Sunday, December 23, 2012
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
[As much as I hate to bring this up with Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men so imminent, it can't wait.]
Here we all go again down the same old road. Yesterday, the CEO of the NRA (love those acronyms!) finally broke his silence after the mass shootings in Connecticut and the clamor for gun control with a statement: "Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun." He was advocating the presence of armed policemen in every school in America, since all those wacko shooters out there know that schools are currently off limits to guns, and despite the total impracticability of hiring 100,000 more cops when so many Congressmen are screaming for austerity measures.
Instead of keeping its head down, which the NRA usually does after such massacres, they simply couldn't just wait out the inevitable shift of the collective attention span onto other subjects. That shift may occur, but if it does there are too many people who will find occasion to regret it deeply.
In one of his late interviews (probably on The Tonight Show), Truman Capote uttered what I have always felt was a paradox: "A suicide is a failed murderer." I immediately thought that Capote had, true to form, got it backwards, that "A murderer is a failed suicide." I get that feeling every time I hear of a mass shooting that ends with the shooter shot to death by police or by his own hand. There is even an adage for it: Suicide by cop.
A good example of this was the case of the woman who stepped into a phone booth across from a police headquarters and called 9-11. She told the dispatcher that she was in a phone booth across the street and that she had a gun. When police responded, they drew their weapons and told the woman to exit the phone booth and drop her weapon. Instead she came out of the phone booth waving her gun at the police, who did what they are trained to do and shot her to death. Her gun wasn't loaded.
What is it exactly that makes it so terribly hard for some people to take their own lives, that they have to create a situation in which they have no other way out? After slaughtering twenty children and six adults, Adam Lanza stepped inside an adjacent empty classroom and turned one of his guns on himself. Why didn't he have the nerve to simply shoot himself first? Is it a cultural difference, after all? When a Japanese person wants to commit suicide, he shuts himself inside his home. Sometimes, when an American loses it, he opens his door and goes to a crowded place and takes as many lives as he can before the police convince him that it is, finally, time to die.
The statistics about gun violence in America are irrefutable. So why are so many Americans being so obstinate? Adam Lanza's dead mother was, her friends claim, a "responsible" gun owner. Since she provided her troubled son access to her weapons, and she was the first person he killed, she was manifestly not responsible with her legally obtained weapons. I have written before about being reluctant to enter an establishment - a restaurant or a bar - that permits its customers to carry weapons, as log as they can show proof that they are licensed to do so. I have lived in countries in which it is commonplace to see armed guards - and sometimes even uniformed soldiers - holding assault rifles at the ready outside supermarkets and fast food joints. Is the NRA actually advocating such things in America?
In a post I published last July, I commented that these mass shootings are a boon for gun sellers and the NRA, since they provoke many people to react impulsively (and hysterically) by rushing out to buy weapons for their protection. The NRA actually profits from such massacres, since they play into their incredibly paranoid fantasies, and enable them to foist their insane agenda on Americans who wouldn't otherwise take them seriously. I will once again voice my serious doubts about the patriotism of some Americans who claim they aren't safe inside their homes without a firearm, who claim that their own government and police force cannot protect them. If they don't feel safe inside their homes, which is simply a problem of perception (I have never felt unsafe wherever I have lived in the States), why don't they simply move somewhere else where they will feel safe? We aren't living in a totalitarian state (which would give good reason for such a siege mentality) quite yet.
Some Americans like to use the term "American Exceptionalism", simply because they want America to be held to a different standard of civility than every other country. They say that all those countries that banned gun ownership after similar gun massacres, like England and Australia, can't be compared to America, simple because America is "exceptional". I tend to agree, if only because there is a violent strain in the American experience that can't be explained away by sociologists or psychologists. The violent video games and Hollywood movies that the NRA head denounced are available to children all over the world. So why does it make American children more violent and not Swedish or Chinese or Brazilian children? Could it be because there is no folkloric worship of violence in those countries? Is it because America is such a young nation, compared with Europe or Japan or China? When it comes to gun control, it shouldn't matter one way or the other. Americans have guns and use guns to periodically slaughter one another simply because they have a completely out of date Constitutional amendment that guarantees access to them. If I don't trust my fellow American behind the wheel of a car - and it is the first thing one learns as a defensive driver - then why should I trust him with a gun?