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The most surprising way to honor rural gun culture in 2019? Gun control

In 2019, we must recognize gun control for the urgent issue it has become, support legislation that ensures people who own guns are qualified, and withdraw support from weapons that can only be abused.

photo of man holding rifle inside gun shop
Even hard core gun enthusiasts should support basic restrictions, like registration and background checks — which we don’t have — because they aim to ensure Minnesotans use firearms responsibly.
REUTERS/George Frey
Ellie Hansen

Since the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting on Valentine’s Day last year, state governments have passed more than 50 new gun laws. Minnesota isn’t one of them.

Tim Walz, who will take office as governor today, supports gun control — he didn’t used to. In a MinnPost article in September, Walz is quoted explaining that he shifted his stance because of rising gun violence.  Walz also says his fellow rural Minnesotans see gun control as less “urgent” than urban residents because of rural gun culture.

Walz is right. I’m a college student from Walker, a small town, where perhaps unlike the Twin Cities, guns are part of growing up. I’m here to argue that while we’re not all gun-crazy, this year rural Minnesotans urgently need to reconcile our gun culture with the need for gun control.

Symbol of individual responsibility, self-sufficiency

I was 10 years old when I learned how to shoot a gun, spending quality time with my father in northern Minnesota. Here, rural gun culture is ubiquitous and not strictly conservative — I come from a long line of gun-owning Democrats. Instead, rural Minnesotans like guns because we value self-reliance above damn near everything else. The ability to hunt and provide meat for our families is an enormous source of honor. Guns are a tool. They’re also a symbol of individual responsibility and self-sufficiency.

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But our values contrast sharply with those of people like Parkland assailant Nikolas Cruz. Last year, Cruz entered his high school with an AR-15 assault rifle. He fired rounds into the hurricane-resistant windows — his target was not a pine tree, like mine, but his fellow classmates. He killed 17 people.

Mass shooters like Cruz pervert guns as rural Minnesotans see them, using them to kill and maim innocents — and Cruz’ betrayal of our values is hardly an exception. According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2018 alone there were 340 mass shootings in America, and 14,596 people died from gun violence.

And therein lies the tension surrounding gun control for rural people. We see guns as an individual honor and responsibility. But that no longer matches our reality of mass shootings that harm large groups of people. That is not to say that rural people are callous. My community, of course, is devastated by mass shootings. Many support measures like background checks, and some even back banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.

The ‘slippery slope’ argument

Too many, however, espouse the National Rifle Association’s “slippery slope” argument: the fear that if we let our government implement basic gun control, we’ll be stripped of our weapons — in our minds, left utterly defenseless.

It is entirely natural for my community to defend rural gun culture. However, we are mistaken if we believe that gun control advocates want to take this away. The NRA’s argument that gun control supporters want to take all guns has been proven false. People who support gun control do not want to strip the rights of the individual — they want to protect the collective, children and communities, from violence from people who misuse guns.

Seen this way, gun control actually aligns with rural values. Even hard core gun enthusiasts should support basic restrictions, like registration and background checks — which we don’t have — because they aim to ensure Minnesotans use firearms responsibly. In other words, how we know guns should be used.

We can even support banning assault weapons. An assault rifle cannot shoot a deer to feed your family. It can kill and maim hundreds of people. If a gun cannot fulfill its proper purpose, but can cause unimaginable tragedy, why should we support its legality? The idea that we must defend all guns in order to defend those that are useful is a fallacy.

Respect and protection

I learned to shoot a shotgun when I was 10. But I also worry about my brother, and the potential for a mass shooter to attack his high school. These facts are not in tension with each other, as they might seem. We can respect and promote rural gun culture while protecting our communities.

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Rural Minnesotans know that guns are a symbol of independence, a means to obtain food — not weapons of mass violence. In 2019, we must recognize gun control for the urgent issue it has become, support legislation that ensures people who own guns are qualified, and withdraw support from weapons that can only be abused. In other words, to protect our communities, and our gun culture, we can and must support gun control.

Ellie Hansen is from Walker, Minnesota. She attends Columbia University.

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