Words I wrote a while back in an Illinois Times op ed letter keep coming back to mind. I said: “Most of us will never commit armed robbery or push drugs. But under the right circumstances every one of us is capable of killing. Having a gun ready to hand will make this much easier.” Headlines this year have borne these words out: a young woman killed by a frightened homeowner when she went to his door for help with car trouble; one dead at a theater in Florida, at the hands (and gun) of a retired policeman.

As an active participant in the gun debate over the past two years, I have heard a lot about “law-abiding gun owners” and “criminals,” “good guys” and “bad guys” with guns, and “wackos,” (that last, quoted from remarks by NRA President Wayne LaPierre after the Navy Yard shooting in August). I have heard this language from politicians, a local gun rights lobbyist, everyday people and even from one or two of the mental health community (absent the “W” word).

That kind of us-versus-them talk is really just an attempt to rationalize our desire to carry guns. It is a concept that only works in B-grade westerns and naïve action-adventure movies. But this is the real world, and in the real world things get complicated. Law-abiding citizens snap, people sometimes act out of fear, people experience rage. As we have seen from the news this year, it doesn’t take a criminal or a wacko to kill someone with a gun. It takes a human being experiencing the emotions and faults we all share.

To you who will carry, I ask only this:

  • Remember that saving the day with a gun most often happens only in Hollywood fantasies.
  • In the real world someone intent upon premeditated harm will have the jump on you most of the time. Therefore, please remember the saying: “Discretion is the better part of valor.”
  • If you are in the company of someone who is angry or paranoid, practice peace. And discretion.
  • In fact, now would be as good a time as any to commit to peace as a way of life. You never know when it might come in handy.
  • Please stop using the us-versus-them language. We are all “them” at some time or another in our lives, and the saying, “There but for the grace of God go I” always fits.

y heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones to shootings and to the people who did the shooting. May they, also, be healed.

Catherine Wells of Rochester is a mental health counselor practicing in Springfield. She is president-elect of the Illinois Association of Couple and Family Counselors and is a supporter of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

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