By Jerry Mooney
Even after the most deadly shooting in U.S. history last night, the discussion surrounding guns will remain contentious. Because so much ink is dedicated to this topic, it might seem daunting to take on this discussion with the idea that I can add anything new to the conversation. But when I read reports, blogs and listen to the news, the subject seems confined to a narrow area of allowable perspectives, by creating an impotent discussion that is polarized and ineffective. What I’d like to do is drive this discussion down a different path.
Image by SÃ©bastien Bertrand via Flickr, available under aCreative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license
Perhaps I’m being simple, but I seem to hear a lot of what boils down to, “Guns are good!” or, “Guns are bad,” but what’s underneath this conflict?
There was a time when guns had a more obvious and practical place in American society. Exploring the wild west, as well as being the new byproduct of a civil war, sewed guns into the fabric of our fledgling culture. They were not only practical tools for survival in a relatively unrefined landscape, they modernized vestigial masculine impulses to conquer our environment, protect our tribe and provide, but the advancements of society and the human experience have put guns squarely in the crosshairs (wrong metaphor?).
The practicality of the gun in modern times is less and less defensible. They remain, however, ubiquitous in our society. So, how do we get the conversation past the “Guns are good/bad” stage?
What appears to be missing is the evaluation of what guns really are. In a nutshell, guns are violence. That is not a typo. I don’t mean that guns are violent. I mean the existence of a gun is violence. Violence was once a very appropriate method to encounter the hostile and frightening new world. This idea seems antiquated now. So, how do we reevaluate guns?
My smarty-pants NRA-loving relatives will bore you all day with their allegories that conclude that a gun is inanimate and by itself does nothing. This reductive thought process trivializes the effect that the mere presence of a gun has. By simply existing, the gun poses at least a passive threat, which is one of the common forms of bullying. The gun does not have to be loaded. The gun does not have to be aimed at anyone. There doesn’t even need to be a mention of the gun for it to threaten. Its existence is a tool of domination and this is actually one of the arguments of the pro-gun crowd. “By having a gun, you don’t need a gun.” Even if this were true, it ignores the fact that they are engaging in an act of violence and intimidation.
The conventional conversation typically revolves around statistics and the effectiveness of gun ownership, like:
- Guns in the home increase an individual’s chance of violent death by 90 percent.
- Individuals who carry guns are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those who don’t.
- Gun violence has run up the tab of $229 billion annually to American society.
- And, there are approximately 1.5 million violent crimes each year in this country.
The statistics defuse the arguments that range from guns being the great equalizer to the misconception that guns prevent rape, but even if the claims of gun value were true, the argument neglects the real point: guns are violence. You don’t really prevent violence with violence. You simply appropriate the violence for your cause. This makes the case that if the cost-benefit analysis were weighted in the other direction, then guns would be justifiable. This conventional train of thought strips our values to quantitative analysis. If more guns blah blah blah, then yay guns! By doing this we passively accept the paradigm of gun violence as normal and create a value that there is an acceptable amount of violence.
This line of thinking also ignores the idea that there are solutions other than putting holes in each other. I know, I know… thinking alternatively is hard, but why do we get suckered into talking about guns in a merely cost-benefit analysis manner?
For some of you I might be going off the rails here, but a meaningful book for me is “A Course in Miracles,” and it suggests that at our core, we experience love or fear. The emotional spectrum is mere gradations of those two. Considering this paradigm it is obvious that guns are expressions and tools of violence, that also means they are instruments of fear.
What I’d like to suggest, and this is the praxis, that we examine our values when we talk about guns. Do we value violence and fear, or do we value cooperation and love? When we do this, we don’t need statistical debates over whether or not guns are more dangerous or create safety. Instead, we can talk about how we want to see the world. I, for one, advocate creating and contributing to a more loving, less fearful world.