Monday, February 6, 2006
"With a Gun, With a Gun, You Will Be What You Are Just The Same"
I have a friend who is a big proponent of gun owners' rights. I'm not myself a gun owner, and I have struggled not to let the stereotypical "gun nut" determine my stance on an important subject. But (again, working around a group of guys who have gun backgrounds and gun proclivities) I never hear the subject discussed without my thinking that gun rights people sound, well, a little off-kilter. I'm not decided on the subject, in spite of my liberal leanings on social issues; but this is how I try to work through these issues.
My friend argues that, far from it being a gift granted to us by a too-lenient or ungrasping government, gun ownership (or the right to it) is something fundamental to our nation's identity and existence, and it has the status of constitutional protection as a reflection of this. The ability, he argues, for us to forcibly take control of our government--and to overthrow it if need be--goes to the very core of who we are as a people. Well, that seems to have settled all of us into a place where neither I nor most people I know have even visited, but I try to grasp the essential point. Our country was born of rebellion, of a forceful overthrow of existing governing entities, so that we might determine our own, different, way.
But even if I grant this, is it realistically applicable today? If I and a large group of concerned citizens today went to the Wisconsin Capitol and, deer rifles in hand, ushered the government out on the street, could it ever stand? And if it came to that, could militias take control of our national government? How sensible is this? And does its break from practical reality, as I'm implying, invalidate the concept?
All of this skirts around the edges of more traditional gun control issues: do guns cause violence? Or, more specifically, would banning or restricting gun ownership make our society less violent? Should assault weapons be banned? And, if so, on what legal ground do we differentiate these advanced weapons from older weapons which are now allowed but which were once dangerously advanced? Are handguns necessarily bad? Don't they exist solely to kill people? Is brandishing it enough? Or must one be prepared always to use the weapon?
My own questions are more likely to follow along practical lines--asking, say, whether carrying a concealed weapon doesn't statistically increase the likelihood of a crime being committed, or of someone--possibly the gun owner--getting injured or killed? Gun magazines are full of stories about how an armed citizen prevented bad things from happening with his or her gun. Naturally, those same magazines don't run the headline "Ignorant, Wimpy Fat Bald Man Cedes Registered Handgun to Robbers, Invites Looting and Pillaging of House." Conversely, I've heard the arguments: guns don't cause violence; we're a violent society that uses guns instead of (or in addition to) knives and bats and whatever else; it's a gun-ignorant population that lives in fear of guns (interestingly, an argument I would make about sex education and contraception). I can't argue with any of these statements, though I seem unable to find in them the rails that lead to a single, coherent place.
Again, I feel as though the information that is readily available is spun heavily because the topic is so politically charged. How well-informed are we about this topic? Myself, not so well, I'm afraid.
I got to thinking about all this anew a week or so ago when I flew with a fella who was about as pro-gun as any I've yet to meet. His main thrust was hunting, but this is, for me, another door into the vast halls of gun ownership and the attendant issues. He lives in Alaska, apparently solely so that he can kill things on his days off (this is his explanation, anyway). Family photos showcase the kids displaying their letter-perfect archery stances, and an endless parade of slain trophy animals posed for the camera before "processing."
My first reaction to all this was maybe predictable. To have as one's prime enthusiasm in life the taking of the lives of other creatures seemed to me reprehensible. Despicable. That reaction was tempered a bit over the course of the week (I listened to all of this going on between the other two pilots without myself engaging) by frequent references to respecting the animals, and for always using what one shoots. He apparently uses everything, hide, tallow, meat. The upshot for him was that he had not purchased any animal products from a supermarket for years. There was thrill in the hunt, but the shooting was not merely for sport, so much as making the business of procuring sustenance an enjoyable thing. (This is a spin, I'm afraid, but this was the best light I could put it in.)
If I did not enjoy my occasional prime rib or quarter pound cheeseburger, I'm aware that I'd be in a much stronger place to oppose this philosophy. It's a big subject, I know, because this now touches on vegetarianism, a place I'm even less prepared to wander. But I'm not sure I'm tending inevitably there. I just want to wash what seems an icky film off of myself after a week spent in that environment. I appreciate that my colleague lives an aggressively outdoor life, camping and living for long periods off the land. That does not, in itself, seem so disagreeable.
But I'd still take a Manhattan multiplex and a tub of popcorn. I suppose I'm beyond reach, an incurable softy just waiting to be rolled over.