the government” will one day knock down your door, only to be scared away by the armory in your basement, is a fantasy. Can we conceive of an argument any more ridiculous than this?

If the murder of an entire first grade classroom is not enough for you to abandon your beliefs, one wonders what is. What better evidence is needed to show that something must change?

This debate matters. Your opinion on this issue matters. The desire to make real, substantial change in society must come from you. How many more children have to die before you understand that your beliefs about gun control are wrong?

The truth is, guns are the problem. But guns are only the problem because you allow them to be the problem. If you persist in your beliefs, and I suspect that you will, gun violence in this country will never stop.

Mattera grew up in Conneautville and graduated from Conneaut Valley High School in 2005. For the past year he has have lived in Arlington, Va., and is a graduate student at George Mason University, where he is studying public policy. He can be reached at