Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People–But Guns Make It Too Damn Easy

Credit: CNN

I know that I haven’t blogged in a while, and I wish I were coming out of the woodwork to comment on a more uplifting subject. But today, I feel I need to talk about my views on gun control. In fact, I don’t just feel a need—I feel it’s my duty as a person and as a writer to use my voice, and my blog, to share how I and so many others are feeling about guns in the wake of yet another senseless tragedy.

In “Say No to ‘The New Normal’–Five Things You Can Do About Gun Violence,” Daily Beast columnist Cliff Schecter writes that individuals can make a difference when it comes to gun violence and gun control, even by simply talking about it. He reminds us: “You are consequential. You have a voice. You have reading clubs, Facebook friends, bridge parties, etc. Make sure everyone knows your feelings on this issue.” And maybe Schecter’s case is even more applicable to writers over anyone else. Last week, author Nick Sweeney called for us writers to remember that we are the voice of the people in his Atticus Review op-ed, “Changing the Narrative: The Responsibilities of Writers in a Time of Crisis.

As a response to both of these reminders, here are my unbridled views:

1. I don’t know what to think exactly, but there are other countries in the world that don’t have this problem.

I am so saddened to hear of the shooting in Oregon, and the subsequent unrelated shootings at Texas Southern University, and at myriad other locations throughout the United States. Though at this point, I don’t even know what to think anymore. After watching Obama’s first remarks about the Oregon tragedy, I was glad that our president gave voice to my opinion on this matter.

At this point, I support responsible gun owners who use them for hunting, sport, or a sense of protection, and feel they should be able to continue that. But there needs to be stricter gun laws to prevent the wrong types of people from easily getting a gun. I’m not sure what that will look like in the United States, but other countries have done it successfully.

2. Guns don’t kill people, but guns make it that much easier for people to kill people.

Yes, it IS people who make the choice to harm others, so we may never be able to prevent that. But what we need to focus on is reducing the CHANCES of innocent people being killed, especially en masse. Maybe guns themselves don’t kill others (except when those all-too-frequent accidents occur while cleaning a gun or when a child finds one and plays with it), but I have 100% certainty that without guns, people wouldn’t be physically able to kill as many people in short periods of time.

Of course, gun enthusiasts will say that a person who wants to kill others will just use something else. A knife, perhaps. They’ll probably cite the recent Kunming attack that occurred in 2014 at a Chinese train station where 29 people lost their lives to eight knife-wielding terrorists. They’ll say, “See? It’s not just guns we have to worry about. Are we going to need background checks to buy kitchen knives next?” But guess what? It took eight of those disgusting people to kill 29 others. That’s 3-4 victims per psycho. Do you think the death toll would have been the same if the eight of them had guns? Stricter gun laws will likely result in a mentally ill potential killer—or in the case of terrorism, a mentally misled and brainwashed potential killer–only hurting a few people with a knife, rather than 10, 20, or more with a gun.

3. State by state, stricter guns laws = less gun violence

In fact, there’s a direct correlation between stricter gun laws and decreased gun violence/death by gun. According to this State by State gun law graphic from National Journal, states with the strictest gun laws (which includes things like background checks, lack of “stand your ground” laws, and required permits/registrations) have the least occurrences of gun violence. We’ve got a truly promising answer right here!

Credit: Politifact

4. Do we really need to live like this?

I also need to admit that ever since the Aurora, Colorado tragedy, I can’t comfortably sit in a movie theater anymore. I get extremely nervous when someone walks across the floor in front of the screen just a little too slowly. I also get nervous, sometimes, on public transportation and in public places where I know someone could bring a gun quite easily—trains, buses, subways (and if I were a student, classrooms)—all because these things have been happening, and keep happening. Because the current gun laws don’t fully prevent a person with bad intentions from getting their hands on a gun. Because I know that someone planning something like this can just walk into a local Wal-mart in some states and buy a gun without a background check or mental health check that would at least raise some red flags.

I’m also sick of the mental health stigmatization that is often reinforced in the wake of shootings. What makes someone perform an act of violence is very complex, and often isn’t only a result of brain chemicals, but also their upbringing, the culture they live in, life events, and a host of other things (most importantly, a disregard for the preciousness of human life, which is not exactly a mental health issue). People with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of crimes rather than the perpetrators, and this has been proven over and over again. Pretty much everyone I know, including myself, has dealt with some type of mental health issue at some point in their life, especially things like anxiety and depression. It’s not uncommon to go through something like that, and many people who deal with it are not a danger to others or even themselves for that matter.

I would like to live in a country where my worries about someone randomly using a gun to kill people are unfounded. Let’s make it so that my or anyone else’s fears of gun violence are nothing to worry about. We need to do everything we can to keep people from harming others. End of story.

The Literary Magazine Process (and Struggles): An Interview with The Summerset Review

via summersetreview.org
via summersetreview.org

Literary magazines play a fascinating role in the writing world. They’re often described as magazines published by writers, for writers (i.e. no one, besides writers, reads them). But they’re also where many famous writers first gain exposure.

After moving on from picture books as a kid, I usually read novels. I’d maybe borrow a short story collection like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark from my elementary school library, but that was about it. When I later realized my inclination to write, and began identifying myself as a writer, I thought I’d just write novels. So that’s all I cared about at first. I had an entire, possibly blissful, naiveté that a subculture of short story writing and literary magazines even existed.

Upon studying writing in college, though, I was soon exposed to the wonders of short stories. That statement probably calls for a separate blog post devoted to short stories (which I’ll make sure to get to one of these days). The gist here is that I quickly saw that short stories are just as exciting, inspirational, and important, as novels, and that the best places to find them are in short story collections and in literary magazines. It was my friend, Nick Sweeney, who encouraged me to keep writing short stories after college and submit them to print and online literary magazines (for the inevitable form rejection letters, of course).

Nick is now on the other end of the writer/literary magazine relationship, sending out lots of rejections, and sprinkling some acceptances in there as well. He’s an assistant editor at the online literary magazine The Summerset Review. I asked Nick some questions on what it’s like to work for a literary magazine, especially one that’s only online, hoping he could shed light on his experience in editorial, and on the quite mysterious process of lit mag acceptance and rejection.

In conjunction with The Summerset Review‘s new Spring 2014 issue, released last weekend on March 15th, below is my interview with Nick. If you have any other questions about literary magazines, please feel free to post in the comments section, or send me an email at grossman.stephaniem (at) gmail.com.

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SMG: What’s your role at the Summerset Review?

NS: As one of the assistant editors, I review forthcoming books, maintain our social media presence, and read the fiction submissions for my editor.  I have also attended a workshop with my editor at a college to discuss the inner workings of a literary magazine and the submission process. The staff members at The Summerset Review wear all kind of hats, as the saying goes.

SMG: How did you go about landing that position?

NS: You know that piece of advice “if you want something, just ask?” Well, sometimes it actually works. I read The Summerset Review when I was in college. I came across it during my search for magazines that looked like they would want a story of mine. I actually got rejected a few times submitting there, with a little note encouraging me to try again. After a few tries I decided to email Joe, the editor, and ask if I could join the staff and see how the other end of the publication process works. A little bit of the can’t beat ‘em, join them attitude. It’s been all uphill since there. It’s actually helped my writing.

SMG: Can you think of a story that made it out of the slush pile and into the publication? If so, what made the story stand out?

NS: Well, we really don’t have a slush pile. All submissions are objectively evaluated. We do not solicit, and we take pride in that. Submissions that stand out for us are those with some narrative flair to them or those that involve some uncommon and sometimes quirky element as to their content. Though we judge each story on its own merit, we often find that when a writer proves to us in a cover note that they are familiar with the magazine, by saying something specific about a story they liked that appeared in Summerset, the submission is usually more compatible with what we are looking for than the average submission.

SMG: What are some of the biggest struggles facing literary magazines like The Summerset Review today?

NS: For print magazines, I think the biggest struggle is keeping the magazine going financially, as print issues do incur considerable cost and many universities are questions the value of the investment. For typical online magazines, the biggest struggle cost-wise would usually be tech staff to produce and update the web site. Specifically at Summerset, we’re fortunate that our editors have enough tech-know-how to maintain a very simple site, which is all you really need. It’s the content that ultimately matters. So for us, the biggest struggle is to try to attain the level of readership and reputation that has thus far only been attained by reputable print magazines. Very few online venues have been recognized by the major annual award collections such as Pushcart, Best American Short Stories, and O Henry. We believe the work we are putting out is consistently of the same caliber, and constantly struggle with how to accomplish a seat at this award level.

SMG: Any exciting plans for the magazine, or interesting stories coming up in the next issue?

NS: We have some stories coming out for our next issue that are very…different. 2013 was a good year for us, submission-wise. We found some real gems. Erica Sklar’s essay, for instance, really sticks with you. I can’t speak highly enough for the treasure we got last year. So, I would suggest reading all of last year, if you can. And it’s only going to get better this year. That’s a bold prediction, I know, but I stand by it.  Put March 15th on your calendar.

SMG: How has working at a literary magazine influenced you as a writer?

NS: It has made me appreciate the efforts of creating and maintaining a literary journal. The independent journal operates solely on the love of writing and reading. The staff (all unpaid) at Summerset have full-time jobs and still have time to read submissions, discuss what pieces we believe have a chance at awards like the Pushcart Prize, and brainstorm ways to make a better experience for our readers. As a writer, I work harder now on cover letters and making sure my submissions are in line with the type of stories that a magazine would contain. I’ve been exposed to some really cool writers found only in the depths of online and small print journals. If you truly love literature and stories, be a book reviewer, a reader, or an editorial assistant for a few issues. Being part of the Summerset has allowed me to really see the commitment of the literary community and to help make bigger. I’m glad to play a role in it now.