25 September 2013

Tucker from New Rochelle, NY  


Tucker is a proud New York State schoolteacher. He's a union member and loves his work. "I didn't grow up thinking I'd ever want to be a teacher, but now that I'm doing it I can't imagine doing anything else."

He moves around between teaching second, third, and fourth graders depending on the year. His favorite subject to teach is math. On the weekends, he and his wife travel around New York and New England and during campaign seasons usually volunteer for Democratic state candidates that draw their interest.

But Tucker is also an avid gun enthusiast. "Some people collect stamps, I collect guns. My favorite one is a really old Henry rifle that was the personal sidearm of a Union soldier in the Civil War. I've got 37 guns of all shapes and sizes."

Tucker is keenly aware of the mass shootings that have rocked America and the gun control flare-up this has caused. "Newtown isn't far from where I work, so when the shooting happened I was horrified. I thought about what I would have done if that were me; I'm not sure my having a gun in the classroom would have changed anything. But I don't think that my gun ownership now threatens anybody."

This is a sentiment that people like Tucker have dealt with in the face of harsh media scrutiny. They, like many others, are heartbroken by the mass violence that has taken lives in nearly every state in the Union. But they don't believe they are part of the problem.

"Each time a mass shooting happens, there is an underlying cause. Sometimes I think that is the mental instability of the person behind the trigger; sometimes it's that the person just doesn't know what to do with a gun in his hand. Whatever the reason, in none of these instances has a mass shooting been the fault of law-abiding gun owners, and none of us wants our freedom taken away."

Tucker talks about the difficulty of being a teacher in a school where there are--from time to time--troubled students who threaten to repeat tragedies like Columbine or Newtown. "These kids don't know what they're talking about and they're looking for attention. As much as you want to wring their necks, you don't give up and you don't ignore them--you get them the kind of help that they need. That's our job as teachers and parents."

What about background checks and other gun control measures? "I don't have a problem waiting a few extra days to purchase a firearm so the police can make sure I'm not crazy; in fact, that makes me feel safer. As far as how long that wait period should be, I don't know and don't have a problem with current law.

I do think that we can do more to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental health issues and especially out of the hands of kids and criminals. But at the same time I worry; should someone's rights be contingent upon a subjective definition of 'mental health?' So I guess I really don't know what to believe."

Tucker is a fan of President Obama and, despite his stance on guns, doesn't fault the president for his words after recent gun-related incidents. "He's the president of a country in mourning when that stuff happens. It's his job to inspire people to think critically about things; to help put into perspective some national tragedy. I don't think he's ever said 'let's take the guns away,' and I agree with him that we should be talking about what is the right amount of gun control in this country."

As for what he'd like to see changed in current law: "Nothing. I don't think this is a problem with a government answer. Restricting gun ownership is more damaging than allowing current laws to stay on the books. I think what it takes is people in my school district stepping up and making sure our kids and families are okay, and I think it's people in every other school district and town in America doing the same exact thing. Nobody should be left out or allowed to fall through the cracks."

Sportsmanship is a perfectly legitimate reason to own guns. Folks want to own big guns, old guns and unique guns for the same reason you'd want to keep an old muscle car or a vintage single malt--they mean something special to you and give you some measure of pride and joy. They may all contribute to killing people if used improperly, but such impropriety is already illegal.

America--at its very core--is an experiment. Inherent in that definition is some assumption of risk--the notion that with our individual rights comes individual responsibilities. Teach your children how to use firearms if you are so inclined, or solicit help from trusted neighbors and community programs if you aren't keen on the subject but your child grows up wanting to learn. Above all, help those in need, whether that person is your own child struggling with mental illness or someone else in the community. The good news is--in an America that is true to its founding roots--you should never have to do any of this alone. Our earliest communities were centered around the principle of shared sacrifice, shared reward; our most basic common religious virtue can be summed up by saying, "do unto others as you would have done unto you." Simple in slogan, perplexing in practice.

The issues of mental health, community awareness, and education are as important to this issue as the Second Amendment argument. We need to do more to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. We need to be a part of each other's lives; especially with those who are having a tough time getting by. We need to teach our kids both the right way to handle firearms and the right way to treat human beings.

I understand the view of some folks who say, "What could you possibly want to do with an AR-15?" But I don't ask those same people what you could possibly want to do with a sleek Japanese sport bike or tickets to the shark cage in Hawaii. The ability to make choices--and with them, individual risk management--is a hallmark of freedom in America. The need to come together as families and communities--to ensure that nobody falls through the cracks--is an ongoing struggle in this country. But it's as important as ever.

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