Cold, Dead Fingers

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To follow my own advice, I’m showing a picture of a kickass pair of boots instead of a scary gun.

(Naturally, by the time I get to posting this, the matter is temporarily moot, since any legislative measure didn’t pass. However, there will be another mass shooting, another domestic terrorism attack, and when there is, we will have this discussion again. I post this here for your perusal, especially since the larger problem doesn’t go away just because there isn’t a tragedy right now.)

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Like most people with even passing attention to the news, I had lots of feels about the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. There was, of course, the heart pain from the loss of defenseless children in what seemed like a pointless bloodbath. There was confusion, as we all tried to figure out the motive behind the act.

And then, for all of us, there were the knee-jerk reactions in response to the actions taken against our personal/political issues. I was no different, and so I decided not to respond immediately, to let the issues of mental health, gun rights, and gun control percolate for a while in my mind. I let everyone else do the knee-jerk reactions for me, and tried to read everyone’s arguments with an open mind. This is a hard issue, an undeniably complicated one, and I wanted to do it some semblance of justice, hence the waiting.

My conclusion: The matter of gun control, gun rights, and mental health are all essential to the matter at hand, and they’re complicated. But the vitriol being spewed from many sides seems to originate from two deep-seated fears: Fear of the slippery slope, and fear that we – as groups and as individuals – are part of the systemic problems plaguing our society.

We fear that if Congress does anything to limit our access to guns, any guns, any weapons of any kind, it’s infringing upon our Second Amendment rights. This is, of course, patently false, since we’re not allowed to have a lot of weapons, and that argument has been made by better people than I. But what we’re really yelling about isn’t that President Obama wants to limit access to certain kinds of military-grade guns in the hands of the civilian population (and yes, we can quibble about what exactly qualifies as assault weapons – it’s probably a worthy quibble). What everyone’s yelling about is that if they can take these guns, they can take all the guns! So the President might as well be taking all the guns, because that’s the precedent he’s setting.

Well, no. As I said before, there are already limits to what weapon a civilian can hold, and that doesn’t affect our right to defend ourselves. Slippery slope arguments – the argument that one thing will lead to a worse and more absurd thing which will lead to everything going to hell in a handbasket (i.e. If we let homosexuals marry, next thing you know we’re going to start marrying people to dogs.) – is a worthy exercise for speculative fiction authors, but it’s a poor reason to start or stop something. Because slippery slope arguments are based entirely on fear. And fear, especially collective or social hysteria, is rarely a good motivation for anything.

Limiting access to a few kinds of guns that are meant for combat rather than daily use isn’t going to limit our ability to defend ourselves. We can go right up to the line they tell us not to cross, with plenty of personal weapons. Back in the colonial era, people had plenty of rifles that they also used in war, but it’s worth noting that they didn’t have personal cannons, and muskets weren’t exactly known for their deadly accuracy. With more accurate and more destructive guns, there are more restrictions. Guns like that should not be in the hands of civilians, and there’s no way to guarantee adequate training.

But wait, A, you say, this just means that criminals will have all the automatics and machine guns and assault weapons while we upright civilians will just have all the crap shotguns. We’re no match for that.

You’re partially right. Police and military have to constantly deal with escalation. As Lieutenant Gordan pointed out in Batman Begins: “We start carrying semi automatics, they buy automatics, we start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds…” When they escalate, so do career criminals, so police escalate again, and so on. But there comes a point when the safety of all must be considered, and weapons that are more dangerous more easily probably should be regulated or restricted when it comes to civilians. I’m willing to bet that most personal guns owned for private protection are owned by people who have never practiced – this is not encouraging. There has to be a ceiling at which point civilians do not have a certain grade of gun. Or at least don’t have easier access to it. I would change my mind if we were in the midst of a revolution, but a person can always get their hands on a better gun if they really try and go through criminal channels.

See, A, anyone can get their hands on a gun if they’re willing to be a criminal! You just admitted it! Yes. Just like drugs, guns are accessible through any black market. But I would just like to point out that most of the mass shootings I’ve read about over the last year or so were done with high-powered weapons that were legally obtained and owned. The gun used in Aurora and in Newtown, those were legally obtained – Holmes purchased his own guns and Adam Lanza took his mother’s. In fact, that’s a trend I’ve noticed. The measures that President Obama and some Democrats want to push through Congress aren’t to combat gang violence or career criminal violence. They’re to combat these isolated, high-mortality incidents in which these people had perfectly legal access to an assault-grade gun, and maybe they shouldn’t have, or at least it shouldn’t have been as easy.

Which brings us to the other reaction I’m seeing a lot: People yelling about how President Obama wants to take guns from upright citizens in order to protect against criminals, as though the upright citizens are criminals themselves. They certainly feel like it. After all, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” Setting aside that the administration by no means wants to take away ALL THE GUNS, the underlying message is: I am not a criminal, so don’t treat me like one.

And the underlying message to that is: I am not the problem. It’s someone else’s fault.

It’s not the guns, says the NRA, it’s the media. It’s not the media, says the media, it’s not enough access to quality mental health help. While we freely admit mental health care sucks, the psych people say, a great majority of people with the same mental health issues don’t do things like this, so in addition to a ridiculous stigma, don’t look here for your final answer.

The truth is, as is so very common, the answer to what inspires this kind of gun violence is complicated and, in my opinion, systemic, even if the results are isolated incidents. And I feel that all these cries that the problem is “Not me!” reveal an underlying insecurity that the problem really is me, but I don’t want to change anything. Because self-analysis is hard. That wasn’t me being snide. It really is.

And the more convicted you are, the harder self-analysis is.

For instance, I love slasher movies and crime shows. Even when the violence is implied, your brain skillfully fills in all those gaps. For me, these things are a way to deal with the scary things in life in a controlled environment in which no one actually gets hurt, and I believe that certain dark aspects of humanity have to be acknowledged, as a reminder what we’re capable of – but for the grace of God, they say.

But I have to ask myself – and it’s hard – am I contributing to the problem? Not directly, of course, but am I part of a social group that is not beneficial to the well-being of society as a whole?

For instance, is the violence I watch on television contributing to a mentality that violence is the way to express these things? And to my chagrin and knee-jerk annoyance, my answer is yes. I don’t think the portrayal of violence in the media is the problem. I think glorification, fetishization, and sexualization of violence is the problem. It may even be the main problem, and it’s not just in the media. Media may simply reflect an underlying cultural cancer and act to exacerbate it. The matter of life imitating art or the other way around is kind of like the chicken and the egg argument, so I’m not sure if figuring out the origins are productive.

I’m not referring to the BDSM scene, which is quite separate from mainstream depictions of violence. I mean real criminal, vigilante, even military violence. A little wouldn’t hurt too much, but we may have tipped the scale from moderation to saturation at a destructive level.

I think that the solution is, instead of getting rid of depictions of violence altogether, we should reassess how we package it and, in turn, package masculinity and power in ways that don’t coincide exclusively with violence – or at all. Let’s diminish the penis metaphor of a gun, because let’s face it, the gun will win that contest every time. Let’s diminish the necrophilized depiction of the dead girl, and the unintentional elevation of the man who killed her as achieving some kind of power. There are a number of other examples, but those are the ones that stick out in my mind.

Another hard question I have to ask myself regards the right of the mentally ill to own a gun, or for members of their family who live with them to have a gun. After all, I made my choice not to have a gun, knowing that if things got bad enough, I might be scared enough to use it – even though I have apocalypse fear and would kind of like to know how to use one, just in case. Frankly, though, I think that makes my own case. People with mental illness are far more likely to use a gun against themselves, not others. We’re far more likely to be a danger to ourselves than others. And others are far more likely to be a danger to us. People with mental illness are overwhelmingly victims of violence rather than instigators.

And while this may be an unpopular opinion, I think people have a right to end their own life. I wish they didn’t, and I think a majority of people who are suicidal can be helped and can find good things in life to live for. I’m one of those people, which is why I don’t want access to a gun. But there are people I have encountered whose pain hurts me to the core and I wish they could somehow ease that suffering, but I fear they can’t. Men are far more likely to use guns than women to commit suicide, for those who say guns don’t kill people, people kill people, it’s important to note that guns were made so people could kill more efficiently. Men almost always succeed in their suicide.

But whether or not I want a gun, should I and other people with mental illness have a right to own one? I think so. We have a right to self-protection as much as, if not sometimes more than, everyone else. I also think that the family of someone mentally ill has the right to protect themselves … sometimes from their own flesh and blood. Sometimes I wonder if that was why Adam Lanza’s mother had a gun in the first place.

I think I’ve already stated my opinion about the failure of the psychological and health communities to address actual mental illness free from insurance-driven labels (a diagnosis must be made before treatment can begin, which ends up pathologizing fairly normal and natural aspects of human nature that may just need to be addressed) and institutionalized methods of dealing with very rare kinds of violent tendencies – psychopaths come to mind, sociopaths with a destructive streak and no capacity for empathy.

Someone loves those kids, too, but what do we do with them if they haven’t done anything illegal … yet, or that’s been caught? And why do we automatically let a committed teen go once he reaches the age of majority? It’s the fundamental dilemma of a justice system, that it has to wait until a crime has been committed, that no preemptive action can be made. (The same issues arise in stalker cases.) I think care for dangerous and destructive human beings who have not committed a crime needs to be addressed. At the very least, maybe we can convince these psychopaths down to simple, common sociopaths. Sounds scary, I know, but lesser of two evils.

So, I’ve thought about my contributions to a society that idolizes guns, violence, and fears mental illness too much to address it. I’ve admitted my culpability and suggested a few alterations that I know will never happen, because we’ll stick with the status quo until we’re six feet under and burying ourselves neck deep. We keep waiting for the government to force us to do things by legislating our ethics and our culture – and then we yell at them when they say they might try, and as we know, the government has officially broken – so maybe we shouldn’t wait. If our culture is going to change, we, the people, are going to have to change it ourselves.

But don’t – I repeat, don’t – make choices based on fear. I think we should all entertain a reasonable amount of caution. Legislators made a number of large-scale decisions based on fear after 9/11, including the War on Terror (which can never end), the War in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the TSA. We are still living under those fear-based decisions, and we can never take any of those things back.

Slippery slopes begin from a place of logic and end in absurdity – any author will tell you that any point can end in an almost infinite number of ways. We should be cautious, but I think we should address each issue as it comes instead of stopping one thing for fear of what will happen three steps ahead.

And when it comes to taking responsibility for our personal contributions to a society with a problem … the first step is acknowledging we have a problem, and so many people are unwilling to do that.

Take it from someone who is incredibly fearful by nature:

Do not live your life and legislate according to fear. Fear is not an emotion you can trust for something this important.

Now, there are a few other matters that I feel unqualified to address, such as the exact specification of what makes a weapon an assault weapon, what kind of gun a hunter actually needs (as opposed to what might make hunting easier, since I’m pretty sure a machine gun would make it easier), and what gun would be appropriate for self-defense (there are criminals who crumble under the pressure of being told Jesus is watching them and then there are criminals who don’t fall under machine fire, so… I don’t know?). I also didn’t discuss background checks or what mental illnesses might be appropriate for refusing a gun sale. I put that in the hands of people who are more affected by these matters, but I hope you can seriously analyze your personal needs and desires against that of a larger society in which you are a part. I hope that you can put your fear to the side temporarily and take a moment for some serious introspection

I think the world would be better off if we all did that before shooting off, literally and figuratively speaking.

(P.S. Dear NRA, citing the Obamas’ children’s armed protection is a red herring. Most people’s children are not considered political targets at risk for assassination or use as leverage. Otherwise we wouldn’t be as shocked about Sandy Hook as we are. Those are special circumstances, as also with the children of diplomats and the highest-ranking political and corporate officials.)
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