Community Columns

I shoot; I served; I grieve ... now I want to talk about guns

A young woman cries while looking at a memorial for those killed in a mass shooting in Las Vegas. The gunman opened fire from a 32nd floor window using an array of weapons legally modified to become fully automatic.
A young woman cries while looking at a memorial for those killed in a mass shooting in Las Vegas. The gunman opened fire from a 32nd floor window using an array of weapons legally modified to become fully automatic. AP

The time to talk about guns and our problem with violence is long overdue. Now, right now, is the time.

I feel for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting and their families. I’ve cried real tears trying to process this act. But should we wait until later, for the victims’ sake? No! People said that last time, and the time before, etc.

These shootings are happening with increasing frequency; who decides when it is the right time?

Problem is, we don’t really talk about guns, at least not seriously. When mass shootings occur, there’s always talk of “starting the conversation,” and people post quotes and memes on social media, but there’s no honest discussion. Here’s where I think we should start:

2nd Amendment – Many Americans wrap themselves in it, just like the flag. They feel it protects them, but they don’t understand the “who, what, when, where or why” of how it came about. It makes me laugh to hear people talk about what the Founding Fathers intended, as if they discussed it with them over a pint of ale.

It was intended to keep would-be tyrants in check … in 1778. Let’s be real. Today, what am I going to do to thwart a government with shoulder mounted anti-tank missiles, mini-guns, sonic weapons, .50-caliber sniper rifles, stealth planes, drones at its disposal?

Remember that Chinese student standing firm against an approaching tank? That’s us.

Hunting – You like to hunt, I get it. But no one needs anything remotely military to kill a deer, moose or bear. People do that with a bow and arrow, as it’s been done for thousands of years. If your hunting skills aren’t sufficient to dispatch your quarry with one, maybe two shots you’re out of your depth. Look for smaller, safer prey, practice more, take a buddy.

Self-defense – I heard Sean Hannity spouting off after the Las Vegas shooting about “well-trained, gun-carrying citizens stopping these shootings.” Get real: This shooter was 300-400 yards away, 32 floors up in a hotel room. He was raining lead into a crowd of utterly panicked people. No one carries a sniper or hunting rifle to a concert. Show me a person capable of stopping him from those distances with a concealable weapon. The only “self defense” in this scenario was to run and hide.

Hannity mentioned San Bernardino, where two people entered a closed environment with semi-auto guns and utter chaos erupted. He said had he been there (Sean’s words!) he’d have waited for a lull then used his “self-protection” firearm to take out the bad guy. That only happens in the movies.

I know lots of people with guns of all kinds; most don’t have just one or two and a few carry them “just in case.” But I’ve never heard one of them talk about how often they practice in simulated self-defense scenarios.

Members of SWAT teams, the Delta Force and Navy SEALs all practice, using real-world scenarios – not some fake Hollywood BS.

Very few armed citizens are actually trained, physically and mentally, to deal with one or more armed assailants. Reality check: Once a gun is drawn on you, it’s already over. Before you can reach your weapon, they’ve already shot you.

We can “what if” these scenarios to death, none of that will save the 59 people who died in Las Vegas.

I’ve shot lots of guns – rifles, shotguns, pistols, single-shot, semi-auto, even full auto – as a civilian and active-duty military. It’s a rush, I get it.

But does one person’s right to enjoy an adrenaline rush or engage in a pastime measure up to another person owning dozens of firearms capable of killing 50-plus people and wounding hundreds more? How does that balance on the scales of justice?

How do you stand at a hospital bed and tell a shooting victim you’re sorry they got shot, sorry they’ll relive that hellish nightmare over and over again, but you had to have your right to plunk away at paper targets on the weekend? How do you hold the hand of a grieving spouse, parent or friend after yet another mass shooting and explain we need guns because you have a right to protect yourself?

Where do your rights end and theirs begin?

I have to teach my kids to look for alternate exits in grocery stores, movie theaters and shopping malls; to look for things that will provide cover and concealment, will shield them from high-powered gunfire. That’s messed up.

This is the world we live in. A world in which the richest most advanced and powerful nation ever on this planet is akin to a third-world country embroiled in perpetual war.

And before you offer a rebuttal, go stand at the bedside of one of the wounded and tell them that it’s nothing like war, tell the survivors that what happened last Sunday is acceptable here in America today.

Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough any more. They haven’t been for a long time.

Yes, it’s time to talk about guns. Right now, before those 59 people are buried, before the hundreds of people injured go home and try to resume their lives. That is the least we can do. We owe those people most directly affected by the Las Vegas shooting that much, and frankly much more.

Tracy Luegge is a Patterson resident and veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.