Walk a Mile with a Six Shooter and a Towel

*Originally written in 2013. Updated for COVID19

Do swimming and firearms and the pandemic have anything in common?  They seem as far flung as any three two things can be, but people have passionate opinions about all three. I  figuratively took a walk through each, to gain  some perspective. 

I love to be in the water. I prefer the ocean or even a lake to a chlorinated swimming pool, but in winter, I’ll take what I can get. Sometimes I swim with friends, but more often I’m on my own. I jump in, submerge my body in the cool water, and breath a deep sigh of relaxation.  Sometimes I swim strokes for exercise, but more often I float and enjoy the experience. In the water, the worries of the day float away. I have a few moments of peace, or if I’m with friends, some time to socialize.

I know plenty of people who don’t swim. Many don’t like the water because it is too cold. Others fear dangerous tides or sea creatures lurking below. Some people simply don’t like to get wet though they bathe (I hope). The point is, I know not everyone feels the same way about the water that I do.

On the other hand, I’m not a gun person. I don’t hunt, I don’t believe firearms are a good idea for self protection, and I translate the 2nd amendment to allow for assembling a militia only. I do not believe the founding fathers ever intended for individual Americans to possess military style assault rifles. Still, I have friends who strongly believe in guns and the right to gun ownership. For them, holding a gun in their arms, sighting their target, and pulling the trigger gives them a sense of well being that I have never understood, but maybe it is similar to the feeling of floating along with the tide in the ocean?  

After the shooting in Newtown and the subsequent gun control debate, I was baffled by the opposition to proposed restrictions on military style assault rifles and large count ammunition clips. It may seem a silly, but in order to put myself in the shoes of pro-gun Americans, I used swimming as my metaphor. I think it is important to walk a mile in the another pair of shoes to see the whole picture. Of course, Statistics comparing drowning versus gunshot deaths are not even in the same league. On average 6,000 people die from drowning in the US annually compared to 30,000 people who die from gunshot wounds, but as a non-gun person this was the best I could do to try to relate to what the pro-gun people where rallying against. 

Imagine if the government decided that in an attempt to save 6,000 lives every year from accidental drowning, an individual’s right to swim was to be restricted? Swimming would only be allowed in public pools or designated swimming areas monitored by trained life guards. Swimming areas would only be open during certain hours. Ridiculous, right? Why should I have to give up swimming when I want to and how I want to just because some careless people drown? It’s not my fault. I learned to swim as a child. I know my limits. I am not going to drown. Why should I have to suffer the consequences of new rules?

As a society advances, it becomes more complex requiring more rules, and less freedom. Technical advancements and societal complexities break down mores that bind a simpler society. Mere understanding of right and wrong can no longer be relied on to direct human actions. Sacrifice must be endured for the greater good; even if it seems unfair, it is the price each of us needs to pay for everyone to be able to live together in relative peace.

Understanding this broader view, I reconsidered the question:

Would I be willing to limit my exposure to an activity that I enjoy safely and proficiently in order to save the lives of other who may not?

Only being allowed to swim at certain times of the day and in designated areas monitored by a lifeguard  feels restrictive and unfair, but I would accept this small sacrifice for a greater good. New laws won’t stop rule breakers who choose to skinny dip at midnight unsupervised, and laws won’t stop illegal weapon exchanges, but that doesn’t mean these laws shouldn’t exist. Laws are a civilized society’s way of saying, “I can handle (this responsibility), but I’m willing to giving up some individual freedom because I’m not so sure about that guy over there.”

Sometimes looking up from the pool of water and admiring the vastness of the ocean can help broaden understanding. Big issues affect more than just ourselves or the people in our house, on our street, and in our town. Opening yourself up to the many sides of issues that affect everyone makes it is harder to stick to your individual guns. Be well informed, and gain perspective because no one can know if the will need a towel based on a single drop of water.

Since I originally wrote this the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and a debate has raged over mask, socially distancing and lock downs. One side accepts the need to make sacrifices for the greater good to save lives. The other side does not. As of today, nearly 300,000 Americans have died of the virus. Largely, the infection is being spread in the United States by people refusing to take the simple steps of wearing a mask and staying socially distanced from friends and family. A majority of these deaths could have been prevented if more people were willing to follow the guidelines. That is not opinion. That is fact based on other countries who were able to keep their infections and deaths down by successfully imposing restrictions.

I still stand by my conclusion written back in 2013: Be informed. Gain a broad perspective. Respect others. And Please #wearamask

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