Sunday, February 21, 2016

Family Protection, Hunting Dangerous or Delicious Animals, and Keeping the King of England Out of Your Face

When I was in middle school, I was briefly fascinated by guns for the following reasons: some of my friends were fascinated by guns, my TV heroes used guns a lot, my parents were vaguely anti-gun, and I could envision using guns to defend myself against bad-guys. In other words, I was in more-or-less the same stage of development as today's gun lobby.

Let's take some of that apart. 

Having friends who were into guns made me into guns. They knew the difference between semi- and fully-automatic, between a straight clip and a banana clip, and between "caliber" and "gauge." I, as a result, became interested too. They knew which kinds of body armor were most effective, and which bullets were most effective against each kind. They knew how silencers worked and how to fashion your own out of groceries in a pinch. As a result, I needed to know, too. The constant game that we played as middle-schoolers of I-know-more-than-you-because-you're-stupid applied to D&D, video games, sex, and guns. Knowledge is power and power was a deep and relentless need. Consequently, I studied catalogs from the magazine racks at Walden Books and Nichols Department Store. I B.S.ed my way through conversations of Uzis, and "sawed off," and grips until I gradually came to know something about these things myself.

In addition, guns appealed to me at the same level as all small, well-crafted items did (and, in lots of cases, still do). I enjoyed Hess trucks that came with little hand-trucks, and working headlights, and removable tires. I enjoyed toy trains, especially the engines, with their surprising heft and ability to take electricity from the tracks and somehow turn it into locomotion. I enjoyed LEGOs, and Star Wars guys, and occasionally Barbie stuff--despite the wisdom of the age that stated that G.I. Joe and the Six Million Dollar Man were acceptable toys for boys, but Barbies of the same scale and general purpose were not. I was very interested in the intricate workings and meticulously machined working parts of guns. I wanted to know how they worked, and maybe more importantly, be the kind of person who knew how they worked. I may have joined the Marines in part from a vestigial desire to know how to disassemble/reassemble firearms, but that's another post

Meanwhile, I was consuming a good deal of TV, much of it with protagonists who were similarly interested in guns. This included, but was not limited to The A-Team, Riptide, Miami Vice, and Bret Maverick (I know, not TV, but stay with me here). It also did not escape my notice that characters who didn't have guns--Remington Steele (British, and didn't want to ruin the line of the suit) and The Dukes of Hazard (perpetually on probation, apparently at a time in the South when that would have made a difference)--were often in situations in which a gun would be very useful. That scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the bad guy does an elaborate sword display, to which Indiana Jones responds with a single gunshot, may have sealed the deal for me.

Concurrently, back at school, I was the target of moderate and relentless bullying. As a result, I was vaguely interested in the potential deterrent effect on my enemies. I don't think I actually fantasized about shooting anyone, but people on TV rarely shot anyone either--holding a gun on someone was typically sufficient to get people to do what you ask. I may have also been vaguely interested in defending my people (home, town, country, planet) from the forces of Evil (bullies, Russia, and aliens).

Finally, I was definitely drawn to guns by the fact that my parents were on-again/off-again against the idea of us having toy guns. This policy waxed and waned, as they weighed the relative merits of us fashioning our own weapons from sticks, tent poles, and the like versus using devices designed for safety--well, '70s era ideas of safety, anyway--of devices made by Mattel. I know my parents' policy was that we wouldn't have toy guns, yet I also have lots of memories of toy rifles and cap guns with awful workings that never fired more than once. My parents were also opposed violent cartoons, Happy Days, Three's Company, HBO, and a number of other pop culture touchstones that became enormously appealing as a result.

And then I grew up.

At least that was the simple thesis that this post started with: Liking guns is perfectly natural, until you're not a tween-er anymore. The U.S. needs to simply grow up.

I'm choosing not to stop there, though. I'm choosing to acknowledge that guns are important to a significant part of our population, and like it or not, they form part of our national identity. Our inability to find any kind of middle ground on this topic is literally a life and death issue. Therefore, I make the following suggestions for sensible gun legislation that could fix some of the gaping holes in the firearms safety-net, and yet manage to avoid sparking a civil war.

Hunting rifles: Every time we try to ban assault weapons, people make a plea for the poor hunters. Whatever you may think about the aesthetics of hunting, if you eat meat you must come to terms with the fact that industrial-raised meat is much more morally troubling than a critter that lives its entire life in the wild to be snuffed out on a nice day in November. I don't know enough about guns to say which ones are reasonable for hunting and which are not, but I'm sure we can find some people who do. Guns are like pornography, both in that you know an assault weapon when you see it, and you'll have no trouble finding an expert more than willing to share his knowledge if you hold still long enough.

Collectors' items: Guns of every shape, size, caliber, make, model, age, and purpose should be legal. Just not ammunition. Guns don't kill people, bullets kill people. I can live with people owning guns, but we need to criminalize the possession of ammunition in any place other than a few designated areas. There are lots of lifestyle choices that are permitted in this country, but only behind closed doors. That way, the mass shooters could be discovered and arrested simply for amassing a stockpile before they've had a chance to put it to any use.

Militias: Nope. Forget it. Arming yourself against the standing government isn't okay.

Protection: Uhm, also nope. If we decrease the number of guns hanging about, the chances of an armed intruder will go way down and you'll be able to protect the homestead with a baseball bat, or chainsaw, or samurai sword as God indented.

This post was given part of its genesis from the armed stand-off in Oregon. (Related side note: Your Oregon Standoff Name is your middle name with a letter or two changed + the brand of your first band instrument. I'm Jaul Getzen.) The word "occupation" took on a fairly innocuous tone when a great many dirty hipsters took over some parks and spent a month of workdays for some old fashioned protestin' and singin' and chantin' and lovin' on Wall Street and other locations. What the Oregon guys did differently is that they brought guns with them. This meant that they were able to keep the Federal Government at bay for 40-some-odd days. By the way, they accomplished this not through fear of their guns, but through the Federal Government's greater fear: another Waco. There's a fine line in our culture between civil disobedience, undertaken to shed light on an important cause, and terrorism. That fine line may exist at the moment you choose to hold loaded weapons on law enforcement.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this post is that it wasn't written in direct and immediate response to a mass shooting. The paradox of our discourse on this subject is that the national attention span seems to only be able to care about gun violence for about 4 1/2 days immediately following a tragedy. Not coincidentally, this is much less than the amount of time that we are supposed to remain silent on the topic of gun control out of respect for the victims. By the time the funerals come around, we've long since turned our attention to the latest Jenner/Kardashian/Kanye news only to repeat the process a few months later.

So, let's do something weird. Let's talk about this now, in between tragedies. Let's also try to have a conversation without half of us opening the dialog by going out to buy more guns.

I don't know if we're ready for sensible gun legislation, but we're going to need to get ready. Mass shootings don't just happen, they just happen here. I think that if we can try to understand the underlying motivations behind good people clinging to their guns, we can work on some legislation that makes sense. If we as a country are going to outgrow our weaponized adolescence, it may be helpful to remember a time when we were all pretty much right there with them.