Reflections on Gun Violence, Gun Enthusiasm, and Whether or Not Killing is Cool

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Over the last few days, I’ve read article after article about the tragedy in Connecticut.  From the need for gun-control to the need for civility, from why gun control won’t work to why we need to do more for the mentally ill, it seems every topic has been covered.  I admit, I’ve been angrier than most people over this shooting and it’s been hard to control it sometimes.  I’ve been told by friends, family, and acquaintances that there is no sense blaming anyone and that it doesn’t do any good to get angry.

I’m writing this as much to process my own anger and sadness and fear as anything else.  With all due respect to those who want me to stop pointing fingers, I simply don’t agree.  I don’t believe this shooting, or any shooting, just happens.  I think they are allowed to happen because we as a society have failed in a variety of ways to do the things that need to be done.

In the interest of full-disclosure, let me start by saying that I hate guns.  I have no interest in them and no desire to own, use, or even hold one.  Ultimately, the reason I hate guns is because I have no desire to kill anyone or anything.  I’m certain I would if I had to in order to protect myself or my family.  But if I ever did kill someone, I know I would be tortured by it forever.  It would haunt me because, when all is said and done, I think killing is always bad… even when it’s justified.

Despite my hatred of guns, I don’t fault people for wanting to own a gun for defense.  I think it’s usually a bad decision to own a gun (the data says they rarely save lives and increase the chances of accidental death in the home dramatically) and I would discourage my friends and family from doing so.  But, ultimately, people make lots of bad decisions about safety and this is just one of them.  Nor do I fault people for enjoying hunting.  While I don’t see the appeal, I understand that people enjoy it as a sport the same way I enjoy certain sports.

So, to any gun owners out there who might be reading this, please don’t think I am trying to paint you all with one brush.  I’m not.  I know many gun owners and find them to be responsible, smart people.  In fact, the gun owners I know are equally repulsed by what I’m about to describe.

There is a type of gun-owner, the gun-enthusiast, that seems different from the responsible gun owners I know.  Gun-enthusiasts do not see guns as tools for hunting or protection exclusively.  They see them and are attracted to them as killing machines.  They think guns are cool and they think that the bigger the gun in their hand, the tougher they are.  They are the ones who have bumper stickers that read, “Don’t mess with the 2nd Amendment and I won’t be forced to exercise it” or signs up in their yard that read, “Trespassers will be shot.  Survivors will be shot again.”  More to the point, they are the people who created, sold, and/or bought the gun range targets designed to look like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old, unarmed, boy who was killed by George Zimmerman in February, 2012 (these targets sold out before anyone had a chance to complain about them).

I like to cling to the idea that the people I’m talking about are rare.  I’m not so sure, though.  In trying to get a better sense of what gun-enthusiasts are like, I visited the website of Guns and Ammo, the self-proclaimed, “World’s Most Widely Read Firearms Magazine.”  Quite honestly, the things I saw and read there are more than a little upsetting.

The first thing I saw on their website was the article, “Gift Guide for the Tactical Guy,” featuring a photo of Santa, in dark sunglasses, holding a rifle.  Incidentally, it’s actually one of two photos of Santa holding a gun on their homepage.  The other is for a caption contest and shows Santa in what looks like a war zone, firing a large gun.  If you click on the link, you will find hundreds of submissions to the contest, including the following:

  • Instead of coal, you get lead
  • Delivering gifts in Afghanistan….
  • We wish you a merry Christmas to you and your kind
  • Merry CHRISTmas–taliban–These ROUNDS are on me..gifts delivered!!
  • Naughty, Nice, Expendable….its all good!!
  • If you’re against Christians you’re against me. If you’re against me I’m against you. Since I have a bigger better rifle and more ammo, I’ll win. Too late, you loose.
  • Ho Ho Holy War.

This is exactly what I mean when I talk about people finding joy in the idea of killing.

I went back to read the article about gifts for tactical guys where my first question was, of course, “what’s a tactical guy?”  I know what it means to be tactical and think of myself as tactical about a great many things (the use of words, for example) but I don’t think that’s what they were referring to.  A quick glimpse at the gift guide reveals that, to them, a tactical guy is someone who is prepared to kill at a moment’s notice.  A tactical guy carries an assault rifle or automatic pistol whenever they leave the house.  A tactical guy carries a tactical tomahawk that is “built to pound” and is perfect for “breaching operations.”  Finally, a tactical guy also has dress pants specially designed to conceal weapons for a night on the town.

And this isn’t all.  I found articles explaining why assault rifles are better for home defense than you might think, on what the media doesn’t understand about guns (full of unverified claims), and even an article on what your assault rifle says about you.  But what was most revealing to me was what I found in the discussion forums.  The good news is that most of the people who posted seemed relatively responsible, though a little paranoid.  They discuss things like strategies for using ATM machines late at night, the best types of holsters, and gun-related current events.  Though I disagree vehemently with the politics, most of it was pretty similar to what you find on any political thread on any Facebook page or discussion forum.

Scattered within these relatively reasonable posts, however, were hauntingly upsetting comments about killing.  In response to this story about a recent shooting in Minnesota, one person wrote that no good deed goes unpunished and how unfair it was that the shooter would be punished after doing the cops a favor by taking out two criminals.  Later, regarding a law he/she opposed, one person made reference to lynching the politicians who passed it.  Finally, in response to President Obama’s speech at the vigil in Newtown, one person wrote, “Why don’t idiots with guns ever target some of the gun grabbers? 20-something innocent kids die, and at least that many worthless congress-critters live on to trample on our rights. There’s something way wrong with that picture!”

To this person, the tragedy wasn’t that 27 people were killed, it’s that the wrong 27 people were killed.

As I was writing this, a friend alerted me to the story on NPR about the AR-15, the gun used by the shooter in Connecticut.  Melissa Block interviewed gun expert, Malcolm Brady, who described the gun as “cool” several times, even referring to it as “the Rambo effect.”  When pressed about his description of it as cool, he couldn’t really answer other than to say that some may be reliving their days in the military.  Later in the interview, he estimated that sales of this gun will go up in response to this tragedy.  Again, when pressed, he couldn’t really give a clear answer other than to say that “the people who will be buying them will be buying them in the premise that I can prevent that same thing happening at my house or my business or my location.”

But I think the real answer is something he already said several times.  I think the reason sales are going to go up is largely because some people think this gun is cool and will make them tough.  They don’t think of it as a tool.  They think of it as accessory.  They want to be like Rambo and on some level they hope they get a chance to use it.  The question that needs an answer is the one Melissa Block asked but didn’t get a real answer to:

“I have to ask you, Mr. Brady, you’re talking about the coolness of a weapon that was just used to mow down 20 children?”

By Ryan Martin

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