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Guns! Guns! Guns!
Q: I know you’re Canadian but I’d be curious to know your take on the American gun situation…
Tricky topic. I can offer a rambling scatter-meditation from my own personal history and current feelings but I am painfully aware that other folks, perhaps whole other nations, are coming at this from a different complex of sensibilities than myself.
I liked playing “guns” when I was a kid. We didn’t do the whole Cowboys & Indians thing but we played War Games, fake duels and certainly I appreciated the practical and quasi-erotic potency of a well-designed metal weapon in my hand.
Maybe because I did this as a child I find something childish about adults who still seem to “get off” on the symbolism of gun ownership — and its almost fetishistic relationship between private property and the right to murder intruders and hold out against governments. But clearly not all gun enthusiasts are perverts. Or — who knows — maybe they are, but certainly not all gun owners are “enthusiasts.” For a lot of people it is simply practical and natural to make use of these weapons.
Growing up in rural Canada we have hunting weapons (rifles) and I used them to kill animals (pigs, deer) that we used to feed ourselves. That makes sense to me but at the same I join a lot of folks who are appalled that a supposedly civilized nation like the United States has such an insane frequency of mass shootings, school shootings, domestic murders, cop killers & killing-by-militarized-cops. I would not like to live in a country where any random citizen might be concealing a handgun or have an “assault weapon” nearby. With enough matches and dry paper, so to speak, you will eventually get a fire.
Or constant fires.
Obviously, in principle, and sometimes in reality, a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. However (although none of us can trust media or statistics anymore) it sure likes like a lot of data points toward people with guns being harmed by them more often than helped. And how often does the good guy’s kid take his gun to school? Or what happens when a good guy has an off day or takes the wrong medication or his PTSD kicks in? Not to mention that fact that most bad guys probably think they are good guys…
I’m not sure why I am even calling these “weapons.” Seems like a vague, uninspected category. Imprecise. Anything can be a weapon if you apply a little ingenuity. Beaten to death with toilet lid? Smothered by an excessive bosom? Poisoned by processed sugars? So what things am I really pondering? These are tools of some kind. Special tools for putting holes in objects. Although mostly these are for putting holes in animal bodies. And, with excepting of actual hunting rifles, these tools are mostly for putting holes in human animal bodies.
It’s really weird that whole populations might assume they need (and be willing to pay for) tools to put holes in human beings. It’s also really weird that our civic protectors, the “police,” so often use these putting-holes-in-people-at-a-distance tools as their first form of interaction with citizens.
On the very first episode of The Wire (an investigative procedural drama set in Baltimore that was briefly critically-regarded as the best TV show ever) one of the cops speaks with a drug dealer involved in a lethal shoot-out. The officer is confused. Every other business, he says, seems to be able to make money without constantly murdering each other — what gives? The kid is troubled. The kid ponders it in many subsequent episodes.
However we can also ask this question about the police themselves. Why does citizen protection need to involve putting so many holes in so many human bodies? We can also, as much of the world does, ask this question about the United States. Why does having freedom have to involve putting so many holes in so many human bodies?
In the movie Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks in the true story of an American boat captain taken hostage by Somali pirates) there is a perplexing scene in which the US government gets involved. Pirates??? Not on my watch!!! They mobilize the legendary Navy SEALS to fly in at top speed, drop into the choppy waters, climb aboard the nearby observational boat and then — immediately just wait with their guns for a clear shot. They have wait quite a while because of the little windows on the Somali vessel and the fact that they don’t want to accidently shoot Tom Hanks. But I’m sitting there thinking that these are the best trained, best equipped intervention agents in history and all they can do is wait passively for a chance to put holes in people? Don’t they have immobilizing gas? Stun guns? Sonic weapons? Is there really no just knock them all out and then sort them?
Why is “making holes” the default first move?
Urban police can call for a battering ram, helicopter or hostage negotiator when they need one — why don’t they call for a putting-holes-in-people-tool when they need one?
It is a reasonable question that feels preposterous.
Why does it feel that way?
Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Oddly, THOSE people seem to have most of the guns...
I’m actually a firm believer in the innocence of objects. Guns are not “responsible” for shootings. Individual & social psychology pulls triggers. Objects are not to blame.
It always pisses me off to go to a park or lakeside beach and see these signs promising imprisonment or hefty fines. What has the poor bottle done wrong? Are we racist against objects? Surely the point of the regulation is not to police the existence of objects but rather to curb the excessively obnoxious, careless or intoxicated behavior of human beings.
This is a like having a law against cannabis or open liquor in automobiles. I don’t care about the objects. If the driver is incapacitated by sleep deprivation, legal medication, grief, etc. I want him or her stopped no matter what items or substances are present. The point is to deal with the dangerous or disruptive behavior NOT with “things.”
In fact, as I often point out, I don’t care if the Air Marshall on my aeroplane has a gun but I’m worried about the terrorist with a lighter, nail clippers or a pointy spoon. In my utopian fantasies, we get way better at humanely policing psychology and rely less and less on trivial external factors like skin color, genitals and the possession of certain objects.
But we don’t live in my utopian fantasy.
It is hard to sanely evaluate a person’s psychology. Extra hard because we haven’t even really tried to a good job at improving and implementing non-reductive forms of internal profiling. Until then our ancient biases and contemporary convenience is going to leave us focused on objects. Maybe we aren’t yet ready to understand that guns don’t kill people…
Although it would be nice, I guess, if we at least enforced our existing laws against selling holes-in-people tools to the mentally ill, clinically depressed and folks with a history of violence and threats. Surely we can start acting on psychology just a little bit? After all Martin Luther King didn’t say we shouldn’t judge people — he said we should switch from judging them by external things and start judging them by the “content of their character.”
Scary, a little, but still: amen.
I have heard that in the United States, the greatest number of murders — including the murders of police — seem to involve domestic violence situations. More specifically, domestic violence situation in which the murder is committed by a man with a putting-holes-in-people-at-a-distance-tools who also was previously reported as as abusive and threatening.
One common complaint, recently addressed on The Problem With Jon Stewart, is that “police culture” is reluctant to take away a putting-holes-in-people tool from a
male property owner person.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Americans apparently have a “right to bear arms” which is supported by the ethos of the US police system.
Many people point out that this law applied to ancient, slow-reloading muskets and not to automatic military-grade assault weapons but the counter-argument, of course, is that the point of the Second Amendment is specifically to enable people to challenge the military dominance of an authoritarian or corrupt government. What is seldom mentioned is that rule is not about the day to day life of the general citizens. It is uniquely phrased in the context of a “well-regulated Militia.”
And if non-hunting use of putting-holes-in-people-tools were primarily associated with community organizations that were in fact “well-regulated” then probably we would not have the deaths and polarized opinions on the subject that we find today.
Americans in many states also have the right to “stand their ground” — which means they can legally put holes in someone who makes them feel threatened or who appears to be encroaching on their property rights. Oddly I never hear about this happening with any other kinds of tools. When was the last time you heard a new story about someone who stabbed to death, or axe-hacked, a hooded stranger who made them feel threatened?
Under some conditions you have to do whatever it takes to defend yourself and your loved ones. Sure. But how often is this really the case compared to the danger posed by upset gun-owners who already live in the house with you?
It’s a tough evaluation to make. These all are. We good good, competent and calm decision makers in our law enforcement response teams. We also need the right kind of incentives. We know what happens if police departments are allowed to keep whatever they “seize” from anyone suspected of a crime. They start suspecting and seizing a lot of things. That’s the power of incentives.
I wonder what the pro-gun-rights culture of police would become if the departments, and even the individual officers, were financially rewarded for each holes-in-people tool that they legally seized?
No doubt they might go overboard a little but perhaps that is the counterbalancing that America’s excessive hole-making culture requires at this point in history. I don’t know. I’m a crypto-socialist foreigner living in a fantasy world so I can’t perfectly speak to the realities & needs of the United States but everybody knows there’s a problem and we’ve got to, at least, start trying things…