A Conversation With A U.S. Veteran About Mass Shootings And Gun Laws

On October 1, a mass shooting took place in Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Oregon. Fourteen days later, how many of us have gone back to life as it was before? Following the initial but usual short-term public outcry and debates about more guns and less guns, for the most part, societal life goes on. Until the next mass shooting.
Twenty 20 / spentologist
Twenty 20 / spentologist
There is a normalization of mass shootings that has taken place in this culture, combined with the common societal problem of historical amnesia. Societal change does not occur without persistence in ensuring that conversations about change are always at the forefront of the people’s minds. Last week, I dialogued with Veteran USMC and retired Baltimore Police Sgt. Michael A. Wood Jr. about mass shootings, gun laws, and why America finds it difficult to change.

beetlejuice

Thought Catalog: Hi Michael. Can you tell us a little about your background, and then also tell us what was your primary reaction to the latest major school shooting in Oregon?

Michael A. Wood Jr.: In short, I am a typical rural American. I now have a wife and young daughter and am working on my PhD in Management, after serving 4 years in the USMC, 11 years in the Baltimore Police Department, a BS in Criminal Justice, and an MS in IT Management.

My time in Baltimore was ground zero for the gun violence in America. As for the Oregon tragedy, my reaction is sadness, maybe some hopelessness because this is expected, foreseeable, and televised across the world. Meanwhile, mass shootings occur on the regular in poor black communities and no one seems to care.

TC: Before we get to the heart of the conversation which is about gun-related deaths and especially mass shootings, I want to address that latter point. In discussing mass shootings, there is this point that is brought up about shootings that take place in poor, and oftentimes poor, black neighborhoods. These shootings are related to gang activity which is related to economic and social disenfranchisement.

I really think it’s important to make that distinction because there are historical and sociological factors that are understood as far as the causes for “shootings in the ghetto,” or shootings in poor neighborhoods. And these causes are often related to institutionalized racism and a certain lack of upward economic movement for the poor.

Do you think this distinction is important and separate? Or are the mass shootings that have come to be prevalent in the American imagination – Columbine, Newtown, etc. related to what happens in poor (black and brown) neighborhoods?

I think that in a generalized fashion, America cares when white college kids die and do not care when people who society already tries to ignore, die

MW: That is quite a nuanced discussion and I am not sure that we could arrive at a definitive conclusion. Rather than get into the details, we can say that the motivation may be different but the access to guns, the gun culture, and the ripple effects on a family and community are the same.

The nuance arrives in the motivation, and motivation is so complex that it may not be a topic we can even broach. In other words, if we can prevent the symptoms, the cause may not be worth focusing on. I think that in a generalized fashion, America cares when white college kids die, and does not care when people who society already ignores, die.

beetlejuice

TC: I was going to save this for later but now that you’ve addressed it, we can go there. I saw this tweet the other day by Dan Hodges, and I thought it was particularly brilliant: “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

I think that there is media attention when white college kids die or white kids die in general. But isn’t there something to be said that after Newtown, there has still been no major change to gun laws?

Those were little white children. If the deaths of little white children cannot enrage the American public enough, what will? I say this with a bitter taste in my mouth but also with the understanding of the racist society that we operate in. I’m not sure anything other than politicians willing to sacrifice their places in politics, and their legacies will really change the laws. Thoughts?

MW: I do not know who Dan Hodges is, so I do not have full context, but I am not so sure that tweet is factual. If you talk to most people, they did want reform after Sandy Hook, and reform is why we are talking now.

The assumption that I think leads to this false logic is that what America wants, is actually represented by the legislators and politicians in general. It seems as though everywhere you turn, problems in America are tied to politicians serving the desires of corporate donors and not the American public. I just do not believe that America accepts children dying in schools, I believe that politicians do.

TC: I think it’s fair and true to say that some Americans, maybe even many Americans want reform. But I also think that there are those who simply accept – from the politicians to the people – that “these things happen.” Some see it as a negative consequence but an acceptable one in order to have the freedoms guaranteed in the Second Amendment.

And speaking of the Second Amendment, do you think it should be applied in the way it is currently? One of my personal gripes with it is there is no way that our current technology could have been foreseen at that time it was written. And because of that, does it make logical sense to apply it to the current cultural and technological environment? Are these individual liberties in this specific context that may have terrible consequences, more important than the common good? I ask knowing these things aren’t mutually exclusive.

America’s answer to anyone being able to weld such a powerful weapon is that I, or someone like me, kills them before they kill you. Oh America, that cannot be the answer.

MW: I still do not know, Kovie. I observe that there is a staggering level of willful ignorance in American society. If you get people into a room and go over the facts and explain the logic, you have to be crazy not to see that what we are doing does not work, right?

Eighty million people in nearly half of the households, own approximately 300 million firearms, including 100 million handguns. Two-thirds of homicides are committed with firearms. A Harvard study found that of 26 developed countries, the U.S. has 15 times the average in homicides. The frequency of mass shootings is dramatic and we have an epidemic of police shootings (or more likely a revelation of a hidden epidemic). I do not think that if the pros and cons are honestly presented, that you can leave thinking this is an acceptable consequence.

Throughout most of my life, the conservative influence of the right to bear arms made sense to me. I do not see it that way any longer. It was a slow progression for many reasons, but the one final reason was quite simple. I realized that I have carried a gun for the last 13 or so years because of the fear that someone else may be carrying one. Then on top of that I was carrying, and continue to, because America’s answer to anyone being able to weld such a powerful weapon is that I, or someone like me, kills them before they kill you. Oh America, that cannot be the answer.

The Framers understood that things would change and built in the mechanism for amendments. There is no way, that the technology and reality of today was what the Framers meant in the Second Amendment. I’m not even sure that we would come up with it today because we would not even think of it.

To anyone out there, let me tell you this: The idea that the women and men of the United States Marine Corps would conduct an amphibious landing in the harbor of Baltimore to take over the city and control the citizens is insanity. These are our friends, family, and neighbors. Technology has connected us all.

beetlejuice

TC: You’ve touched on one of the myths of gun control – which is this idea that the government is going to “come and take your guns.” To be perfectly honest, I find it rather childish and laughable. The reality of technology is if the government wanted to annihilate all of us, it could do so in a heartbeat. It’s scary but it’s the truth.

What other gun myths do you think are prevalent among many people who don’t think gun ownership should be more strictly regulated? And for that matter, what solutions do you think our culture most readily needs as far as gun laws are concerned?

Why in the heck is anyone working towards the society of every person being a deadly threat?

MW: Of course the government could inflict serious damage by pressing buttons. And the basic idea is that a bunch of amateurs would be able to defeat the most powerful military the world has ever seen? On the flip side, the rate of gun ownership probably would make it impossible for ground forces to overtake country. But remember, they have to get through the most powerful military the world has ever seen, first. That myth is about the only thing that is remotely factual. So the question for that is: How many children with bullets in their bodies are worth the fears you have?

Some other myths, are that people under such stress are even capable of reacting properly – that good guys with guns can and do stop bad guys with guns regularly. That more guns equals safety. Think about that for a second, it is like fighting fire with fire. It just is not logical.

For any of the myths out there, I just ask that people carry them out to their fullest and see if that makes sense. For example, a violence free society would look like what? An armed society, with more guns, more concealed, more of the most uncontrollable variable (the human being), what does that society look like? Why in the heck is anyone working towards the society of every person being a deadly threat?

Solution wise, I think it is very difficult to deal with the amount of guns already out there. Ideally, I would allow shotguns, incredibly strict requirements for handguns, ban all other gun type manufacturing for private sale, and continually push the facts and evidence with an education campaign to attempt to alleviate fears, and seek destruction of handguns and rifles.

TC: One of the more pervasive of ideologies that seem to prohibit any solutions including education, not to mention legal avenues, is this notion that some Americans believe and sometimes provide bad research to support a position that, “gun laws don’t work.”

It doesn’t matter how many other comparable societies that have changed their gun laws after ONE mass shooting. Nor does it matter that the evidence to support that less homicides take place with stricter gun laws and certainly less mass shootings. Still, people, and that includes educated people will say, “gun laws don’t work.” What do you say that? How do you get around that?

MW: Well, I agree that gun laws do not work when the laws are on the people. What I mean by that is that it appears as though human beings cannot safely coexist with such high levels of gun saturation and a dog-eat-dog culture.

I do not have the concept fully thought out, but understand that cops are out there shooting people at an internationally alarming rate in America because they are afraid everyone has guns. They are not following the laws about pulling that trigger because of the availability of guns.

The blood of prohibition, both alcohol and other drugs, is spilled on our streets and lives are destroyed so often and easily because the gun is available. With this current reality, laws and incarceration are not the solutions. People need to understand what we are creating, apply laws against new manufacturing, and start a cultural shift that recognizes how such power corrupts.

beetlejuice

TC: Finally, there’s a part of me that has hope – because that’s the right thing to do. But I also believe an individual and communities have to get to work in order for hope to be made possible and achievable.

It’s one thing to talk about change, and it’s another to make it happen. Of course change starts with a voice but it doesn’t end there. I have this bad feeling that even after what happened in Oregon, it won’t be too long until we’re having another “thoughts and prayers” session in the country over the same thing.

How do people who want change, how should they go about enacting it, both politically and within their communities?

We must change our culture.

MW: For better or for worse in how the public will take this, but thoughts and prayers do not work. We have to act. There are many of us that are acting right now and I really believe we will win. It will take time but what we are talking about are human beings winning in a just society with safe streets. With the availability of information and the work being done on the streets, we will win.

For the public that wants the future that I speak of, step 1: join and support Wolf PAC to get a Constitutional Amendment getting money out of politics, so our politicians actually represent us. Step 2: Protest with us, fight for change, force the government to act on reform. If you like my message, get me or someone like me in charge.

My ultimate desire is have a federal position enacting reform – make them do that. Make your politicians put qualified leaders with these visions in charge of your police departments. I would drop my path and go to a Cincinnati (or elsewhere) to prove that we can do this and I am far from alone. If you are a citizen, do you not want to live in fear of going to the movies or having a cop overreact to fear? If you are a cop, do you not want to work where you do not have to be afraid that every car stop contains a hidden gun? We must change our culture. TC mark


If you would like to contribute to the conversation, submit your article, commentary, or questions to dialogue@thoughtcatalog.com.


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