Pacer Notes by Celeste Nahas

Celeste Nahas

On Wednesday afternoon last week at a little before 2 p.m., two men strolled through a Sellwood neighborhood carrying assault rifles on their backs. Portland police stopped the duo, but did not cite or arrest them, stating that they did not commit a crime. Both had a concealed handgun license.

Under Oregon law, it is legal to openly carry firearms with a valid CHL. The armed men were proudly displaying their Second Amendment rights as guaranteed by our Constitution, and hoping to “educate” the public.

The constitution as we know it qualifies their behavior as legal, but it in no way encourages unnecessary antagonisms. The armed men generated several 9-1-1 calls from worried civilians. They interrupted the security of a community-based neighborhood and caused a preschool to have a lockdown. They acted irresponsibly. Worse still, the men were carrying AR-15 rifles — the same gun used in the Newtown, Clackamas and Aurora shootings.

Lake Oswego is a safe community. We are lucky to have a police blotter that often serves as comic relief. But shooting incidents seem to be radiating inwards — glancing dramatically close to our bubble.

The recent shootings have been both tragic and unifying. And they have unveiled a buildup of questions we have perhaps been asking since the Columbine school shooting in 1999. What oversights and missteps allowed the bloodshed to occur? Does owning a weapon increase one’s security? Why are there 300 million guns in our country? Should teachers and other professionals be trained in gun usage? Can (and how can) gun regulation help prevent future tragedies?

I know little about guns. I do not know the proper terminology or how to shoot one. But to me the semantics, the discrepancies between gun models, matter little when in the hands of the “wrong” person. By nature, guns are menacing devices, capable of mass destruction. Yet the more I dig at this heated issue, the more it seems insurmountable. It is as if we have already thrown ourselves into the deep end and are just now deciding to learn to swim.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into a law an assault weapon ban that, among other tenets, banned ammunition magazines with a capacity in excess of 10 rounds. The ban was lifted in 2004. The Newtown shooter used 30-round clips to carry out his crime, and when he shot himself as police closed in, he still had plenty of bullets remaining. Connecticut law is considered one of the “stricter” state laws in the nation, yet it allows for the possession of a semiautomatic assault rifle.

Yet even if the Newton shooter had been limited to a magazine with a 10-round capacity, it would have been legal for him to carry additional clips with him to reload. And so the debate continues. In December, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, vowed to introduce legislation to ban assault weapons at the start of the next Congress. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, is also hopeful. Schumer believes focus should be on three areas: Banning assault weapons, limiting the size of clips, and making it harder for “mentally unstable” individuals to obtain firearms. But in Washington, lawmakers circle around themselves; little is yet accomplished.

Gun-saturated America has created a national culture in which projected violence leans too close to reality. Cultural and artistic experiences can be so powerful that they erode the boundary between fact and fiction. After all, the movie theater shooter in Aurora, Colo., dressed up as the Joker, a very violent character from the movie “Batman.”

In recent movies, such as “Zero Dark Thirty,” — which includes several torture scenes — we are almost invited to take pleasure in the violence itself, violence that would likely sicken us in real life. Is this harmless escapism or are there long-term effects? It seems that as violence in movies becomes more extreme and explicit, our weapons likewise become more automated and advanced at killing. We put millions of dollars into our film and media industries so that they can be dramatic and powerful. But now, so many images of violence exist in our culture that it is almost expected for unstable people to grab hold of them. When violence in media veers this close to what is real, the discussion becomes much larger than gun control.

Yet we have to begin somewhere. This week, Vice President Joe Biden proposed a plan to curb gun violence. In light of this news, gun and ammunition sales are spiking across the country as citizens rush to expand their arsenals in advance of the impending restrictions. Dale Raby, who manages a gun shop in Green Bay, Wisc., said his inventory of guns and ammunition was almost cleared out. He said that most of the interest was in AR-15-style rifles, the same semiautomatic weapon used to kill 26 people in the Newtown massacre.

Jack Smith, a gun dealer in Des Moines, said, “If I had 1,000 AR-15s, I could sell them in a week.”

It frightens me to know that citizens are able to buy the very weapons that are capable of ending 30 lives in 15 seconds.

Guns unveil our vulnerabilities: that we are quick to turn to violence, that we think the best protection is arming ourselves, that our culture has made us numb to the lethal potential of our weapons.

A comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence would include bans and restrictions on certain kinds of weapons and ammunition. It would entail enforced regulation of sales and interstate commerce, background checks, better mental health and screening care, stiffer fines and sentences, a massive enforcement initiative. It would be challenging to conceive, and harder still to implement. Yet this is no reason to give in or give up.

To those who argue that even with added regulations criminals will still find a way to obtain firearms, I counter that doing nothing is morally reprehensible. We cannot accept the recent fatalities as permanent reality. We must take the first step by listening to each other and working together.

Celeste Nahas is a senior at Lakeridge High School and writes a monthly column for the Lake Oswego Review. To contact her email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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