Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Ballad of Smith and Wesson

I spent most of my formative years in Vermont. We moved there near the start of second grade and left after middle school. I grew up there - for all intents and purposes - which means I grew up in a hunting culture. I haven't lived there in twenty-five years, so I can't say if things have changed, but certainly it was NOT a gun culture, at least not in the way you see today. Hunting was (and presumably is) a part of life. Kids went hunting as soon as they were old enough to take a hunter's safety course. My middle school was one wing of the high school and there were pickup trucks in the student lot with rifles (plural) on racks in the back. In what might be an apocryphal story (although if it is, I've done a phenomenal job of creating the memory of a photograph in my head) one of my sixth-grade classmates killed a deer with a .22 while out squirrel hunting before school one day (the photo is of a brutally mutilated deer head, because .22 bullets are small and it takes a lot of them to kill a deer).

We were not a hunting family, as anyone who's ever met my father could tell you (although there's a great/traumatic story about my mother picking off a moving groundhog with a head shot from 150 yards in defense of her garden), and guns have never really interested me, but I grew up around it. Hunting was part of life; there were guns everywhere. I never once felt afraid.

Of course the notion of self-defense never came into it. We lived in a small town where literally everyone knew everyone else; crime was not something to which one gave much thought - outside of kids from the state college getting into whatever mischief they happened to invent for themselves.

I say this only to register that I understand. Guns may not be in my DNA the way they are for some people, but I get hunting culture at least.
I'm serious when I say, although I'm no fan of guns, that I have no intention to get rid of them. I know why they're important and useful and proper in the right context.

I also spent a good deal of time volunteering and working in Kansas City during grad school, specifically at an after school program that catered to low income, largely minority students. I went to the funeral of a 15 year old kid who got shot, not even in anything crime adjacent, but in an accident with a handgun - which, I think more than anything, illustrates the problem of gun prevalence in inner-cities, coupled with an extreme lack of knowledge and preparation for how to use them.

I've got strong views on what I'd do with gun laws, were it up to me, but I hope, at the very least, I can understand the vastly different context from which people come to this debate.

The one that's totally foreign to me, though, as I've alluded to a couple times, is the true "gun" culture. I see people on youtube videos shooting ridiculously high-powered weapons at targets and almost literally blowing shit up. To some extend, as a former teenage boy, I get the adrenaline rush and excitement of the power. Although it's definitely not my thing, I do understand, to some extent, why having and shooting big guns is kinda cool. I won't claim to understand the culture surrounding this past time, though. I don't want to step in some place where I don't belong.

I'd like to at least be sympathetic, though - since the root of our dysfunction when it comes to guns is the fear we invoke in those who disagree with us.

If there were laws that banned assault weapons and super high-powered guns that, while possible to use for hunting are generally designed to kill people, and hunters were free to keep, buy, sell, and use their guns for their intended purposes, I don't think you'd get a lot of pushback.
Yes, the libertarian ideologues and conspiracy wackos would be up in arms (literally and problematically), but you wouldn't have a ton of major opposition. The problem is, those people involved in hunting culture just don't trust the people on the other side - they're not confident gun reform would be fair - and they've got a point.

Listen, I'm a pro-regulation guy. As much as I like and espouse the notion of anarchy, I get the reasons why a government bureaucracy is essential, but you'd have to admit it's a bit absurd. The inefficiency and waste of our system is mind-boggling and unnecessary - it's just the easiest way to do things, which is almost never the best. It's not impossible for us to image that gun regulations would go the same way.

Then you've also got the people who really do want to see every gun in the world destroyed. I get that from an ideological angle - in a perfect world we wouldn't need them, even for hunting, but it's also hard for me to find real fault with target shooting, as a pleasurable pastime. Yet those people exist - and they're generally the most vocal (along with the gun nuts who would complain most vociferously about reform) and you can't deny that it's all a bit scary.

I won't save the punchline for the end: this post is about fear. Extremes on either side of this thing have fear as a motivator. There's a lot of common sense in requiring registration and tracking for guns the way we do for cars - it's not too hard to sign the back of a registration form when you sell a car and transfer the ownership at the DMV - or limiting the capabilities of guns people can keep in homes. There's no common sense in seeing gun-toting murderers around every corner (which also goes for Presidential characterizations of immigrants, too, by the way). Yes, some people have suffered real gun-related traumas that cause them to literally see gun-toting murderers around every corner - and with good reason - but those are not healthy people, operating in functional or encouragable ways.

There's a lot of common sense in hunting as means of controlling animal populations (or simply improving the food supply) and there is a legitimate public debate to be had about the time, place, and degree of self-defense that's in the public interest. It's downright delusional to think private citizens should be armed to combat a future tyrannical government; those are the lunatic whims of fantasy world - not because tyrannical governments don't do bad things to ordinary citizens, but because the government in question has nuclear weapons and a fleet of sophisticated drones that could level your doomsday bunker before you even get the AR out of the ceiling tiles.

They call it the "lunatic fringe," because fear-reactions are not logical or helpful - and they're not limited to one "side" or the other.
Fear is the enemy, not guns or snowflakes. It's not even the hate and evil that make people kill no matter the weapon in their hands. It's fear. Being afraid is perfectly human; reacting out of that fear is the most inhuman thing you could possibly do. What we call "human nature" is actually the animalistic part of us. What separates us from the animals is our ability to recognize our own instincts, evaluate them and act against them, if necessary.

We don't because we're afraid of each other. Why? Because we're mean and cruel and evil and vindictive to each other. We're selfish and we take a mile when given an inch. We're generally subhuman and we excuse it as natural.

What saddens me most about the gun "conversation" right now is that it's not a conversation at all. We take our media-driven talking points and beat each other about the head with them, all pawns in the powerful's attempt to distract us from actual discussion. Who's paying for rallies and events are irrelevant to the discussion; rich interests on both sides pay to support people who agree with them. Ideology doesn't matter either. I know it's strange hearing me say that, but when it comes to enacting public policy, it's true - it's one of the reasons I'm not cut out to enact public policy. Philosophical notions of freedom and utopia are profoundly important, but entirely irrelevant to governing the real world in which we must all live.

If I leave you with anything, let it be that a call to self-reflection. However we're responding to people, whatever actions we advocate, let us do so without fear. Don't think the worst of someone with whom you disagree, but give them the benefit of the doubt: at the very least, take them at their word. Be graceful. You won't get what you want, because that's how life works; don't come to the conversation assuming you can or will. And please, please, please, don't get caught up in distractions and irrelevance; the arguments you hear on cable news aren't good or relevant or worth hearing, let alone repeating.

Talk to people like people; if we respect each other and genuinely seek the good of the other, not thinking first of ourselves, we'd already be in a better world.

1 comment:

Jeff and Joy Scott Family said...

This fall I was there as a colleague of mine took out a deer with a .22. One shot between the eyes. Very clean. It's possible. LOL