The Gun Reform Beer Summit
I've owned a Remington 870 Express shotgun for over 15 years. I initially bought it for deer hunting as an alternative to my usual compound bow. Nowadays, I primarily use it for home defense to protect my family. In my opinion, a shotgun is the best weapon for home defense and I'm glad I have it. A few years ago, I was able to shoot a semi-automatic AK-47 at a good friend's house in the country. That gun was a lot of fun to shoot, no question about it. But should I have even been able to shoot that gun in the first place? That's one of about a million questions swirling around the debate on gun reform. In this journal entry, I am going to dive down the rabbit hole and try to tackle gun reform, this time with a couple very pro-gun rights friends over a couple beers. So buckle up!
By nature, I have a genuine thirst for knowledge. Part of that thirst is learning about every angle of a particular situation. So when I decided to run for office, I had to come up with concrete plans for how I would legislate. I didn't want to be one of those politicians who just randomly goes through vague talking points and smiles. I wanted to learn about issues, formulate opinions, and back up those opinions with facts. A hot button issue like gun reform may not be the "safest" thing to discuss, but it's important to pretty much everyone, so why shy away from it?
Sure, I've got my preexisting thoughts on gun reform. I believe in seemingly obvious things such as universal background checks, systems to spot mental health red flags, and mandatory waiting periods. I also don't believe we need high powered semi-automatic assault rifles like the one I shot. It was a lot of fun, but it's simply not practical in today's world. They are toys. They are toys for adults that like to shoot things like they saw in the action movies they watched growing up. I get it, it makes sense. And on the surface there is nothing wrong with a responsible adult wanting to have one. But just like anything, there is a give and take with what we want and what's best.
So, instead of just writing something up about my thoughts and the supposed virtues of gun reform in my own mind, I decided to ask two of my good friends, who are very pro-gun rights, to sit down with me about talk about forming a real, actual policy. I don't mind being ganged up on. I actually prefer it. What better way to reevaluate my deep seated beliefs than to have a civil conversation with two people I deeply respect, who just happen to have different views? So the idea of the Gun Reform Beer Summit was born.
Out of respect to my friends, I won't use their real names, as they may not want to have their beliefs out in the open. Let's just call them "Country" and "Collector." Country grew up in the sticks here in South Carolina, served our country in the military, and is an incredibly hard worker. He is also let me shoot the AK-47 from early. Thanks Country! My other friend, Collector, is a young business owner who owns a pretty nice collection of firearms. He's not a hunter, but he likes to go to the range with his wife every week or two. They really enjoy the companionship. It's great bonding time away from the kids. It's probably great stress relief. And firearms, like it or not, are a great financial investment. So for him, it goes beyond just having fun. It's also solid asset diversification.
My two friends and I met at BW3 in Bluffton last Tuesday night. Country and Collector had never met each other, so they hit it off right away. I think the first 30 minutes was them comparing their collections as we drank our first beer and enjoyed some happy hour appetizers. I couldn't relate much to their conversation, but I did really enjoy listening to them. It became pretty obvious that these guys cared very deeply about their firearms. It's not just an investment, or just for fun, or just for home protection. Firearms are important to them on a deeper level. Firearms represent part of the glue that keeps our society together, both practically and subconsciously. There is a reason The Framers made the right to bear arms #2. And they were right, at least for their time.
I'm no constitutional scholar, but to me, the second amendment was written for two reasons: to prevent a tyrannical government and for self-defense. In the late 18th century, that made sense. A new republic, who recently won independence by taking up arms, knew the value of arming it's citizens. If this new county ever starting taking a nose-dive, it's citizens would ultimately have the power to stand up and stop it, with force. The reality is, in today's society, this possibility no longer exists.
When our conversation began going down the "assault rifle" road, Country was pretty passionate with regards to real-world situations that these rifles would be necessary. We all agreed that an assault rifle can't stand up to a drone, so the tyrannical government argument was pretty quickly put to bed. Again, these are very smart guys who are extremely well grounded. As I mentioned earlier, County was previously in the military. He learned all about interesting stuff like EMPs (electromagnetic pulses). He brought up a scenario that what if we were attacked by an EMP. All electronics would be gone and there could hypothetically be mobs of people running around the street vandalizing and breaking into homes. I agree that this is totally possible. He then argued that an assault style weapon would work much better at fending off the mob and protecting his family. I argued that the mob wouldn't be coming at him with sticks and rocks, they would also have guns, possibly the same type of assault weapon. I respected his position and I think we agreed to disagree on this scenario and we were both satisfied, and that's ok.
Collector's main argument regarding assault weapons was that he is a law abiding citizen, so why should he be penalized for owning them? In this respect, he's totally right. He's not a threat to anyone. He is diligent about locking up his weapons in fingerprint safes. Why should he be suffer because of a couple of maniacs? Even after three big beers and a passionate debate, I couldn't come up with a good answer. Because there isn't one. He has a right. He follows all the rules. The only real argument that can be made is that outlawing these weapons is essential for the common good. He'll survive without one of these weapons, but thousands of people won't survive because of these weapons. One rebuttal against this is that someone can just get in a van and plow thought a crowd, so are we going to outlaw vans? No. Because vans are necessary, assault weapons are not. The assault weapon debate didn't really move the needle with any of us, but we all respected each other's opinions and agreed on a lot of things. It was a fun conversation and I think we all came away consider things that we maybe didn't consider before. So I'll take that as a win.
The ultimate goal to our meeting was to come up with reasonable framework policy that I can build on in Columbia. And with this, I think we actually had a lot of success. We all agreed that there should be much more training available to gun owners. We all agreed that there needs to be some sort of way to prevent the mentally ill from having firearms. Here are some of the ideas we discussed:
Training: Collector started this one off with a story he had about the first handguns him and his wife purchased. They bought them several years back from a local dealer. Not knowing a lot about guns, they went into the dealer and were helped in picking out a pair of great handguns. What happened next was eye opening for them. They passed a quick background check, paid for the guns, and took them to their car. Once in their car, they looked at each other in disbelief. How in the world do they have these lethal weapons so quickly and easily. No waiting period. No training. They had no idea how to take them apart, clean them, or put them back together. Sure, they are responsible people, but what about the people who aren't? What about the scared girlfriend who just wants to protect herself? She has no idea what she's doing.
With all of this in mind, we all decided that we needed to better train gun owners. There are a lot of ways you can do this, but here is what I suggest: When someone purchases a new style of gun for the first time, they can't just take that gun and walk out the door. The establishment that sells them the firearm would hold onto the gun until this person "graduates". They would be required to partake in a certain number of hours of instruction, both practical and written. Once these requirements are met, the person can leave with their gun. It's kind of like a driver's license. You can't just go and jump on a motorcycle or drive a big rig. You need a specific license for both. Why should it be any different for guns? It's not infringing your rights, it makes both the gun owner and public more safe, and it includes a built-in waiting period! You could establish different tiers based on several factors such as firearm size, caliber, weight, recoil, etc. It is very difficult to classify guns, so it is important to come up with a scientific formula. The more "dangerous" the gun, the higher the license and the more training required. I believe (though they both disagreed) that certain weapons such as assault style weapons, should only be allowed to be owned by people in practical fields, such as farmers who have to look after their livestock against predators. We all agreed that training should not cost the buyer any money and should be considered a state funded public service. Our plan was coming together, except for one glaring hole.
People in dire need of an immediate firearm. Our cute little tier system sounds nice and dandy, until you encounter a wife (or husband) who is fearful for their and/or their children's lives. These people don't have the luxury of waiting around, taking tests, and logging hours. They need a gun, and they need it now. Often times they can't afford one, and even if they can, may not be able to afford an accompanying safe to keep it out of the hands of children. So the proposal we came up for this scenario is the best we could do, and will most certainly invite justified scrutiny. I believe that our local law enforcement should have a service that, under very strict guidelines and including a judge's order, be able to quickly screen, train, and arm certain people in imminent danger. These people have a right to protection, a right to freedom from abuse, and a right to keep their families safe. And often times, these people don't have the money to properly protect themselves. And these people are dying. Just because someone doesn't have money doesn't make their life any less valuable.
After four hours of talking guns, politics, football, TV shows, and whether or not cajun wings were actually hot, the bar began to close. My cousin James was on the way to pick us all up and take us home (again, four hours of beer). We began to small talk with our great bartender. As it turns out, she was from the Netherlands. No mass shootings, legal prostitution, legal marijuana, and very low cost healthcare. To her, the greatest county in the world. Of course County asked her why she was living here if the Netherlands was so great (fair question). She was lovely, but very much done with us, so it was time to go.
I think all three of us had a great night. We all learned something about each other's beliefs, were always civil, and found a lot of common ground. And that's what this whole thing is about. Every one of us has the ability have our own Beer Summits. Talking politics shouldn't be taboo. It should be embraced. In today's polarized world with tough-guy social media arguments, we all need to step back and breath. Get ahold of your friend who doesn't line up philosophically with you. Have a Coffee Summit. Or a Sweet Tea Summit. Hell, have a Pot Summit. Whatever it takes to sit down and talk. Share ideas. Just remember when it's their turn to talk, shut your mouth and listen.
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