Monday, June 20, 2016

Living By The Gun

Roy Lichtenstein, Pistol, 1964

Since the Orlando massacre, I've been caught up in furious arguments over guns.  Before I go any further, I should state my position on fire arms.  
I'm not against people owning guns for sport or even for self protection.  I never enjoyed hunting (probably because my father didn't enjoy it), but I don't object to it.  Some hunt for sport, others for food.  As some people grow their own food by choice or out of necessity, so others shoot it.  I don't object to keeping a fire arm for self protection, especially for businesses like convenience stores or jewelers; or people in rural areas where cops are few and far between.  I have no objection to a friend of mine in New Mexico who has a rifle to keep the coyotes out of his chicken coop.  I don't know about a God given right to own a weapon, but I don't have a problem with people owning guns and using them responsibly

I think guns should be regulated in a way similar to how cars and drivers are regulated.  Gun owners should have renewable licenses testifying that they are competent to own guns and that they know how to use and store them safely and responsibly.  As drivers are required to show a license and a title upon request, so should gun owners.  Gun sales, like car sales, should require a transfer of title that becomes part of the public record.  Like drivers, gun owners should be required to carry liability insurance.  All of those requirements did nothing to diminish car ownership in the USA, and I very much doubt that these same requirements would diminish gun sales.  Gun culture, like car culture, is its own little world.  But like car culture, the rest of us have to live with it, and we must be able to trust that the people who are part of it are responsible.  We are also entitled to something beyond just their own say so that proves that they are responsible owners and users (just like cars).
As for military type weapons that fire multiple rounds, I think those weapons belong in the military. Those who want to play with them should head down to the enlistment office and sign up for duty.

I've never understood the gun cult in the USA, and I grew up in the heart of gun culture, in Texas.  I fired rifles for target practice and occasional skeet shooting when I was a kid.  I never handled anything larger than a 22.  I don't remember thinking much about it.  Guns were just part of the furniture.  I was just never interested enough to pursue shooting guns or collecting them.  I got my thrills doing other things.  This nancy boy was never going to fit into Texas, so I eventually left.

Even as a kid, I never understood the intense emotional, almost religious, attachment to guns.  I didn't understand it then, and I really don't understand it now.  Texas (especially white Texas) is a warrior culture.  Its favorite game is a gladiator sport (American football).  Texas was born and bred in warfare with the Spanish, the French, the Mexicans, the Yankees, the Comanches, and with anyone else you can think of.  Texas is a little like Russia; its self identity shaped by the idea that it is surrounded by enemies and despised by outsiders.  Even though it lasted only 9 years as an independent republic and was recognized by nobody except the French who had ulterior motives (designs on Mexico), Texas is very nationalistic in a way that is unlike any other state, including Hawaii which really was an independent state recognized by everybody.  Christianity in Texas is less about universal love and the hope of the Resurrection, than it is about the vindication of the Faithful Remnant of a Chosen People.  Somehow, fire arms are deeply entwined with this very deep and deeply felt sense of identity.

The true believing NRA enthusiasts (as opposed to most other gun owners) are all convinced that the world is full of threats, and that the worst of them all is that entity known as The Government.  What exactly is meant by this term is open to interpretation and appears to be based on place and situation.  In the Western states, this usually means the Federal Government, especially since it owns so much land.  In other places and situations, this can be state government or even local government (a fight over a zoning ordinance).  The Government is always some alien hostile entity.  On a certain level, I can sympathize.  It's hard not to think of all government as a conspiracy of lawyers and big business.  So much of it is for sale or rent, and so much decision making from executives to party leaders is top down.  The Government launches so many pointless wars that end up being a rich man's war and a poor man's fight.  The politicians are all chicken hawks who eagerly spill other people's blood and spend their treasure.  What's more, in the age of computerized gerrymandering, politicians pick their voters.  In a healthy democracy, it's the other way round. 
And yet, I would ask all these folks who see The Government as enemy number one, when is it necessary to shoot back at the police?  I don't mean some goon squad from a dystopian fantasy, I mean your local police.  Like them or not, they are agents of The Government.  When is it permissible to shoot at them, and would you?
The white nationalist subculture was always clear about what it means by The Government; ZOG, the Zionist Occupation Government.  According to them, the only legitimate government is one made up exclusively of white Christian men like themselves, and is for white Christian men alone.  A black President of the USA in charge of government full of minorities and Jews is illegitimate by definition in their eyes.  The white supremacists are very clear about who they think The Government is and why it is their enemy.  
I presume that most NRA enthusiasts do not think of themselves as racists.  If not, then is The Government truly an alien enemy, or is it something that maybe you bear a certain responsibility for through public duty and civic engagement?

The NRA culture prizes individual agency above all else.  We are supposed to believe that a well armed society is a safe society, that everyone packing heat will deter violent criminals; peace and safety through Mutual Assured Destruction.  We are also supposed to believe that a terrorist or a maniac with an automatic weapon can be taken out by a good guy with another automatic weapon.  In the darkness and confusion of a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, or in a crowded nightclub full of desperate screaming people, what could possibly go wrong?  As I recall, it took eleven SWAT team cops -- all with military training as well as automatic weapons -- to finally take out Omar Mateen.  And yet somehow, we are supposed to believe that a lone amateur with a high powered gun and no military training or experience is supposed to be able to take out a terrorist or a lunatic; and to accomplish this with no one injured from friendly fire (something that the well trained and professional Orlando police and the trained armed guard at Pulse did accomplish).  Perhaps death should be left to the professionals after all.

Other countries are not like this.  Even countries with high rates of gun ownership like Norway do not have this kind of culture around guns that resists any attempt to regulate them.  They also don't see their own governments as the enemy.  After Anders Breivik unleashed a bloody massacre of his own people in Norway, there was no blustering rhetoric about arming the general population.  Neither was there any call to invest in mental health care (or criminalizing the mentally ill) as a substitute for gun regulation.  People's sense of liberty and identity are not bound up with firearms in Norway as they are here.  Even a frontier country like Australia with a large gun culture was able to get rid of its high power weapons in private hands after a horrific gun massacre without much protest from the general population.  And that was done not by a cabal of bleeding heart liberals, but by a conservative government.  Neither Norway nor Australia has had a mass shooting since; certainly nothing like the USA which has scores of such shootings (4 or more people shot) every year.
Unlike Norwegians and Australians, we Americans endorse Mao Zedong's famous saying that power comes through the barrel of a gun.  We long ago conveniently forgot Montesquieu's always timely reminder that outside the law is tyranny.

I'm not at all hopeful that anything meaningful will be done in this country about gun violence.  If anything, I think we are being conditioned to accept mayhem as normal, that somehow the sudden massacre of ordinary people, even small children, is the price we pay for what some people call "freedom."  After the failure to enact even the smallest regulation of assault weapons in the wake of the murder of a classroom full of small children at Sandyhook Elementary School, I thought we crossed a bright hard line of depravity and brutality that would be very hard to walk back across.

I am certain that we will have these arguments over guns again right after the next gun massacre. It will happen. The only questions are where, when, and how many. And when it does happen, we'll follow the now dog-eared worn-out script; the moment of silence for the victims, the asking of prayers for the victims and their families, and the how-dare-you-politicize-this accusations. There will be the usual serious discussions about improvement of mental health services, which we all know won't happen because we really don't give a rat's ass about the mentally ill, except when violent shit happens. Then, they are our go-to scapegoats even though they suffer far more violence than they commit.
Anything so we can keep our big guns and keep buying them without hassles or safety requirements. Anything so we can keep our fantasies of being Dirty Harry in the face of catastrophe and be the lone hero who blows away the bad guy with a military assault weapon that we always carry around because you never know. Anything so that our big guns will continue to keep The Government --  Hitlery Clinton, the Kenyan Muslim Socialist, and dangerous minorities trying to take over our land -- at bay. Anything to keep getting high off other people's blood and pain.

And brutal fact persuade us to
Adventure, Art, and Peace --W.H. Auden

Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. -- Matthew 52: 26  (We forget that Jesus said this to Peter as he was trying to rescue his Lord from arrest).

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. -- Isaiah 2: 4

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