Thursday, May 29, 2014
Pulling the Trigger
Exactly why should another mass shooting in America, at the beginning of Memorial Day weekend, make me so homesick? Every historical event that I've missed since I departed from Anchorage, Alaska on a Wednesday afternoon seven years ago come November has reminded me of my distance from home. I feel more acutely than ever that I'm in the wrong place - that I should've been there when, for instance, Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, or when George Carlin died earlier that year, or when Hurricane Sandy slammed into New York and New Jersey, or throughout the long, hard winter that seems to have just come to an end.
I've written about some of the many mass shootings that are now endemic to life in America. Every time one occurs, the same issues come up in the media, both sides argued passionately, and nothing changes. By now, the only sensible response seems to be to simply own the fact that Americans are a uniquely obstinate people and that guns are never going to be taken away from them.
The latest (as of this writing) shooting rampage has already provoked the father of one of the victims (who had gone to a deli to buy a sandwich) into a public rant, directly blaming the NRA and "gutless" politicians for his son's death. But three of the six people that Elliot Rodger murderer were stabbed to death, for which the NRA and gutless politicians are blameless. And what about the pedestrians whom Rodger ran over with his BMW? The vehicle wasn't even American made.
Adding to what I've already said on the subject, I happen to agree with the NRA's argument that it isn't about the weapon of choice [guns], but that certain people choose to use it. Yet you cannot overestimate the enabling power of a gun. Think of all the people who enjoy going to firing ranges and shooting live rounds at targets in the form of human silhouettes. It gives them a thrill, a rush, a feeling of power. Over what? The disappointments of their lives? Their unfulfilling jobs and relationships? A universe that seems to be conspiring against them? What does the silhouette target represent? A criminal bent on robbing them? A man or woman who broke their heart? Their boss? Their mother or father? And what do they do when they discover that the bullets they fired have only put holes in a paper target?
Anecdote time. When I joined the Army in 1997, after I'd served eight years in the Navy and was finding the transition to civilian life especially frustrating, I was glibly informed by my recruiter that, because of BRM (Basic Rifle Marksmanship), which was central to Army training, I would have to undergo basic training for a second time. I turned 39 in the middle of it, surrounded by boys who were at least half my age, and because of my higher rank and time in service, I was made a squad leader in my platoon. When the time came for BRM arrived, I was surprised when some of the guys in my squad approached me to express their reluctance to accept even the idea of firing a weapon in combat. I tried to assure them that it was the drill instructors' duty to prepare them for the eventuality of combat and that, under those conditions, it was a choice of killing or being killed - you either used your rifle to defend yourself or you would probably be shot by the enemy. I'm afraid that my assurances weren't very reassuring. (One of my drill instructors told us prior to going to the range that, if any of us had it in his mind to shoot him once he was given a loaded M16, to please shoot him in the head and not maim him for life.)
Most people have a natural aversion to aiming a weapon at another person and pulling the trigger. It takes months of military pr police training and a certain amount of brutalization to overcome this natural aversion. All the target practice in the world won't make it any easier, when the time comes, for an untrained civilian with a gun, who just wants to use it to defend his property, to point it at another person and pull the trigger. Criminals are prepared to do so because they've already arrived at the decision to break the law. Consequences are obviously not enough of a "deterrent" to stop them. Should we be willing to submit average citizens to the brutalizing process of military training so they can more easily and conscionably shoot and kill one another?