Two Letters to President Obama About Gun Control
The battle over gun control is really about fear.
I'm an Instructor at Harvard, a consultant in risk perception and risk communication, author of How Risky Is it, Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts, and principal co-author of RISK, A Practical Guide for Deciding What's Really Safe and What's Really Dangerous in the World Around You. I run a program called Improving Media Coverage of Risk. I was the Director of Risk Communication at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, part of the Harvard School of Public Health, for 4 years, prior to which I was a TV reporter, specializing in environmental issues, for a local station in Boston for 22 years.
Dear President Obama,
I respectfully ask that you take no action to further limit Americans’ right to own firearms. I make this request not so much to protect my right to own guns, but because, like millions of my fellow Americans, I am afraid. I am afraid of the seemingly endless ways the government tells me what I can and can’t do. I am afraid of the increasingly frequent ways that, in the name of "government" and "democracy," it feels like the religious beliefs and moral values I share with millions of Americans are being trampled on. I am afraid of living in a nation, a great nation, that is moving in directions with which I disagree, but over which I have no control.
On top of all these factors, I am afraid for my future and my kids’ future. Not from climate change or terrorism, but because my wife and I are losing the financial ability to provide for the comfort and safety of our family. We work hard, but costs are rising and wages aren’t keeping pace. My wife just had to take a second job, but we still can’t save much anymore; for our kids’ college education, or to buy a home of our own, or even for a nice vacation. Like tens of millions of our fellow Americans, it feels like, economically, the bright American Dream future we were raised to look forward to and work toward is getting further and further out of reach, and it feels like we can’t do anything about that either.
I guess what all this boils down to is how scary it feels not to be in control of how our lives are going, or of our future. Not economically. Not in terms of how we’d like to live according to our values and beliefs, but society is telling us we can’t. Not in terms of something as simple as owning a gun to protect ourselves, something that could give us at least a little feeling of control against these scary times. I am sure you can understand, Mr. President, as a person and as a father, how profoundly threatening it is to feel like we can’t control how our own lives are going.
I understand that this fear is hard to accept for people who are concerned about gun violence, as all responsible gun owners are. I respect that some people might even be somewhat worried that they will be a victim of such violence. But our fears run far deeper. They are a constant corrosive presence in our daily lives. Not being able to live your life the way you want to, or shape your future, is far more threatening than how worried people might be about being shot, which most people know is highly unlikely, despite occasional high profile shootings that get lots of attention in the news.
Our deep fear is why we are fighting so passionately on this issue, to assert control somehow, some way, over our lives. Restrictions on a constitutional right feed our fears, and that will make a fight that is already dividing America even worse, which no president should want.
A. K. Fortisevn
Dear President Obama,
I write to encourage you to expand government controls on guns. While there are many intellectual arguments in favor of such controls, my plea is more emotional. I’m afraid. I’m afraid when I think about my kids in school. I’m afraid when I go to a store and see someone with a handgun on their waist that it seems like anybody could grab. I’m afraid when I read about the latest shooting. I’m afraid I might be shot and killed.
I am also afraid of the way the Supreme Court seems like it’s taking over the law to advance a conservative agenda. (I am not a member of either political party.) It’s frightening how Justice [Antonin] Scalia twisted the language of the Second Amendment, which clearly says that allowing people to own guns was so that a young nation that didn’t have an army yet could put together a militia to protect itself, to give everybody the right to own guns. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State...” is the reason people should be allowed to “bear arms.” I tried to read his ruling in the Heller case, but confess I got lost in the tortured grammatical argument he made to get the ruling he wanted to get to. It’s scary to think that the ultimate arbiters of disputes over what the law says aren’t being impartial, the way judges are supposed to be, and that they’re interpreting the Constitution so that America works they way they want it to. That feels like they are hijacking democracy itself.
And I’m afraid of the leaders of the NRA, a small group of extremist libertarians who lie and tell people that the government is coming to take their guns away and scare millions of voters into threatening to kick their government representatives out of office if they support any kind of reasonable gun control, even though the vast majority of Americans — including many gun owners and even many NRA members — want such controls.
But mostly I’m afraid that there are so many guns around, and that they are so easy to get, that the chance of being shot is becoming increasingly real. The basic job of government is to pool society’s resources and protect us from threats that we can’t protect ourselves from as individuals. I don’t feel protected. I feel unsafe. I feel scared, for my kids and myself and my friends and neighbors, and for America, if the values of a few can put the lives of the majority at risk.
Please do your job, Mr. President, and expand controls on guns.
image: Getty Images, Andrew Burton
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