Thursday, July 26, 2012

Guns! Guns! Guns!

The last few days, for obvious reasons, have seen a lot of talk about guns.  Including some by me.  I have kind of unusual views on the subject, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to sound them out.

First thing I should say is, despite my (generally) liberal affiliation, I'm not an advocate for gun control.  This isn't a new position for me.  I've always held it (at least for as long as I've bothered to think about such things), which has resulted in a lot of arguments with my liberal friends.  I'll get to the whys of my opinion in a minute, but I need to qualify this position first.  See, I'm a liberal, so when I say I'm "anti-gun control" or "pro-Second Amendment" (you'll notice I avoided both of those phrases at the beginning of this paragraph), I'm saying that from a liberal point of view.  I think private citizens have the right to own handguns, hunting rifles and shotguns.  I don't see any reason why a private citizen should be allowed to own an automatic weapon, or hollow-tip bullets, or hand grenades, or a flamethrower, or a cruise missile.  I also have no problem with requiring handguns to be registered, or requiring a license to own a gun.  So from the point of view of a far-right NRA member, I'm probably a pro-gun control zealot.

My feelings toward guns, and the intersection of guns and the law, are complicated, but I'll start by saying this.  The NRA types basically have four arguments against gun control, and I agree with three of them.

The first argument is, "guns don't kill people, people kill people."  This phrase gets mocked quite a lot in liberal circles, but the inherent logic of it always seemed unassailable to me.  A gun is an inanimate object.  It has no morality.  Since millions of people own guns and never commit crimes, it makes no sense to ban them.

The second argument is "outlaw guns and only outlaws will have guns."  I think when right wingers say this, they mean something like "if we outlaw guns, how will we protect ourselves from the army of criminals coming to take our shit and rape our womenfolk?"  And I guess there's some logic there,  people have a right to protect themselves from crime.  (I know Bobbie owned a gun when she was on the road, and it made me feel a little better.)  But mostly, I interpret it to mean that, as with anything else, prohibition creates a black market, and thus more crime.

The third argument--maybe it should be first, I'm just doing this in the order they pop into my mind--is the Second Amendment.  I mean, it's there.  You can argue that it's purpose is only to maintain a militia, and so it shouldn't apply, but I think when you're looking at the Constitution as a nuisance to be worked around, you're on shaky ground.  At any rate, whatever your interpretation might be, the Supreme Court recently ruled that it does indeed confer an individual right onto the citizens, so legally, it does.  If you want to ban guns, you need to get two thirds of Congress (and the President) to repeal the Second Amendment.  Without being flippant, let me just say that that is politically impossible.

The fourth argument is that guns are a good thing, and they helped make America great.  This is where I get off.  Guns are a goddamn plague.  I don't think they're any more of a boon to us than heroin or meth.  If we could wave a magic wand and make them all disappear, that would be lovely.  Handguns serve NO PURPOSE other than killing people.  I mean, sure, you can use them to protect yourself--FROM OTHER PEOPLE WITH GUNS.  If we had no guns, we'd have no need to protect ourselves from them.

But of course, that is a fantasy.  We cannot just "get rid of guns."  Even if we could stop them from being legally manufactured, there are enough of them already out there to keep people supplied through a black market indefinitely.  So we need to deal with that reality.

Oh yeah, and some folks also say that guns are important as protection against the tyranny of the government.  Now, this probably was at least partially the Founding Fathers' idea of what the Second Amendment was about.  But we live in a different world than they live in.  Your handgun--or even your rocket launcher--is not going to protect you from the world's biggest and most well-armed military.  It's a fantasy.  I'm drifting into cliche territory here--I highly doubt anyone has not heard this argument before, but in the interest of covering my bases, there it is.

But the reality is, Americans like owning guns.  I don't own one, and don't want to.  I think, in most cases, they're a damn fool thing to have in your house.  Statistically, a gun is much more likely to accidentally shoot someone than it is to be used in self-defense.  But Americans like them.  I don't want anyone getting between me and the stuff I like.  It's been explained in irrefutable terms to me that I'm supporting immoral institutions when I smoke marijuana or eat meat.  I don't plan to stop either activity any time soon, and I sure don't feel comfortable demanding that someone else just give up the shit they like.  Come to think of it, you could, in all honesty, make the case that our collective diet of violent entertainment is a factor.  I'm sure as fuck not going to stop watching violent movies.  I feel about these things pretty much the same way I feel about freedom of speech: if it applies to me, it has to apply to everyone, even the worst.  And let's face it, nobody is worse than gun nuts.

So, now that I've mapped all this stuff that's been in my head for a long time, I can move onto the new idea that's been in my head for the last few days.  Because I do think this country has a problem with guns.  Or, more specifically, with our gun culture.  It's not a problem that can be solved with legislation, but it's a problem that should be addressed.  This country has a sickness, and guns are a central part of it.  And we seem incapable of talking about it.  Michael Moore actually made a good attempt to address it in Bowling for Columbine, but if you ask any right winger about that film, they'll tell you it's a 2-hour diatribe calling for the banning of all handguns, even though he explicitly states at the end that he no longer believes that's the solution.  Which points to the problem.  Americans just don't want to fucking talk about it.  So I don't know if I think guns are a problem, exactly.  Maybe it makes more sense to say that gun culture is a problem.

One thing I kept hearing--and I hear it every time one of these shootings breaks out--is that the solution is for more "good guys" to walk around armed.  My sarcastic response to this on Facebook was "Yeah, I know I'd feel a lot safer if I knew that I was standing in a crowd of twitchy George Zimmermans waiting for the chance to play Clint Eastwood."  Maybe guns don't kill people, but I do not buy the idea that MORE guns make us safer.  The statistics don't bear this out.  And at any rate, no matter how awesome you are, if you're sitting there enjoying a midnight movie and suddenly some guy comes in in full body armor, obscures your view with a smoke bomb and starts opening fire, the chances that you're going to be able to take them down are incredibly slim.  And that's even assuming you're an exceptional shot and know what the fuck you're doing.  I'm sorry, but this is simply not a realistic standard for the average citizen.  It's almost like the arguments for abstinence.  No matter how many statistics you show that demonstrate how ineffective it is, you get this argument that people who fail at abstinence are not REALLY being abstinent, so abstinence still has a 100% effective rate.  And gun defense is 100% effective among the truly awesome.

And this is part of the problem.  This delusion that we're all secretly Batman.  I don't know what to do about it, but I know that when you have a problem, the first step is to admit that you have a problem.  And I can't help but feel like this belief in Secret Batmanism is at the root of our problem.  It's why we're stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we're STILL talking about going into Iran.  It's why Treyvon Martin is dead.  And maybe it's part of why this guy shot up a movie theater.  And maybe part of the blame lies with the drive for anti-gun legislation, because it puts the gun nuts into a defensive stance, and thus makes it impossible to talk about this very real sickness we have. But we need to talk about it.  Maybe we don't need laws against guns, but we do need to change the way we think about them.


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