Friday, December 14, 2012

Thoughts on a Friday in December


I guess by now, you’ve seen the news.  Most likely, you’ve seen more of it than I have.  I stuck around long enough to hear about the man with motives I don’t pretend to understand, that he walked into an elementary school with several guns and used them to end thirty or so lives, many of them barely started. 

Every time this sort of story comes up – and it does seem to come up an awful lot, doesn’t it?  Every time, my instincts steer me straight to gun control.  Yes, I know.  “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”  But people are killing people with guns.  Efficiently.  Guns provide people with the opportunity to kill a lot of people quickly and without much chance of retaliation. 

Guns are weapons.  They exist to make things dead.  If you don’t want things to die, then guns don’t make much sense.  We don’t allow free access to explosives, or poisons, or nuclear material because these things can easily endanger the public.  Taking away these tools doesn’t end violence or violent impulses, and just about any tool can be dangerous with the right combination of determination and ingenuity.  That doesn’t mean that we should make it easy.

But to be honest, I think I may be missing a trick here.  Sure, I do think we’d be better off with fewer guns.  Lots of countries around the world manage to get on just fine without guns, but if I’m being honest with myself, that’s only half the story. 

Still other countries manage to give the public access to firearms without daily reports of homicide.  There’s something different about the US, something that goes beyond availability and opportunity.  The gun may be the tool of choice, but the fact is that Americans choose to use their weapons on each other.  A lot.

The whole reason for firing a gun is to kill.  The only reason for having a gun handy is to be able to kill.  Call it defense if you like, but only in a “best defense is a good offense” sort of way.  If you want a genuine defensive weapon, get a shield.  Guns are for ending lives. 

Come to think of it, I have to wonder if the whole “defense” euphemism might have some bearing.  Defense sounds a lot more justifiable than killing, like it was him or me, like I had no choice.  We do it as a nation, we do it as a community, and we do it as individuals.  We soften the language to feel better about the choices we make. 

I’m not suggesting for a minute that all or even most shootings are in self-defense.  I’m suggesting we have decided as a culture that maybe killing isn’t so bad after all, and this is one of the ways we rationalize it.  So that defense mentality, that sort of him or me, ruthless dog-eat-dog mentality can justify a mugging or a vendetta just as easily as gunning down an intruder. 

Now, I doubt any of us is likely to relate to the man who walked into that school today, but the reason he was on the news today is because this is a man who decided that killing was a viable option, and he’s hardly unique for that.