BRETT BECK: A differing view of gun control


On Dec. 14, a 20-year-old boy shot dead six adults and 20 kids at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Hundreds of lives were changed, for the worse, forever. I worked in Newtown at a state psychiatric hospital. I applied for jobs in Newtown.

Had things turned out differently, my youngest son would have been at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday. To be shot at. For our lives to be destroyed.

There have been too many of these incidents: Virginia Tech, Columbine, Aurora.

Uh oh, you say. Here comes the overeducated, northeastern liberal who is going to preach to us about gun control.

Actually, I view gun control about the same way I view airline security. Mostly useless. I do not for a moment think that putting my tiny shampoo in a plastic bag is going to save me from a sophisticated bomb.

However, I am willing to put up with a FEW inconveniences (which by the way go against my Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search) so that you can catch the more obvious terrorists. You know, the ones who put a wad of explosives in their pants.

I would like to see about the same level of control for guns, which is pretty much what we have now. A kid has to wait a few days for a background check before buying an assault rifle. Ditto for violent psychiatric patients, felons, and career criminals.

But we could do better. What I really would like to see is a panel of about half ACLU members and half NRA folks come up with some common sense regulations.

For example, I don’t think you really need armor-piercing (i.e., cop killer) bullets to go bird hunting. You could probably do with a few less assault rifles or at least make them harder to get in the hands of crazies. Maybe you could identify people who are buying large caches of ammunition — heck, you have to go through a security check just to buy a box of Sudafed at Walmart. There is a pragmatic, middle ground here. Again, I am willing to put up with a FEW limitations on my Second Amendment rights, but very few. Guns are not sacrosanct. Let’s pay attention to what works.

Because we can do better.

Anyway, my neoliberal suggestion for gun control is to, get this, go spend some time with your kids. Real time. Not really that original or earth-shaking, but I think it will do as much good as anything else.

Turn off the TV, Xbox, and iPad. Let those little rugrats know that they are loved and that they do fit somewhere in our society. Show them a few tips about social interaction, particularly how to be forgiving of oneself and others.

There are many things I find repugnant about Southern culture, but one thing that I loved growing up was Saturday with my dad. Every Saturday my dad would come in and say, “Let’s go to town.” We would hop in the pickup truck and head for the hardware store to buy something to fix whatever had broken down that week. If we really were wasting time we might goof around until lunch at the diner.

None of it mattered, it was just time with my dad. What I wouldn’t give for one more Saturday. I miss you dad, and I forgot to tell you thank you.

Most kids I knew did the same thing, either with their mother or with their father. It grounded us, gave us a sense of place, and prepared us for our entry into adulthood. I hope it prevented the alienation that seems to lead to these violent events.

Finally, I want to repeat my hope that events like that Friday will help remind us what we all have in common. We all want a safe future for ourselves and for our children.

Recently, a friend of mine from Georgia texted me in Times Square in New York City. I had gone in for the day with my kids to soak up a little of the holiday insanity. The Tide had just stopped the Dawgs on the five-yard line to win the SEC Football Championship. My friend got her Ph.D. in Athens; I got mine in T-Town.

Her text said, “Have I told you lately how much I hate Alabama.” I knew at that instant that we had won. A few minutes later, “Oh well, just beat Notre Dame. We want to keep that title in the SEC.” I think that is a good model for the country. We can compete, cajole, despise, taunt, and belittle one another. But in the end, we are all Americans.

And we can do better.

Brett L. Beck is a professor of Psychology at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. For the past 30 years he has taught students at the high school, college, and graduate school levels. He is co-author of the book, “Surviving College: A Real World Experience.” He lives in Santa Rosa Beach.