Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Guns in Public

So, a lot of people have been up in arms about the open carry demonstrations happening in some places. People who carry around large guns on their everyday errands simply to prove they have the legal right to do so.

Yesterday, I ran across one, very logical response. There's a couple of good arguments there about the problems inherent with such demonstrations, and a reference to the very real legal death spiral that could potentially arise in light of the most extreme versions of "stand you ground" laws.

I don't get the open carry thing. I don't even get the concealed carry thing. I am biased here. I always thought we had robust police forces and gun laws because the old "Wild West" tradition supporters of open carry so often tout didn't really work for civilized society. But what do I know?

The solution proposed in that article above is just to leave immediately whenever there are guns present. If it means walking out on the bill at a restaurant in favor of your and your family's safety, then so be it. This is essentially a economic protest (and one likely more effective than a boycott) - real actual customers have much more influence on merchants than angry former-customers (that's how Wal-mart employees got improved health care).

I don't like this response, though. It seems to make some presumptions I'm uncomfortable with. It's entirely based on fear (both real and pretend). The article advises leaving, even if you're pretty confident the gun carrier means no harm. It's a statement of ignorance, really; "I see a weapon that could be dangerous. I don't know the person carrying it or their intentions. Therefore I will leave to avoid a potential trauma."

I don't like increasing fear, even if it's the righteously indignant variety. Fear is what got us into this predicament in the first place. People carry guns out of fear. They're afraid, God forbid, some situation might arise where they or their loved ones or the people around them might be threatened in some way and they want to be able to act decisively. They may not be afraid; they might be brave, but the motivation is still one of fear.

I'm not even saying it's an unjustified fear (although, I suspect, in most cases, it is)- there could be all the evidence in the world to support such suspicion and preparation, but it is still ultimately a fear reaction (or proaction, as the case may be).

I don't think responding to one fear reaction with another is the right thing to do.

I'm not exactly sure what the right thing to do is, but, when in doubt, I revert to love.

Thankfully, I'm not involved in violent or threatening situations that often. I have, however, spent more than a fair amount of time thinking about how I'd like to respond if I were in one. Fear isn't an option (it's probably likely; I'm pretty convinced I'd run crying like a scared toddler from gunshots as an instinctual reaction - but that still doesn't make it the right thing to do).

So what is a loving response to such perceived threats? Well, even before this issue of open carry became a "thing," my decision was simply to treat anyone with a gun as if they meant no harm - even if they explicitly stated otherwise (as opposed to the article, which asks people to treat every gun as malicious, even if told otherwise). I simply believe that people do what they do for a reason - it might be a dumb reason or a selfish one or even an unconscious reason of which they are entirely unaware - but outside of brainwashed child soldiers or abuse victims, most everyone acts in what they believe to be the "right" way for their particular situation (and even child soldiers and abuse victims have clear justification in their own minds).

Fear brings out the worst in people, both in the terrified and in the object of terror. People react poorly when others are afraid of them; we are not our best selves. It gets even worse when people are already stressed out or confused, and even worse still when they're armed.

Yes, I know, my decided response is pretty irresponsible and it's going to be called naive (although I'd argue nothing can be naive when you know full well what you're doing). It's quite likely (at least in public perception) to get me hurt or killed. (I'd still argue that the likelihood I'd ever be in a situation to even require this reaction is slim to none, but ultimately irrelevant.) But, you know what? I would honestly rather die in love and grace than live with fear.

I say that not just for the quality of life each choice brings, but for the overarching existential statement. I'd rather be a dead guy dumb enough to believe in love, than a living guy who's suspicious and afraid - no matter how smart and well-respected it makes me.

That's my choice. It doesn't have to be yours. But this is just an opinion - and the guy in the article above gave his. There's great merit there and much logical sense. I choose to go a different direction. If you want me advice about how to respond if you see some guy with an AK-47 across the aisle from you at the movies, here it is:

Just refuse to be afraid.

Assume he's some guy with extreme views about guns and freedom and that he's just trying to enjoy Melissa McCarthy fat jokes like the rest of us.

If you refuse to be afraid, then you'll never need a gun. If everyone refuses to be afraid, then no one will need a gun (unless MacGyver-style deer traps just aren't you thing). Sure, you might ask what happens if a few people fail to follow this trend and keep their guns, using them for malicious purposes - but that's the fear talking. I've seen more people talk their way out of tricky situations with grace and love than I've ever seen people shoot their way out of anything.

Before I finish, I do know that fear is not something you necessarily control (hence my confession to likely running from danger at the first opportunity). Sometimes we are afraid and sometimes that fear is strong enough to motivate action. Sometimes we don't get the choice whether to react our of fear or out of something else. To that, I'd just say, don't make it easier for fear to win. We make choices each and every day that set ourselves for the reactions we have. Think about how you want to respond in a tense situation, and in those other times, when you aren't reacting on instinct, set yourself up to choose love over fear.

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