Monsters in our midst

Oh, that’s a deadly, funny subject. So many people love guns and swear by them, and a lot of them are people who I agree with politically in most other ways. And it’s not like I enjoy arguing about “gun control,” which is a tug-of-war over limits that upsets most gun lovers and leads to a rush to buy weapons after every mass shooting.

But the subject can’t be avoided. The gun industry is part of the military-industrial complex, and its advertising war on the American reptile brain is aimed at keeping people in a constant state of fear and, even more important, helplessness. Most people, or at least most gun owners, think that “disarmed” means “powerless,” and that’s where the debate if you can call it that, ends.

The above quote is from an amazing essay by poet Judy Juanita, which gets to the spiritual side of the matter:

“The Gun as Steel metaphor shows how people want to control and destroy an enemy or threat they see as a threat. Guns are both bought and sold. Hollywood’s Gun, or its movie weapons, is the United States calling card around the world.

“The Gun is so social because it gets rid of differences between people. Anyone can get their hands on one and “point, shoot, kill.”

The Gun is not neutral. It is not just a tool, like a knife or almost any other sharp or blunt object, that can be used for either a simple, useful purpose or the worst of human nature. If it were, there wouldn’t be a lobby for guns. The NRA wouldn’t exist. Just having a gun changes what people can do. We won’t be getting rid of it.

But the United States has more private guns than any other country, with about 300 million guns in the hands of its citizens. That’s a little more than one Gun for every man, woman, and child. On average, about 30,000 people die from guns every year, with about a third being murders and two-thirds being suicides. This is not a number to be brushed off, and “bad” gun homicides won’t stop or become less common if more ordinary people, like schoolteachers, get guns so they can shoot back at criminals and crazy people.

As I wrote a year ago after the Sandy Hook shootings: “Before we need a gun debate in this country, or on this planet, we need a sensible discussion about the nature of empowerment, and we need to wrest the concept from the hands – if necessary, the cold, dead hands – of gun-industry shills, who claim that unarmed means disempowered, and who forget, among other things, to warn us that it’s possible to be both armed.

That is, a person can have a gun and still be angry, scared, confused, lost, or sad. If someone is in one of these mental or emotional states, giving them a gun won’t make the situation better. It will make the darkness much worse. Our country is going through the same thing.

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, quickly called a press conference after the Sandy Hook shooting and said, “There are monsters among us.”

Exactly.

But shooting at them won’t keep them in check. The future of this country is not in the hands of people who work in advertising or write scripts for movies. In the real world, trying to take control of a situation by pointing a gun at someone rarely ends well. Almost always, it ends in tragedy.

We need to talk about all of this on a national level, but we can’t seem to do it. We get politics, deadlock, and more of the same. For example, the position of U.S. surgeon general has been open since July of last year, and President Obama’s nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who is seen by many in the medical community as highly qualified, is running into trouble in Congress because, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, “he has advocated reasonable and mainstream forms of gun regulation.” That was enough for the NRA and other gun rights groups to fight hard against his nomination.

Zoe Carpenter recently wrote in The Nation, “With public health professionals speaking out more strongly about guns, the NRA has a strong reason to silence their calls for stronger laws.” “Really, the campaign against Murthy is part of a long-running effort to make talking about gun violence a no-no. The NRA has spent years trying to hide information about gun violence and how it affects public health.
The monsters among us are a part of who we are as a country. The foundations of American society were slavery and genocide: aggressive racism, Eurocentrism, and the right to dominate others. We haven’t fought these monsters; all we’ve done is give them weapons. People own more than 300 million guns, and the number keeps growing.

Our society is at war with itself and with most of the rest of the world. This war might be stopped by different kinds of gun control, but it will only end when people change their minds. This change must include the realization that having power is about more than being able to point, shoot, and kill.

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