I made a statement about guns yesterday, which was a little out of sync with the rest of that post, and I said that I would revisit it. Today’s just as good as any to do that, although me being who I am and guns being what they are, this will probably come up more than once in the next year.
Let me start by restating what I said yesterday:
The fundamental purpose of a gun is to take a life. All use of this tool must flow from a deep understanding of that fundamental purpose.
There are people that will argue with me on this point. I don’t know that I know any of those people directly, but just in case, let me follow up: You may use your gun for something other than killing humans. You may not even kill animals with it. You can say “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” You may feel confident enough in your ability to use your gun that you believe you would only use it to warn someone, or hurt someone, but never to kill them, and only in the most extreme of circumstances. Good for you. That is not the purpose of a gun.
You have a gun for one single reason: because once upon a time, someone decided to harness explosive black powder in order to kill things more efficiently. Every refinement to this weapon since then has been for that same exact reason: to kill things more efficiently.
There are a lot of things to talk about and think deeply about in regards to guns and their usage, especially in this country. Far too many and too deeply for a Saturday morning. But I put this here, I say it over and over and over, because I think we’ve lost track of this fundamental truth, and we really, really need to remember.
Once upon a time (it is Saturday, after all, and that is a good day for a story), scientists built a bomb that was so effective, it ripped apart everything in its blast radius at the atomic level, and left damaging radiation in its wake for decades afterwards. We the people of the United States* used that bomb – two of them, in fact – on innocent civilians, believing at the time that those two evils were necessary stopgaps against something far greater.
The effects of those bombs were so devastating, we immediately decided that they should never be used again… Except. Except if those guys over there (which in those days meant Soviet Russia and its satellite nations, countries who just a few days before had been our allies) get these weapons, and they use them, then we’ll use ours. And while we’re at it, we’d better stockpile a whole bunch more bombs, and make some other bombs, and more guns, and…
The Cold War was all about fear. It was about believing that any second could bring our enemy to our door to take our stuff and punish us for daring to be free.**
And so we stockpiled, and we forgot that those weapons hurt people. People who, for the most part, were just like us. People who were looking for a little bit of happiness, some honest work, somebody to love, someone to take care of, and who really didn’t care that much how we went about doing the exact same thing.
Nothing happened. I repeat: nothing happened. No wait, something happened. The people who built all those weapons, who advised us on how we should use them, whose job it was to convince us all that we were in immediate danger, those people got very, very rich. And they liked that. So much so that, once we realized that fighting Soviets was probably silly, they helped us find other enemies, other wars, so that we’d never have to stop being scared, and that we’d never stop buying weapons.
And the thing is, that fear has poisoned every single level of our society. So much so that large numbers of people now believe that they need multiple semi-automatic assault rifles to defend themselves against the enemy, who is, after all, going to appear at the door and steal our freedom any minute now. These people believe that they have the right to take dozens, even hundreds, of lives in one fell swoop, because those lives are different from theirs. And they do this on a regular basis, targeting innocent people who’re just trying to do that happiness thing: go to a movie, pick out a new shirt at the mall, get an education.
The purpose of a gun is to take a life. In the United States, we hand this power out as a fundamental right, to people who have no training, no license, in many cases no background check, and no accountability. Even when we do train people, like our police officers, we refuse to hold them accountable for killing other people.
This is (again, theoretically) a democracy. We the people are our government. We the people are all responsible for the deaths of thousands.
The purpose of a gun is to take a life. We can no longer use this tool within our society without that context. I, for one, am not interested in having any more blood on my hands.
Day 2 of 365
* No, not some nameless, faceless entity called “the government,” not President Truman, not the generals and the advisors and the scientists. This is, at least theoretically, a democratically elected government. What our leaders do, they do in the name of every single citizen. We share the triumphs, and we share the blame.
** Where “free” is true only for values of freedom that equal unbridled corporate capitalism.