I was thinking about it the other day and it occurred to me, “What if the NRA is right?”. What if guns don’t kill people, people kill people? They have guns in other countries. I don’t know where and I don’t know what kind, but I’m sure that people in other countries have guns. Their guns don’t seem to fire as often as ours do. Their guns don’t seem as deadly as ours. In Springfield, Massachusetts, where I work, there were three people killed last weekend by drive-by shooters in two cars. Today, a man was killed as he attacked a courthouse with a gun in Atlanta. Yesterday, a man attempted a mass shooting in Seattle. That’s a lot of people dead via guns that don’t kill people.
What’s the deal with guns? Is it also true of other weapons? To be sure, there was a boy recently who attacked a group of his class-mates with a knife recently, and nobody’s screaming to take away everybody’s knives. Switchblades and bats and crowbars have been the favorite of gang members for years. Probably more crimes are committed with those weapons than with guns yearly. What about the broken bottle used in a bar fight? Nobody’s screaming to halt the sale of beer in bottles. There are probably a hundred or more ways to kill a person. Why do guns get singled out? That’s a good question and it deserves an answer.
It is because our culture is different than European or Asian cultures or South American cultures. Our very Constitution enshrines guns as the weapon of choice for Americans, if that’s how you read the Second Amendment. The Constitution doesn’t say, “a militia being important for the common defense, all weapons are protected. It says “we have the right to bear arms”. Switchblades somehow don’t make the cut, or crowbars or firebombs or even atomic bombs. When we think of bearing arms, we think guns. Americans equate guns with freedom and liberty and patriotism! Then we do something weird with it. We flip it upside down logically. If you don’t own a gun, you’re not free. If you don’t own a gun, you don’t have or enjoy liberty. If you don’t own a gun, you’re not a patriot, at least according to the NRA. or places that require you to carry a firearm.
Now there are a couple of problems with that idea. On a personal level, I feel free and I don’t own a gun. I believe in liberty and democracy and all those good things, and I don’t need a gun to do so. It seems to me that my love for all of those things makes me a patriot, with or without a gun. But more than my personal opinion, there is the question of what real militia people do with their guns. On this memorial of D-Day, I am struck by how patriots — genuine, actual, heroes — only fight when they have to, and then they go home. The heroes of the “Greatest Generation” went home after being heroes and — according to tonight’s news — never said a word about it. They didn’t say, “We’re heroes”. They just were. War didn’t make them heroes. Their humanity made them heroes — their love for others, not their love of war. They took up arms because they saw no other way. They put down their weapons as soon as they could and went back to being engineers or farmers or doctors or whatever they were “in real life”. If the “Greatest Generation” took up arms and saw violence as an un-natural thing, why do we see weapons as patriotic? It is because we love war so much and we worship violence, especially if we don’t have no experience of war. Presidents and politicians who actually fought in wars are often against war as an option. Eisenhower, Colin Powell, Kennedy — none of these people wanted to have endless war. Bush II, who didn’t go even to his National Guard post, loved war.
How we got there is a whole other question, but I think that Eisenhower had it right when he talked about the military-industrial complex (in the 1950’s!) and how our economy was being built around weapons and war. Weapons are money-makers. To make more money — and to restock the shelves — we have to use what we have. The best way to use all those weapons/make more money is to have a war. The only way to have a war is to forget that there are people on the other end of them. The only way to forget humans die when we use weapons is to focus on something else — some idea like Love of Country, “freedom”, wealth, jobs, racial superiority or something as simple as productivity.
Men have this thing about manhood and productivity — The Man Code says if you’re not bringing home the bacon, you’re not a man. Even I buy into that one. The problem is that in order to do that, you have to keep a product going in order to keep the job going. Threaten a man’s job, and you threaten his status as a man. If more jobs out there are related to weapons, then more more men derive their male pride from building weapons. If we had other jobs as the basis of our economy — say, farming, like we used to do– we would still have our pride, still be productive, and we wouldn’t be so attached to weapons. Instead, our pride gets wrapped up in weapons, which require wars, which require a focus on proving we’re men. How do we prove we’re men? We make things. What do we make? Weapons. And so it goes…
So there it is — “Freedom” is having guns, Making guns is “masculinity”. In order to be a Free American Man, guns are required. For people who don’t take mental health care seriously, we sure have taken Freud to heart. Like everything else in America, bigger is better. If a gun that shoots one bullet is good, then a gun that shoots a lot of bullets is really good. If a gun shoots a bullet is good, then a gun that launches rockets is even better. If a boom is cool, then a big “Boom” is even cooler!
“Why all the fuss about men and guns?”, you might reasonably ask. As mass murder after mass murder happens, the one constant is that there’s always a man — or someone who will grow up to be — on the end of the trigger. I don’t think there has been one mass murder — in a theater, in a school, at a government office or anywhere else — committed by a woman. As long as American, Free, and Male are considered good things to be and ideals to strive for, and as long as we twist them with so they are confused with needing weapons, we will have the problem of mass shootings. Some part of America’s psyche believes in, and likes, mass shootings because some part of us likes the exercise of the rights of Free American Men. That part of us is insane, because it tries to do good things (I like being free, American, and male!) by doing horrible things (killing, killing quickly, making Big Booms with people involved).
All of this leads us back to … guns. Even the staunchest gun lover doesn’t believe that crazy or impulsive people should handle a (neutral ?) weapon. My grandfather, a gun tester as his occupation and gun user in hobbies — got out of the woods when he perceived that trigger-happy people were running around in them. Respect for the weapon meant avoiding them when crazy or stupid people had them. One of them meant you had to be careful when hunting. More and more of them meant you got out of the woods. We need to get out of the woods and we need to get out of them until things calm down and folks can prove that they can handle their weapons.
Furthermore, if people can’t handle their regular guns because they are insane in this society, then giving them bigger, faster, more deadly weapons makes less and less sense. Giving people the power to go faster in the wrong direction is further proof of our insane thinking. We can’t handle guns at this point in our history. When we stop connecting freedom with a gun, and masculinity with shooting a big one often, then all those “neutral” guns can become the neutral, respected , scary things they used to be and we’ll be safer.