January 13, 2011

To The Teeth

Our theme this week is, apparently, guns.

The quote from the bumper sticker I mentioned earlier in the week is from one of my favorite authors - Robert Heinlein. I fell in love with Heinlein's stuff when I was a kid and I've never fallen out of love with it. But on this - as I think was demonstrated over the weekend - Heinlein was incorrect. It's tempting to believe that when we're armed we're all more polite to each other but what's the value in that? That's manners through fear, respect of firearms and the damage they do, not of each other. I live in a state in which its insanely easy to get a concealed carry permit. I used to work with a dude who carried a loaded gun under the driver's seat of his car. He was careful. Others are not. It scares the shit out of me to know that I'm driving beside folks who are armed, some of whom are careless, some of whom aren't right in the head. So, no, an armed society is not a polite society. It's a scared society, based on fear.

Yesterday, I talked about letting kids have toy guns and the environment in which I grew up. What I didn't mention is that I started shooting actual guns by around age 14. And I'm pretty good. Later, in high school, I was trained out of a need for personal protection. And surrounded by guns on a daily basis (long story). So it's not like I'm uncomfortable with the idea. I don't own a gun nor will I ever but I do understand the appeal as well as the need for self-protection. I don't begrudge anyone their rights. But I do think you can take those rights too far.

The problem is that there's no way to have a rational, even-keeled debate about guns in this country. It's too divisive an issue and quickly devolves into political bickering or flat-out gunplay. Personally, I'm not convinced that our forefathers, while they were drafting the Constitution, foresaw the prevalence of guns in what is our relatively safe country (i.e., there is, at the moment, no dictatorial country trying to suppress our people and freedoms from whom we might all be called upon to wrest control). And the argument gets treated as binary - gun control or no gun control. Can't we talk about the reasons a 47 year-old pharmacist in Michigan would need an AK-47? I'd argue that there's no good reason.

With respect to the mess in Arizona this past weekend, there was lots of talk about access to proper mental health care. Yes. I agree. There has to be better access to the care troubled and sick individuals need. Right now - this very instant - 60% of the people who need treatment aren't getting it; they can't afford it or don't know where to get it. That needs to be improved. But let's not lose sight of the entire issue by focusing on one-half of the equation. Why not try and address both health care and guns?

What's your take on our gun-obsessed culture? And what's the solution?

Posted by Chris at January 13, 2011 6:22 AM

No matter what "paperwork" and "safeguards" you build into the system, it will never be perfect. Crazies who haven't been officially diagnosed as crazy (Like Loughner) will slip through. Having said that, the system we have now could be better.

When Obama got elected, my son's college roommate told us that he and his dad had already buried a bunch of guns, "cuz he's gonna take 'em away!" and were going to get more. Welcome to Texas.

Posted by: Debbie at January 13, 2011 6:39 AM

I happened to be driving behind a truck earlier this week that had a bumper sticker that said: "Beware Liberals. Your Opponents Carry Guns." Particularly in light of recent events, this appalled me. I think this is the problem with a gun-obsessed country. It gets taken to the extreme. Will this person ever shoot a liberal? Probably not. But those words and the idea that it's okay, even encouraged, to shoot those you disagree with seep into the subconscious of some people and you don't know the consequences.

Posted by: Catherine at January 13, 2011 8:02 AM

Okay, I'm with you on the AK-47's. But, I don't really think we're gun obsessed. It just seems that way in light of recent events.

One thing I would like to mention about the Mental Health Care thing is this: Not only are many of these people unable to afford the care, they don't want it.
The people, like this shooter, don't think they need any treatment.
Years ago, people who were psychotic were immediately hospitalized, until different political groups went to court to stop this. They literally emptied the Mental Health Hospitals and for a doctor to get anyone admitted is almost impossible.
Sadly, these are the people who will go out and commit the most heinous of crimes, and many of them will be done with guns!

I loved the one line in the movie "Blind Side":'If you so much as set foot downtown, you will be sorry. I’m in a prayer group with the D.A., I’m a member of the NRA and I’m always packing.'

I'm sure that that young man would think twice before knocking on her door.

Posted by: Maribeth at January 13, 2011 8:17 AM

I favor a total ban on guns. I don't think they are necessary in this day and age. But I'm careful about where I say that because it just might get me shot...

Posted by: Elizabeth at January 13, 2011 8:39 AM

Fear. It's all about fear. Fear of the government, fear of people that look or talk differently, fear of people with money, fear of people without money.

Why do I own a gun? Fear. Fear that the .001% chance that I'll need it to protect my family may actually occur.

Also, among many right leaning folk, gun ownership is a status thing. Not having as many guns as your neighbor causes the same feelings that not having as nice a car as your neighbor does. The gun culture comes from the same place that our debt culture comes from.

Posted by: COD at January 13, 2011 9:14 AM

I'm commenting on this post because you so politely reminded me that today is DELURKING DAY! And you know that I still read your blog, as I've done for some crazy-long period of time (8-9 years?). You're awesome, Chris!!!

Posted by: Zandria at January 13, 2011 9:58 AM

I think it is a long and storied history of guns and societal violence that is forgotten over time despite our perceived belief that we should not forget these things. I was watching American Masters last night about The Doors. Actually one of the things Jim Morrison obsessed over was the history of violence via guns in our society and it actually made me realize how violent things have always been but we just tend to ignore our history of violence. People are appalled at the violence in AZ this past weekend and yet who are we getting ready to celebrate but MLK who was GUNNED down. Did we forget Kent State and Robert Kennedy? Did we forget Waco (which was WAY more than guns)? Did we forget Littleton CO? The KKK? Vietnam and every other war we have been deeply committed to and involved in? The list runs on and on and on.

We, as a society, believe we are a peaceful society but most are armed to the nines! I love those NRA types who say it is our right to carry weapons for various purposes. Err umm when our forefathers wrote the constitution the AKA 47 or high powered rifles or automatic weapons did not exist. We live in a violent society and one need only turn on their local news channel whether they live in a big city or teeny tiny town to find it.

Posted by: Christina at January 13, 2011 10:14 AM

Well said. It's too easy to divide everything into a one-issue topic. That guns are too easily available, and that we ignore the realities of mental illness at our own peril as a society are not truths that can't coexist.

Cramming sick people into terrible institutions is not the answer either. Nor is calling people who happen to have something wrong with their brain, "crazies." Mental illness can strike anyone, at any time. It's not representative of character.

And the idea that arming people makes for a more polite society seems very... inhuman to me. LIke something robots would come up with. ;) Even if it worked I'd rather live in a society where politeness was based on choice rather than enforced by fear.

Posted by: Jess at January 13, 2011 11:58 AM

Man, I don't have an answer. I am not a fan of guns; I do not know why a phamacist in Philly needs at AK-47. I would like to say I have never owned one but the fact is I currently own one, though it has never lived closer to me than 200 miles. I won it in a raffle at a Ducks Unlimited fundraiser (see: Marriage, First) and it's lived in my former father-in-law's house ever since.

I have no need for guns. I fear the accidents that could happen if my kids were to get a hold of one that was in our home. We do not allow toy guns nor guns made from pointed fingers nor shooting noises nor first-person-shooter games. I do not wish to teach my children that life is cheap, even in games. Killing people is not "fun". I don't want my kids to think it's "fun". I cannot prevent them from playing guns at a friend's house nor hearing about gun violence on TV. I can't prevent them from being in a supermarket when someone opens fire. But I want them to understand the consequences of guns. On Sunday night, I gave my 11-year-old a big hug at bedtime and told her how glad I was to have her here, all in one piece, unlike the poor, poor parents of Christina Green. She smiled and I wiped tears. I feel so very lucky just now.

Posted by: Brooke at January 13, 2011 12:04 PM


Solution ???

Let's start with education, empathy, tolerance and compassion and see where we go.

Posted by: english thorn at January 13, 2011 12:39 PM

I'm pretty much in two minds on the gun issue. Partly because I'm British, and you're not allowed to own a gun in Britain. However, I do agree that people should be able to defend themselves and their property, which is virtually impossible in the UK because if, say, someone breaks in to your house and you injure them or kill them, you will wind up in prison. I don't agree with that at all - why should you have to wait and see if they're going to try to kill you and your family before you can take any action, if they're in your house uninvited?
Having said that, the thought of having a gun in my house makes me kinda uneasy. My American husband on the other hand would quite like to get one! I wouldn't like to be at a disadvantage by not having one, and I'd hate to ever be in a position where I might need one, but if we had kids I'd worry that they would somehow get hold of it and have an accident. It would be nice if nobody 'needed' to have any weapons, but unfortunately there are some truly vile people out there. For that reason, I fully understand why people own guns for protection. The trouble is, it seems to be pretty easy for most people here to get guns, and a small minority obtain them to commit hideous crimes such as the mass shooting in Tucson last weekend.
The UK has the same problem with mentally ill people doing such things, and the gun laws there are very different to those in the US but they still manage to obtain them. The difference is that law abiding citizens in the UK are not allowed to own guns, therefore the only people who really have them are the criminals - I don't think that's a good situation either! At least here, some criminals might think twice because there's a strong possibility the person they're going to attack might just shoot them.

So, um, yeah! I don't know what the solution is, but I do believe that people who are intent on committing atrocities will find a way to do so even if it's made more difficult for them. I very much doubt that gun laws, or attitudes, will change significantly. I think the right to bear arms is too ingrained in society for change to happen any time soon.

Em, Phoenix, AZ.

Posted by: Emily at January 13, 2011 3:41 PM

I think that education and aiming towards rational discussion would go a very long way.

Posted by: Heather at January 13, 2011 3:53 PM

Many of our good pro football players are from the States, often the South. A few years ago a football player went to a club. Something happened, he was unhappy, he went to his car and got his gun and started waving it around! Since that is not done here, it was explained to him and I believe all was well. It was treated as an incident without much to-do because a) it just isn't the norm at all and b) football players are a little too revered. All the same, I'm glad that it's just a story and not a huge mess of legal trouble, and of course, no violence.

I certainly have never touched a gun. I'm not even sure I've ever seen one. I know people that have hunting rifles, but they are kept locked away.

Again, I must live a very sheltered life.

Here is a horror: http://archives.cbc.ca/society/crime_justice/topics/398/

And another: http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20060913/montreal_shooting_060913/

And another:http://archives.cbc.ca/society/crime_justice/clips/16731/

I'm just lucky to live with the rainbows and unicorns.

Posted by: Heather at January 13, 2011 4:50 PM

I think that, as others have said, our Rights were written before the days of semi-automatic weapons. To take the amendment literally is to, in my opinion, miss the point completely. And as you said, we can't even have a mature discussion about it in this polarized political climate. We're falling on our own swords.

Access to mental health care is shocking in this country, likely due to, or at least complicated by, the stigma attached to mental illness. Nobody wants to get involved.

I think a first step towards resolution of any of these issues is to work on the us-vs-them mentality with regards to our political parties. How to accomplish that? Yeah, I don't know.

Posted by: seekingelevation at January 13, 2011 5:58 PM