Monday, September 17, 2007

This is my rifle, this is my gun...

Last week I was wandering around the world and passed a tanning salon with a sign in the window: “No Firearms Allowed on the Premises.” That struck me as very funny. I mean, the idea that somebody would pack heat to go to a tanning salon is ridiculous on several levels. I had a mental image of a guy positioning his Glock 9mm very carefully so as to prevent unsightly tan lines.

I didn’t think much about it afterwards, but then this weekend I was walking past a music store in Nashville, a place that professionals and wannabes tend to frequent, and there were two young guys sitting out front having a very intense conversation. They were throwing around brand names that meant nothing to me, and I assumed they were audio geeks talking shop. It was only when I walked past again on the way back to my car that I realized they were talking about guns—at that moment, how to purchase the best ammo for an AK-47.

As I walked away I found myself thinking about Daryl Holton, the man who was executed last week for killing his children. He shot them with an SKS assault rifle. And then I thought about my brother, who to the best of my knowledge has never shot anybody, but who kept an M-14 for years, along with the usual hunting firearms. He may still have that gun for all I know, though I doubt it. Guys were constantly offering to buy the thing.

My point is that there’s a lot of firepower floating around out there, more even than most of us realize. A lot of people love weapons. Courting the gun lobby is absolutely de rigueur for any politician with the remotest hope of carrying right-of-center votes. That’s alarming on one level, I guess, but I guess I find it oddly encouraging that given all the guns at our disposal, life is pretty damn peaceful. According to the Centers for Disease Control, poisoning deaths in the US are about as common as deaths caused by firearms, including both accidental and deliberate shootings. (You can compare various types of death by injury here.)

Obviously, if someone you love is part of that second statistic, numbers don’t mean much. One person needlessly killed by a firearm is one too many. I’m no gun fan myself, and if people want to preach against them, I say go to it. But the hysterical tone that dominates the gun control debate might be eased a lot if the anti-gun crowd would stop painting the gun fetishists as nothing but psychos and potential psychos. For every Daryl Holton or Cho Seung-Hui, there are a thousand decent people who, for whatever reason, want to own weapons. Demonizing and criminalizing them isn’t going to do much to change their minds.


Anonymous said...

Re: psychos and potential psychos:

Among the serious gun nuts I know are several who believe that the government is going to attack them and that they will be forced to defend themselves with their hoarded weapons. They see themselves as minute men against government encroachment and everything else that goes with the right-wing mind set. That's why they oppose even gun registration laws: they think if the government knows they have guns that it will come and confiscate them. My former next-door neighbor believed all of this and kept an absolute arsenal in his house. He also volunteered as a "minute man" to patrol the Mexican border against illegal immigration.

The point being that gun ownership, at least among people who keep assault rifles and the like, can be closely correlated with a mindset which I, at least, consider psycho.

BitterGrace said...

Well, I despise that mindset, too. I'm not sure I'd call it psycho--by which I mean, I'm not sure one can make any firm conclusions about how likely such a person is to hurt somebody, relative to the general population. People are entitled to their dumbass ideas. I certainly think I'm entitled to mine.

The thing is, I don't think there's any way that the overwrought rhetoric of the anti-gun folk can possibly persuade a gun lover that his fetish is not in anybody's best interest. Just the reverse.

The sad thing is that the Iraq war is only going to make our cultural attachment to firepower more intense. Not only are we going to have a lot of traumatized, paranoid, weapon-fixated vets running around, but the sectarian violence of Iraq is exactly what the gun nuts think they're preparing themselves for. Even the ones who don't have a particularly racist bent are always worried about some sort of catastrophic social breakdown--which is what's happened over there, where it really is the case that your only protection is the guy at the end of your street with a gun.

Anonymous said...

My brother in law just came home from Iraq and he said it was crazy how many of them just walk around with guns. And he said the craziest part were the children toting loaded guns. We are talking 5 years old and up. eeek. But he said there are so many insurgents that the people need their guns for protection. The downside, if a gunshot is heard, they all start shooting and they end up killing their own or the good-ones off.

I don't own a gun and never will. That kind of power freaks me out.


BitterGrace said...

Yeah, I'm with you, Dawn. Having a gun in the house just seems like asking for trouble. I always think about a friend of ours in DC, a hardcore Reagan Republican, who used to say he was all for the handgun ban in the city because "If they let me carry a gun I'd shoot twenty people a day."