Friday, January 11, 2013

Guns

Lately my facebook feed is alive with links from friends regarding guns and gun-related legislation. Most are articles from various media outlets (some mainstream, others of the tinfoil hat persuasion).  Some are just pictures with clever captions.  It's interesting to see how my different friends and acquaintances vary in their opinions about guns.

I myself am on the fence about it.  I don't own a gun, but I've thought about it.  I've never really fired a gun, other than one experience with BB guns in cub scouts, and one experience with .22's in boy scouts.

To be honest, guns make me nervous.  I get really uncomfortable and clumsy around them.  But I also have a morbid curiosity about them.  This is hard to explain.  Let me tell a story instead:

I served an LDS mission in Dallas.  The thing about Texas is that lots of people have guns in their cars. On one occasion I was riding in a truck with a few other missionaries and a man who owned a well-drilling business.  He was Texan with a capital T.  He was a living, breathing stereotype and we got a kick out of hearing him talk about digging wells and describing in colorful language the kinds of things his competitors wells were contaminated with.

Then I noticed a great big revolver in his center console.  I don't know much about guns so I'll just call it a John Wayne caliber handgun.  It was big and shiny.  I picked it up and hefted it in my shaking hand.  I examined it carefully, hoping to figure things out. I looked down the barrel (stupid, I know) and saw the domed shape of a bullet pointed at my eye.  Tex Texerton said, "be careful, ain't got no safety."

I put the gun down slowly and said, "I've never fired a gun.  If I had one, I'm afraid I'd use it on myself."

He responded, "Son, when it's your time to go, the good Lord's gonna kiss your ass goodbye."

True story.

I think I understand the appeal of guns.  For me, there's something exciting about holding a powerful weapon.  I like fire, and explosions.  I like loud noises and destructive forces.  I like standing on the edge of cliff, or close to a passing train.  I like the trembling in my knees and hollow in my chest.  I like it for a little while, then I back away, or ease off the gas, or let the fire die down.

But I know that if I had access to a gun, as a teen, I would have used it on myself.  I would have shot myself in the head instead of cutting my arms, or bashing the side of my head against a tree, or sitting in the car with a garden hose in my trunk, calling my friends to say goodbye before connecting the hose to my tailpipe and running it in the window.  A gun would have made it easier.

A gun made it easier for my brother-in-law, who after chastising himself for the inability to throw his own body from a cliff, rejoiced at finding his grandfathers handgun. His badly decomposed body was found a month after the fact.  I was on my mission when my wife-to-be called me, crying, and said "They found Trevor.  He shot himself."  I dry heaved and wept and thought, "There but for the grace of God go I."

My mom had an older brother she was very proud of. By all accounts he was a great man. He was the Seymour Glass of the Johnson family. He was literate, wise, and studious. He was a hard worker, a veteran of the navy, an avid sportsman. One day while hunting his friend accidentally shot him through the neck. He passed away hours later at the hospital, leaving a wife and two little children to mourn. Nobody blames guns for what happened, and I'd bet good money that his children, themselves now grandparents, are dead set against gun control. But they've never stopped mourning.

So as i said before, guns make me nervous.  And that feeling is wrong.  When things make me feel that way I know that they are things I need to face.  I've learned that it's important for me to face things like that and rise above them, because when I do I feel less like a scared kid cutting his arms, and more like an adult.  This is why I'll someday have to learn to dance, and it's also why I have to figure out guns.

Yesterday at work I got a fundraising call from the NRA.  They claimed it was a survey, but they said before I could answer the questions I had to listen to a recorded message from Wayne LaPierre.  It was about how Obama was trying to rip the second amendment out of the bill of rights.  After the message a guy came on the line and asked what I thought.  I said that if he was conducting a real survey and wanted to ask me real questions to get real data, I would oblige, but if he was going to ask for money he was barking up the wrong tree.  There was an awkward silence.  Then he began some questions.  He asked things like, "Did you know that before Obama was President, he signed a bill to ban assault weapons?" and "Did you know that Obama wants to ban all double-barrel shotguns?"

I responded to those questions with things like, "Fantastic!" and "That sounds like a great idea!"  My responses were less about my opinion on gun control (which isn't that strong either way) and more about my hatred for telemarketers and their bogus "surveys."  He hung up on me.  I guess my opinion wasn't the kind of opinion they were looking for.

All of this has had me thinking about guns.  I've been wondering why I feel personally unsettled around guns, and why some of my friends are so strongly in favor of guns, while some are so strongly opposed.  I've wondered if there's a common denominator that sorts people one way or the other.

Maybe that denominator is the way people perceive guns.  It seems that some people can look at a gun and see a tool as innocuous as a hammer or screwdriver, while others, myself included, associate violence with it.  Maybe if I became comfortable shooting guns I would be able to see them as simple tools.  I don't know.  What I do know is I can look at a knife and see a tool for cutting, that incidentally could be used to injure.  Crowbars are for prying, but incidentally could be used to injure.  The same is true for hammers, ropes, axes, etc.  All have primary uses that they are very good for, but could be used in secondary ways to injure.  Guns on the other hand are tools for making holes in things from a distance, and there's seldom a call for such a tool that doesn't involve inflicting injury or threat of injury.  It is very hard to construe of a primary use of a firearm that doesn't involve violence.  People use guns for all sorts of secondary things, like putting holes in beer cans or stop signs, or for breaking bottles, etc.  But the primary use is to put holes in the bodies of animals and humans, or to threaten to do so.  That's neither good nor bad, it's just a fact.

Maybe for some, a gun presents to the mind images of barbecues and camaraderie, the great outdoors and freedom. But for others a gun presents blood, rage, violence and insecurity. And maybe both are right. Maybe a gun is metaphor for life, and people either have a finger on the trigger or the barrel to their temple.

Where my own opinion is only half formed, it seems most have very strong convictions.  I've seen some comments and posts that had almost a religious fervor.  But I know that most people in favor of gun control still want to be protected by effective deterrents, and I doubt anybody against it wants to see more tragedies like Newtown.  Shouldn't there be some common ground?

This all-or-nothing mentality conjured an image in my mind of an alternate reality in which Christ had been executed by firing squad instead of crucified.  I thought of how different Christian iconography would be if that were the case.  I was amused to think of how much more difficult it would make the practice of Christianity for some, and how much easier it would be for others, if churches had firearms behind their altars instead of crosses.