Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Big Black Scary Gun


As I sit here writing in the Hobo Dojo, I am struck by the irony of this day. Here we are in 2013. An African American president is being sworn in for a second term on the national holiday reserved to celebrate the life and work of another iconic Black American. It could be said that the one made the other possible. I am not able to forget that Dr. King was killed by a assassin's bullet. Nor am I able to escape the sound of my countrymen yelling about guns. The debate is raging non-stop on social media and the evening cable-news and opinion shows. I already wrote about Sandy Hook here on the blog-site, but I feel compelled to take another shot.

Guns are dangerous tools. Always. Even if one is never aimed at another human in hatred or anger, it possesses - by design - the ability to snuff the life from living things. Though many people own guns for target shooting or collectability and never harm a living thing ... it would be dishonest not to acknowledge that guns were designed to kill. Target shooting was only invented as practice for killing.

These days, our great country splits into factions at the drop of a hat. Most anything that upsets us all will devolve into a partisan struggle as soon as the political talkers and bloggers can get their talking-points in place. As anyone might have predicted, the recent tragic shooting in Newtown Connecticut - hard on the heels of the solid Democratic victory in November - has brought the gun debate to the fore in an unprecedented way. And, as expected, the liberals want to limit access to guns of certain types. Equally predictable is the push-back from the other side of the Great Divide.

What is somewhat surprising to me is that the voices from the left - as this is a left versus right debate - seem to again be focused on the nasty-looking military-style carbines that have come to be called 'assault weapons'. These black, utilitarian rifles are frightening to behold. They are generally modeled after the Colt AR-15 or the Russian AK-47. But, though they are based upon these tough no-nonsense infantry weapons, they are no more lethal than the hunting rifle that likely leaned against the wall in your father's closet all through your childhood. In fact, if one were to shoot them both at a target, one would see that Dad's .30-06 deer-rifle is a heck of a lot more powerful than that scary AR-15 that we see in the graphic behind the MSNBC commentator's head.

Now that is not to say that they are toys. They are killing machines. No doubt about it. All guns are. The beautiful bolt-action Remington with the oiled-walnut stock that my father gave me might look swell hung on a wall, but it was designed to tear through flesh and bone and organ, and to release the life energies of whatever creature fell before its sights. But what we have here, in this national debate about firearms, is an attempt to make some of them into the embodiment of evil intent while allowing others - every bit as deadly - to continue to be owned and collected. No particular scrutiny is being paid to hunting rifles like the one that took Reverend King from our midst.

In this piece, I'll give you my thoughts as to why.

First, let me give you my theory as to why I believe that Americans are prone to a relationship with firearms that verges on romantic love. Anyone who knows more than a few male humans has occasionally wondered at our attachment to THINGS. A friend wrote me yesterday comparing the collecting of guns to the collecting of guitars. This resonated with me. As a musician and lover of music, guitars hold a special place in my heart. If I am driving down the street and see a guy walking with a guitar case, my eyes track him as surely as if I'd spied a young woman with a particularly beguiling bottom. I just love everything about guitars. Not just for their utility either. They are connected in an almost talismanic sense to some of the most profound experiences of my life. They are beautiful examples of human craft, and a joy to play or just to look at. And importantly, they are tools with which and about which I can increase and display my expertise. This is - to the male of the species - as important as weddings and baby clothes are to the female. We like knowing things and being seen to know them.

So, though I myself do not drool at the sight of a new night-vision scope, or SWAT style tactical bipod,  I can certainly relate to the desire to have a more complete experience with whatever has captured my male imagination.

But that does not address the American love for guns. What is it about guns that seems to fire the American psyche? Well, at least in part, it has to do with what gets into your mind when you are young. When I was a kid, all the boys played Cowboys and Indians in my neighborhood. That or 'Army' where we chose up sides, assigning some to be U.S. soldiers and others to be either Nazis or Japs (pardon the slur). Sometimes, if we were in a certain mood, we might pretend to be Union soldiers fighting with Rebels. The point was that we pretended to be men risking our lives over arcane political and territorial disputes we didn't understand. There were a lot of dramatic death throes and falling on hand grenades, and we all wanted to be 'The Good Guys'. It was as central to our idea of Country as anything, this idea of men fighting on lethal teams.

When you think about it, ours is the first wholly new country to be born in gun-smoke.  The men who crouched behind trees and shot holy-hell out of British soldiers could never have prevailed if not for the weapons they had. Whatever else figured into those battles, they were won by our guys shooting more holes in their guys than theirs in ours. The rifle was the key. Unlike European countries, we have no national lore featuring tremendous battles won by valiant men swinging hammers and swords at one another while arrows rained upon them. The musket came before our country could have and was made practical just in time. This accident of history forged a link between the gun and the patriotic urge. Add to that the fact that we became a nation by revolting against those who were very much like us. People who came from similar bloodlines broke down into tyrant and insurgent, and the resultant rebel victory gave us our nation. That is a fact not easily forgotten.

And that our country has so often shouldered its rifles in defense against tyranny elsewhere in the world has only etched and re-etched the connection patriotic Americans feel to the indispensable power of the gun. We can't really imagine an America without the violent pop of a bullet or the bloody bloom at the end of its flight. But many of us can imagine a time in the future where a political or ideological rift would have us in the streets and countryside shooting at fellow citizens. Spend an hour reading the comments following any controversial online column and you might imagine it too.

We have to factor-in the birth of motion pictures. The ground was still littered with musket balls, and Buffalo Bill still trick-shooting in buckskin when Hollywood first sent its jerky reels afield. In the otherworldly darkness of movie-houses, we were enticed to imagine ourselves as the dashing, properly armed hero. Those movies got into our national soul. That's where my pals and I got the idea that war was the stuff of neighborhood sport. We saw it all on TV. And it all looked damned exiting.

Now I mean no disrespect toward those who own guns. And I know that there is a long tradition of hunting in many families. But when I see camo-clad guys stockpiling ammo and freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff in anticipation of everything from Y2K to the 'Zombie Apocalypse', I have to suspect that they may have spent a bit too much time listening to George Noory, and watching re-runs of Red Dawn and The Walking Dead. But let's face it. For certain personality-types, end-of-civilization scenarios carry a tingly fascination. The prospect of facing a world where one lives by his wiles - and his guns - rings an atavistic bell somewhere in the nether regions.

[Interestingly, at about the time that my pals and I were fighting wars with toy guns, another British Invasion was breaching our shores. It wasn't long before some of us became more interested in acting that one out with tennis-racket guitars and wash-bucket drums before crowds of excited neighborhood girls. I was in that bunch, and I've never really stopped playing that game. Why would it surprise me that others never stopped playing army.]

But I digress ...

It's easy to understand the attraction to guns, it is just as easy to grasp the revulsion they engender in others. They are, as we mentioned, dangerous. And to an awful lot of Americans the pastoral image of a father taking his son out hunting, has either been lost to time or re-purposed as evidence of anthropocentric cruelty which breaks their vegetarian hearts. The hipper you are ... The more educated you are ... The more 'enlightened' you are ... the less you seem to like blowing holes in things.

If you look at a map of the United States that is blocked out in Red and Blue to signify voting trends, you will see that the blue areas are much smaller in total mass than the red ones. This is because the people who move to the coasts and live in the big, condensed cities are largely Democrat. There's more of 'em, and less room between 'em. They stand in line a lot, and just the quest for parking can drive a sweet soul mad. The good neighborhoods grind up against bad ones, and the streets teem with every sort of miscreant. The police are outnumbered and everybody knows it. The thought that every greasy pocket might well contain a .38 snub-nose with its numbers filed off is enough to set one's knees to knocking. There are no deer to kill. The only potential prey is of the human variety. Often these people do think of arming themselves. But that generally happens - as Senator Feinstein has noted - in response to fear and mounting anxiety. If a death threat could get old Diane to pack heat, it stands to reason that a lot of gun-sales in the big metro are either between perps out of a car-trunk, or for protection against whatever those guys are cooking up in their meth-fried noodles.

Is it really any wonder that big-city folks tend not to favor lax gun laws? Except the car-trunk guys, of course. But they don't vote much. And they don't pay much attention to gun laws anyway.

Not all people who would eliminate guns live in big cities. But I think it's fair to say that most are seeking the sort of life that would not feature trips back from vacation with a couple-hundred pounds of field-dressed venison on ice in the back of the Prius. Point made?

So I get it. I get why the old-school people of the roomy red states like their guns. And I get why the folks who just want to get little Emily safely from ballet to her French lesson, would rather they were all melted down and made into vaguely sexual sculptures in Golden Gate Park. I get it. I do.

What is harder to get is why the anti-gun folks fixate repeatedly on the 'assault weapons'. Just this very morning I drove one of my dearest friends to the airport and we talked of this on the way. She is past fifty, college educated and liberal, a nationally-known figure in her field, and till this morning, did not know that a semi-automatic 'assault rifle' is not a point-and-spray machine-gun. Didn't know that fully automatic guns have been illegal - except with rare permissions - since 1934. And she's no dummy. What she is, is an urban Democrat. And just as one would hear about the encroaching socialist threat at an East-Texas barbecue,  she's been exposed to a lot of mis-information about guns. Anybody who watched Piers Morgan's weeks-long anti-gun screed on CNN saw a man who is so against these big black scary guns that he simply refused to hear when expert after expert explained to him that the AR knockoffs and the AK knockoffs are just the same as any other semi-automatic rifle; one shot per trigger-pull. Other than cosmetics, they are semi-automatics like any other.

The only valid claim as to the greater lethality of these adapted military guns is in the menacing forward-curving magazine or 'clip' which holds about 30 rounds. But a Glock 17 holds seventeen shots, and any unhinged suburban commando could easily carry a pair of them in his Desert-Storm cargo pants, with a spare clip for each and room left over for his cell phone and Ipod. You think you could shove an AR-15 down your pants? Not likely. They're almost three feet long with the stock collapsed and weigh in at over nine pounds loaded. Hell, the very pistol-grip that the president wants to outlaw would make that impossible. Oh, and changing clips on a Glock is a .05 second job. So a killer with a single Glock, a single spare clip and a single second to spare is four shots ahead of the guy who lugs in an 'assault rifle' weighing four times as much. BTW, the extended clips which give that standard Glock pistol 29 shots without a re-load, are fast-selling items in gun stores all across this great and liberal nation.

So why these particular guns? Well, if I didn't have a theory, I wouldn't be me. So here I go. I think that our hand-wringing liberal friends are feeling a little guilty. They know who it was who glamorized these weapons. They know who is was who put these nasty and utterly function-driven guns into the hands of buffed out action stars and set them to slaughtering charging brigades of bad guys while heart-pounding music burst from the surround-sound speakers. They know who it was who strapped Keanu Reeves and sent him into the Matrix to tear Mr. Smith a new one. They know who sent Rambo up-river to waste the commies holding the missionaries in jungle-jail. They chose these guns because they look Bad-Ass, and it is they who have made them so widely popular. They know goddamn well that young minds are influenced by media images. And they know who is getting rich off it. And they also know how those people vote.

They are also perfectly aware of the hundreds or thousands of hours that young males, hormonally flushed with aggression and frustration, spend blowing chunks of virtual enemies all over the virtual walls in first-person shooter video games. They also know that Silicon Valley, where these games are made, is nearly as monolithic a Democratic vote-block as is Hollyweird.

Liberal partisans are like all other partisans. Protecting their own and the validity of their philosophy is more important than truth-telling. And so it is that they pretend that a young, unformed personality cannot be much influenced by images of gun violence, but that the sight of such a gun on a parental shelf would be liable to send that same kid into a school with blood in his eyes. It's the availability of guns, they keep saying. And in particular, it's the availability of these big scary black guns.

These people aren't stupid. They read. They know that the overwhelming preponderance of children killed by guns are killed in the inner city, and that the weapons of choice are cheap, easily concealed handguns. A Bushmaster like the one that douche-bag in Newtown used is a $1,000 gun. This is not a gun for criminals. This is a gun for those acting out fantasies inspired by one or more streams of media images that feature this type of weapon. (According to FBI stats, in 2011, less than 3% of gun murders were attributable to 'assault' rifles. By contrast, handguns account for 73% of the total.).

And liberals like Piers Morgan know it. But they have a guy in the White House who is more interested in celebrity endorsements than he is in honest dialogue. Remember that he did not one thing to advance the cause of gay marriage until Crazy Joe embarrassed him on the eve of the George Clooney fundraiser. Just like that - hero of the movement! Obama is not a bad man. But he does clearly enjoy being fussed over by the A-list stars who have lent their very bodies to an industry soaked in movie-blood. They make millions. They gave him millions. They made him a star just like themselves. Do you think that he is going to sack up and call them onto the carpet? Not a chance.

Listen ... a few years ago many film makers voluntarily stopped showing stars smoking cigarettes.  It was felt that kids would emulate such a behavior and that some would be harmed by picking up the habit. I thought that was a bit silly, but I admired them for it. Where is that civic-mindedness now?

Do I think that somehow preventing kids from viewing so many violent movies and playing so many violent video games would solve the problem? No. Not entirely. There are a number of other ways that we have allowed cultural erosion to undermine our society. But we have always had fully lethal guns in American homes. And kids did not find themselves drawn to the notion of a classroom massacre ending in their own violent demise. Something has changed. And it isn't the guns ... no matter how big, and black, and scary.

Dave Morrison ... January 21, 2013



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