Just about a month ago, the country was forced to come to grips with one simple fact: we are all mortal–old, young, rich or poor–and everyone on this Earth has a limited time to experience life. Tragically, we learned this because 20 children, and six school staff members, and a mother who by all accounts had done everything she could to raise a troubled child, were all killed by that one deeply troubled man, who then killed himself.
In the intervening month, a debate has swirled around guns and the 2nd Amendment, and how or if horrifying events like that in Newtown, Connecticut could be avoided. The Vice President is due to present his findings and recommendations to the President soon, and unfortunately, I think we all know those recommendations will be rooted in politics and promises and power and policies, when they need to be completely divorced from any argument made before and approached from another angle.
I’m going to begin my take on this with one simple thought that is going to sound pretty heartless, but is important to the conversation: humans are going to kill other humans. That’s right: taking the life of another, be they a competitor, enemy, or even a complete stranger, is something that scores of people have done throughout the history of the species. In fact, as a species, we’ve gotten pretty good at killing.
Somehow, in the course of human development, violence has been fully embraced as a method not only of obtaining food, but also for obtaining dominance over other humans. And the violence has taken many forms, and many scales: from one person choking another to death with his bare hands, to thousands killing thousands of others on the field of battle because of disagreements over one person’s individual beliefs or goals.
All of that should sound particularly troubling, because, frankly, it is. I like eating meat, so somehow I must accept or ignore the fact that slaughtering of the fish and animals is now remarkably efficient. But by the same token, and not to belittle either event, killing “enemy combatants” with a drone strike where the pilot is thousands of miles away watching his handiwork on a monitor is just as terrifyingly efficient.
We humans cheered when Osama Bin Laden was killed in the middle of the night in some crummy house in Pakistan. We mourned the loss of thousands of people killed by those who followed his orders by turning airplanes into weapons. We’ve applauded the capture and sentence and execution or murderers And yet, we’ve been grief-stricken to the point of paralysis when we heard that those 20 kids were killed in their own school. We mourn suicides, can’t comprehend murders, either support or hate abortion, and vigorously debate euthanasia or its more delicate moniker: assisted suicide. So when, exactly, is killing another person okay?
Are you uncomfortable yet? You should be. We all should be. Because that’s where this discussion needs to start. Not from some self-righteous position of supposed flag-wrapped patriotism and overly broad interpretations of a 27 word constitutional amendment. Nor should it start at a position that believes the weapons themselves are entirely the problem. Yes, the place to begin this discussion is to talk about ourselves as an entire species: we, the humans of the Earth, have gotten very, very good at killing.
We’ve gotten so good at killing that our weapons are almost entirely designed to do just that. Aside from air guns, BB guns, Nerf guns, water pistols and the like, I can’t think of a single gun that isn’t designed to kill. An AR-15, the type used in the Newtown school shooting, wasn’t designed to just graze a person or wing a duck. It was designed to kill. It wasn’t designed to be shown at a gun show and to be appreciated by collectors. It was designed to kill.
The problem is that both sides have inherent problems with their positions that need to be addressed in a realistic manner.
The NRA needs to get its communal head out of its ass long enough to stop yelling aggressively at those they disagree with, and realize that their fallback position, regardless of how they present it, is this: We need more guns because that way we can more easily kill the lunatics who are out to kill us or others. Oh yeah, and hunting…Don’t forget the hunting…And mostly defending ourselves from wackos with guns. But they need to stop wrapping themselves in the flag for the sake of claiming that they have a constitutional right to the guns. They need to acknowledge that those 27 words of the second amendment, written over 200 years ago, are pretty clearly rooted in the need for a volunteer militia, not to support the hobby of some woman who collects high-powered rifles. But at the same time, they’re ignoring the four words from that commandment: “thou shalt not kill.” Nowhere in those four words is the word “unless…”
Does anyone except someone in the military really need a gun that was designed by an engineer to kill as many living things as it possibly could as accurately as it could from as high a distance as it could as quickly as it could? Or could everyone just be content with having civilians armed with fairly basic firearms–single-shot pistols for self-defense, and hunting rifles and shotguns as necessary.
By the same token, the anti-gun crowd needs to step back and take a deep breath, shake the flowers from their communal long hair, and get a grip on the reality of the world. Guns, whether we all like it or not, are important and even vital, and will never go away. There is an inherent respect for those with weapons, and unfortunately, I don’t think we’re ever going to succeed in retraining the people in this world to think that authority can be maintained simply through persuasive argument and meaningful thought. So the only way for authorities to maintain order in certain cases is to display copious amounts or weaponry. But this side must also agree with the NRA on the point that there is also a relevant need for guns in hunting if for no other reason than it’s a time-honored tradition and mostly honorable sport.
The final part of the problem is this: there are already millions of guns out there in the world, just waiting to be put to their ultimate purpose. And there’s no good way to get those out of circulation. And eventually, a good chunk of those guns will probably find some human who wants to use them for that purpose, to kill either a person or an animal.
These are both true statements: the gun itself in the school attack didn’t kill all of those people, one probably very disturbed man used it to kill all of them; but if he didn’t have access to a gun, if all he could have had access to was a stone or even a knife, he would have done a lot less damage.
That’s where we need to start this conversation. There’s anger and pain and deeply held beliefs swirling around the subject, and no one will make any of that go away. But all sides need to begin by understanding that we’re a flawed species that is drawn to killing, but that we need to find ways to make it less efficient and less accessible.
Okay. You’ve hung on through this diatribe long enough. Take it, read it over and over if you need. And think about what I’ve said.
See you tomorrow.