Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Way of the Gun

warhol gun

The purpose of tragedy in drama is to encourage introspection. The same is true for those not directly impacted by tragedy in real life.

Those who lost a parent, a friend or a child in Tucson on Saturday morning will forever carry a wound that few of us can imagine and none, even in our harshest moments, would wish upon another. The rest of us need to use that tragic event for the opportunity for soul searching that it offers.

While politicians and the media debate whether this horror was ignited by uncontrolled partisan rhetoric or is the work of a madman being tastelessly politicized, the rest of us need to look deeper.

Whatever conclusion the media firestorm reaches, it will be one which primarily benefits the media itself and the political class. Maybe liberal or conservative or both have gotten carried away. Maybe they've been encouraged or enabled by the corporate entities who profit from reporting their conflicts.

Certainly it wouldn't hurt anybody to dial things back a notch.

What the hell. If the need arises, it's just as easy to dial it back up again. Isn't it?

But then, we're right back where we started, aren't we?

What does any of all that mean to those walking a darkened street late at night, looking up from the cash register of an empty liquor store or pulling over a car with tinted windows on a lonely road?

Whether events like these are perpetrated by madmen who think they serve the Right, the Left or the Grand Council of Elders on the Third Moon of Jupiter, they only achieve their body count by getting their hands on a gun.

I'm not opposed to the private ownership of firearms. I'm licensed myself -- and unlike most in Canada -- also permitted to own and operate hand guns.

I've been around guns all my life, probably pulled the first trigger on one somewhere around First Grade. Irresponsible of my parents? On the contrary.

Guns were part of their lives and their work. They both hunted. We lived an hour from the nearest policeman. My father packed a sidearm when he transported significant amounts of cash or other valuable commodities for the railroad.

Those guns weren't fitted with combination trigger guards and locked away in one hidden safe while the ammunition was stored in another locked location elsewhere. They hung over the fireplace, perched in the back window of a pick-up truck, were tucked in an easy to reach holster.

For my own safety, I needed to be educated in their power and their danger. They were a necessary tool and one I was no more allowed get my fingers into than the power saw in the garage or the fan on the dining room sideboard.

I got my first Red Ryder BB Gun when I was the same age as Ralphie in "A Christmas Story". My first .22 rifle turned up for my 13th Birthday. My first shotgun a couple of years later. With each arrived another level of instruction, another set of rules that could not be modified or ignored under any circumstances.

I got that training from Scout Masters and Cadet Sergeants and small town cops on a Saturday morning. None of them taught me to fear the weapon. Every single one insisted that I respect it.

In my teen years, I hunted ducks and geese, prairie chickens, deer and antelope. Somewhere around the age of 18 I knew that personally taking the lives of those I still enjoyed eating was not something I wished to continue.

But I still target shot because that was challenging and fun. And my awareness and comfort in handling weapons probably landed me more than a couple of acting roles.

I've also been on film sets when gun accidents have happened. I've seen stunt men hit by the wadding from a blank, been next to actors badly hurt by a malfunctioning prop.

You are forever reminded of that word -- "respect".


And I've been on police ride-a-longs as undercover officers purchased automatic weapons at swap meets and State fairs, where no paper other than currency was required as proof of the buyer's legitimacy or legal intent.

I once had a guy throw open the doors of a VW van in an Eastern European farmer's market to offer me brand new AK-47's and pearl handled Glocks and even land mines for less money than it would cost to buy breakfast back at my hotel.

Those experiences taught me that, for many, guns aren't something to be respected -- they're merely another commodity.

A means to an end.

When you apply for a Firearms license in Canada, you have to pass a written and practical exam. You go through an extensive background check including providing contact information on ex-wives, recent girlfriends and past employers. A lot of that is standard procedure in the United States as well.

But Canada does one thing more.

After those references are checked, a law enforcement officer calls you into his office for a chat. Whether or not it's called a psychological examination, that's what it is. Undeniably an imperfect one that somebody determined to get a license can beat. But still, someone with some experience takes a read on how responsible, reliable and rational you really are.

It's a test that Jared lee Loughner, Mark David Chapman, the Virginia Tech Killer and dozens of others who have forever inscribed their names in shame and blood would never have passed. Indeed, it might have set them on the path to getting the help they needed and spared countless innocent lives.

Yes, there are all kinds of rules preventing people with documented mental illnesses from getting a gun license in the USA. But there seems to be nothing stopping those who have slipped through the cracks, individuals who could easily be flagged by a trained police officer.

I've never understood why such a simple thing seems so unattainable in America. If the 2nd Amendment grants you the right to bear arms, so be it. But I doubt the Founding Fathers nor anyone else ever believed you have the right to be completely bat-shit crazy and bear arms.

Is there really a constituency out there who can logically argue that the rights of the mentally deranged are endangered if they aren't packin'?

It's no doubt true that someone bent on destruction will find some way to get their hands on a gun. And there may be a completely logical reason why a 30 round clip useful for nothing much but wholesale slaughter needs to be available over the counter at Walmart.

There's no argument our governments could all be doing more to tag ammunition, share information and otherwise more easily trace who perpetrated a gun crime. But putting a deadly weapon in the hands of someone incapable of respecting its power and finality is the definition of criminal behavior itself.

If this one small amendment were made to the second amendment, the politicians and pundits could stay up as late as they want playing Grammar Lady. Meanwhile, the rest of us would sleep better knowing there were fewer weapons in the hands of madmen.


Ken said...

"When you apply for a Firearms license in Canada, you have to pass a written and practical exam. You go through an extensive background check including providing contact information on ex-wives, recent girlfriends and past employers. A lot of that is standard procedure in the United States as well." No it ain't. Arizona, Florida, Texas to name a few don't even come close to leveling the kind of gun regulation we have here in Canada. And at just about any "gun-show" in the US anybody can buy a handgun with nothing more than the cash in his or her pocket. I come from a family of hunters. It wasn't something I took much interest in, but "respect" for guns notwithstanding, I just don't like when they're around. Self-defense with a knife or a lead pipe or a lamp or your car requires something called forethought. Even if it's a moment, you have to think before you kill. A gun? Not so much. One little squeeze between the index finger and base of the thumb and ... bingo! Pay dirt. Handguns for hobbyists? To me, a bit odd. Handguns with extended clips for hobbyists? That's just stupid. Automatic weapons? Insane. Self defense, 2nd Amendment my ass. The phrase "The right to bear arms" is a glorification of the phrase "the right to shoot somebody." Guns remove forethought and considered potential consequences. Whether you have a PhD or not, you own a gun and the wrong moment of stress comes along, you have the potential to become a fucking moron.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is, as you noted, people's attitudes towards guns in the U.S. Things may be different in Canada, and I certainly think they were different in the era when you were growing up, but many gun enthusiasts here seem to think of them as toys.

I don't know if you saw this story recently, but an 8-year-old killed himself accidentally when he (under the supervision of his father) was firing an Uzi at a gun show. According to the testimony of the 15-year old (!) who was supervising the firing area, police officers were in attendance at the event and were aware that children were being allowed to fire weapons.

There are so many levels of flagrant idiocy there I can't even fathom it. But somehow, as a society, we don't seem to think it's a significant problem.

Some people, though, would see any attempt at having police interviews of gun license applicants to be a huge infringement on their rights. I suspect that the people at the gun show where the above accident occurred would have problems with it.


Your Regular Anonymous

Lafayetter said...

Canadians are more than welcome to stay in Canada where, they will be safe from the freedoms protected by the US Constitution.

No, idiot, you can't just walk into a gunshow and buy a pistol. You have to complete the exact same NICS check that you would at a brick and mortar dealer. In fact it is more inconvenient. I have stopped making purchases at gun shows because of the inconvenience. I now leave a deposit and visit the dealer at his shop during the week to make the purchase.

And believe it or not those of you who opine without facts or personal experience, there are some pockets of Leftist Totalitarianism in the US where the local constabulary does have the kind of authority you favor to veto a citizens gun rights. In those places, the rights of legal,law abiding, eligible citizens are universally abused. The power you suggest is almost always whimsically and arbitrarily applied and is colored by the personal opinion of the constable towards firearms and the political stature of the interviewee. I have observed it.

As for self defense, for good people there is really only one option, the firearm. That is because good people cannot use a lead pipe to bash another human's brains out, repeatedly striking another human while blood and bits of bone and hair spray up in your face. Think about it. It's a sickening thought isn't it. You suggest it takes forethought to swing a lead pipe. Yes, it probably does for a good person. So much forethought in fact that you will have to defend in court that your action was not premeditated. Prove that you were actually forced to take a life to save your own.

Criminals on the other hand, have no objection to pounding your brains out. That's why they will win if they have a pipe and you have a pipe. They will strike first and lethally.

What does a gun do for the good person who is attacked. First of all, if an attacker knows you have a gun and doesn't run off; you can be reasonably sure that the attacker is determined to do you physical harm, so determined that the threat of lethal force will not dissuade them. At that point, you have the moral authority to fireU Using the firearm at that point will save you from harm or even death. And, it will be an executive decision. "I chose to live and only live if I pull this trigger" I believe a good person, even convinced that they are in a life or death situation will be unable to bludgeon an assailant. But, when they are forced...forced...to defend themselves from death they may be able to pull that trigger and live another day.