On Guns

I grew up as the child of a small Houma Indian community in south Louisiana. My father was a hunter, trapper and commercial fisherman so my early years were spent at his side observing and learning those life-ways. In our household a gun was just another tool with which we put food on the table.

My first experience hunting was with a single-shot 410 shotgun with which, as a youngster, I brought home my first meal, a fat little marsh hen. In that experience was embedded one of the most important firearm lesson my dad would teach me. While I had friends who would use an occasional, non-eatable, seagull or blackbird for target practice my dad was emphatic that “if you kill it you eat it!” Waste and wanton destruction was a cultural faux pas that was unacceptable.

It is this background that always foreshadows my contemplation of the gun debate that has been so prevalent in America these past couple decades. I consider my observations on this charged political oratorical struggle to be somewhat non-partisan. I’ve been a registered independent since I signed my first voter registration nearly forty years ago. As an indigenous scholar with definite anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist leanings I do not fit squarely into either of the two political polarities. From this position issues are judged on merit, I would hope, and not as democratic issues or republican issues.

My social media feed today contains opinions across the spectrum from the friend who remembers fondly the bygone years when high schoolers had gun racks in their pick-up trucks to the social activist who wants to end private gun ownership this minute. They are, of course, entrenched in their respective political parties and leave little room for the possibility of common ground.  If there are to be solutions found it would seem that a first step would entail a lowering of those party flags. Unfortunately, it seems that with every incident, with every mass shooting, the flags go up, the bunkers are strengthened, and the doors are closed.

On the right, once you get past thoughts and prayers, we are pointed in the direction of mental illness or violent video games while the left calls out the corrosive influence of the NRA. This, of course, does not imply that there is some sort of both sides do it equivalency but rather speaks to the fact that both camps have now stock, pre-loaded responses ready for the revolving news cycle.

I feel forced to question the assumptions and interpretations of the gun rights advocates. Statistics tell us that mental illness is responsible for 5 percent or less of gun deaths in the United States. Further, it is understood that mental illness affects men and women somewhat equally yet the perpetrators of mass shootings are predominantly male. As to the influence of violent video games, these also exist in countries such as Denmark or Japan yet they have somehow escaped our mass shooting epidemic.

While I understand fully how the continued carnage in our classrooms inspires a passionate call in some to eliminate private gun ownership I cannot fully acquiesce to the idea as a solution. On the practical side we live in a nation of over three million guns; we are 5 percent of the world’s population yet we own over half of the world’s guns. If the sale of guns were outlawed today, this dynamic would not change for some time. Change, especially political change, has and always will be incremental at best. Fair, just, or infuriating, it is a reality we are forced to live with.

Added to this is the actuality that in America today money is considered legally to be speech so that now organizations such as the NRA can pour millions of dollars of gun manufacturers’ speech into the pockets of politicians to influence or obscure the issue. By equating money with speech the debate is skewed and any attempt to find a democratic consensus is curtailed.

An honest, personal perspective; I don’t see how giving up my shotgun or hunting rifle, if I care for and use them responsibly, could curtail or reduce needless gun violence. I feel like giving up these tools with which I can feed my family or enjoy recreationally would be patently unfair or unjust. While, at the same if I am asked or legislated into giving up my right to own a semi-automatic assault rifle I would wholeheartedly agree. My experience in the Armed services with the M-16 more than demonstrated to me its impracticality as a hunting weapon and its lethality as a weapon of war.

For those who feel that they need an assault rifle to stand against a potential tyrannical government I remind them that said tyrannical government possesses weapons such as tanks and hellfire missiles in abundance. A personal AR-15 is little deterrent to the most powerful army on earth. If we want to be truly safe from a tyrannical government, a vicious drug gang, or any imagined threat we should put all our efforts into securing a government that is ruled by its people and not by its corporations or special interest groups. When over 80 percent of the U.S. population supports common sense gun regulation yet the debate remains stymied in a political quagmire there would seem to be a fault in the political foundation.

If these common sense regulations only result in a 5 or 10 percent drop in mass shootings are not those lives worth the effort? I know there are those that proclaim that any legislative restrictions will lead eventually to confiscation. To that argument we have but to point to District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2008 Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right to individual ownership of guns. If you agree or disagree with the decision, it is still the law of the land and the government is obligated to it. Besides the reaffirming of those 2nd Amendment rights it did, also, reaffirm the government’s right and duty to regulate that right. You can have a rifle or pistol but you can’t own your own personal cruise missile.

Democracy is a matter of trust; can you trust your government to defend the right to own a gun while at the same time restricting the type and capacity of said weapon for the greater good of all? Or do you feel like all that stands between you and tyranny is your AR-15? Is this withholding of trust worth the price paid in blood for the anarchy it produces?

T. Mayheart Dardar was born in the Houma Indian settlement below Golden Meadow, Louisiana. He served for sixteen years on the United Houma Nation Tribal Council (retired in Oct. 2009). Currently he works with Bayou Healers, a community based group advocating for the needs of coastal Indigenous communities in south Louisiana. Read other articles by T. Mayheart Dardar, or visit T. Mayheart Dardar's website.