I have a confession to make: I like guns. I do. As a Special Forces veteran and someone who has paid the rent by repossessing cars in Watts-Willowbrook-Compton-Inglewood (the ’hood affectionately known within the craft as “Inglewatts”), as a former editor of and freelance contributor to various and sundry military hardware journals (both consumer and defense industry), as a historical interpreter of many periods, and as a qualified historian, I am no stranger to firearms (from matchlocks to submachine guns) or the concept of a “well-regulated militia.”
I have always been a responsible firearms owner (though I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the NRA), and while I have been trained to kill with a variety of “weapons” (any object—including your hands—becomes a “weapon” only when employed with intent to do bodily harm), I have deep misgivings about the escalating gun-related violence in our society. I say again: I am not “anti-gun”—far from it; however, I am “anti-violence,” and I have a real problem with sociopaths being armed to the teeth.
I’m really tired of hearing the old saw, “assault weapons only have one purpose—to kill people.” As a civilian, I’ve owned a good many of these semiautomatic firearms, and all I’ve ever “killed” with ’em was paper targets and the odd tin can. Target shooting and plinking are perfectly legitimate hobbies, so get over it. I have no desire to hunt; it just doesn’t seem sporting to shoot at living things that can’t shoot back.
Please understand that assault rifles (note that I did not say “weapons”) are not the source of our current national hand-wringing malaise. They’re just semiautomatic rifles that have unique cosmetic features (like pistol grips and synthetic stocks).
My first rifle was a Remington Nylon 66—it was a .22 caliber rimfire semiautomatic; it had a synthetic stock, and it was most definitely not an assault rifle!
However, the shift to the modern suburban lifestyle with its attendant decrease in physical activity and increase in desk-bound professionals with Buddha-bellies and glazed eyes has offered manufacturers a golden marketing opportunity, and in fine capitalistic style they’ve seized on it with a vengeance.
Bushmaster, the makers of the weapon used in the Newtown massacre, manufacture and sell modified AR-15 rifles under evocative pseudo-martial nomenclature like “Adaptive Combat Rifle (ACR)” and “Magpul Original Equipment (MOE)” and the “M4-A2 Trpe Patrolman’s Carbine.” And if that’s not enough to get the ol’ testosterone a-pumpin’, the flacks at Bushmaster confidently assert that after your purchase of one of these Special Ops wannabe firearms, you can “consider your Man Card reissued.”
I don’t know about you, but that really puts my mind at ease. I’ve been meaning to get my Man Card renewed…
Now, this isn’t some metaphorical reference to your male plumbing; rather, Bushmaster will issue you a real live Man Card that “confirms that you are a man’s man”—you know, just in case you weren’t quite sure…
Not sophomoric enough for you? Then try this one on for size: You can actually snitch on weenies who have committed acts that warrant rescinding their Man Card. So nanner-nanner. (You can view this stupid ad campaign here.) You just fill out a form identifying the infraction and the wimp in question, labeling the perp as a “Cry Baby,” “Cupcake,” “Short Leash,” “Coward,” or the ever-popular catchall “Unmanly” and shazzam! Man Card revoked! Fortunately, reclaiming your dick—er, Man Card—only requires that you go out and buy yourself a heapin’ hunk o’ throbbin’ camo-clad Bushmaster.
Apparently even Bushmaster was ashamed of this silly Freudian stunt in light of its association with the ill-timed Newtown slaughter of schoolchildren, so it pulled down the Man Card website pronto. Guess I’m gonna have to find some other way to call them out as a “Coward” and have their Man Card revoked.
‘Little Alex’ would be proud
In truth, the (most recent) mass shooting is only a symptom of a much more deeply rooted problem in our society: America is suffering from an addiction. We deny all the evidence, we dance around it, and all the while it is literally killing us. We are addicted to violence.
We ritualize it, we celebrate it, we worship it. Our entire culture—our favorite sports, music, TV programs and movies, video games, politics, foreign policy, even our religion—encourages and condones violence. We make war on oppressive regimes, we make war on poverty, we make war on drugs, we make war on cancer, we make war on terror (not terrorism, mind you). We just plain like to make war.
So how’s that workin’ out for us? How many of these righteous wars have we won? Never mind; it’s a rhetorical question…
We can’t fix this insidious epidemic of violence by banning assault rifles (as President Obama would have us do) any more than we can by placing armed law enforcement personnel and military guards in every school and public venue across the land (as Wayne LaPierre, vice-president of the NRA suggests). Prohibition—as we certainly should have learned—doesn’t work; it only creates a black market for the naughty stuff while driving it underground. And turning the country into a police state would be a less than desirable outcome (though it would create jobs, which should make the conservative legislators happy).
We’ll never entirely rid ourselves of guns, nor have enough psychiatrists or psychologists to identify and intervene with all of the mentally disturbed students (or returning combat veterans, for that matter). We haven’t got the will and the Teapublicans (or their patron saint, Grover “Who elected that asshole?” Norquist) wouldn’t allow us to spend the money.
These are knee-jerk extremist positions, and as Jim Wright points out in his Stonekettle Station blog, “Extremism by definition is a position adopted by people who know they are wrong, but refuse to concede, refuse to compromise, refuse to reason, refuse to admit that they have a problem.”
“Refuse to admit that they have a problem.” That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. We can point fingers back and forth ’til we’re blue in the face, but nothing will change until we admit we have a problem. That’s the first step in treating any addiction.
Also, when we wanted to curtail smoking, we took action to alter the public perception that smoking is “cool” or “sexy.” And that’s been a huge success. Yes, there are still some boneheads who are dumb enough to voluntarily commit incremental suicide, but they are a dying breed (pun intended).
Now we need to replace the cultural imperative to compensate for our sedentary lifestyles by embracing some macho fantasy with a new message: It is lame to be a closet commando.
On the societal level, addressing our national fixation on employing violence to make our point will take a good deal more effort (and that’s above my pay grade).
Let’s get real
And then there’s that pesky Second Amendment thang. It was included in the Constitution to ensure that Americans could defend themselves against a tyrannical or despotic government (not foreign invaders—that’s the army’s job). The framers had the benefit of a little Real World experience in their rear-view mirror.
It’s not as far-fetched as it may seem: even as I write this, Congress is considering legislation that would suspend the writ of habeas corpus, thus denying US citizens their right to due process and enabling the government to indiscriminately imprison citizens without charging them with a crime. We have good reason to be circumspect.
We can debate the semantics of prose penned in the 18th century (when “militia” meant every able-bodied adult male and a musket was an “assault rifle”), but the intent is clear—as my friend John Wickett opined, the Second Amendment was not drafted “with tweed-clad quail hunters (shotgun broken over a dapper forearm) in mind.” In the 21st century this poses a conundrum, I’ll grant you.
There are perfectly logical and rational arguments to be made on both sides of this debate. Perhaps we need tighter restrictions on certain types of firearms (and their attendant accessories—like high-capacity magazines and grenade launchers); surely we should give some consideration to beefing up our mental health programs; surely we can agree to tone down the ultra-violence that has become nigh-ubiquitous in the media (commercial and social) and the entertainment industry. I’m thinkin’ the answer is ‘E – all of the above.’
As President Obama indicated, it is a complex issue, but I firmly believe there are enough intelligent, reasonable people in the country to have an open and honest dialog about how we should proceed. It’s not unlike the debt crisis negotiation; which is to say, once you get past the emotion-charged rhetoric, all sides have to give a little to achieve a workable compromise.
Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.
Aden Nichols is an independent editor and writer. He is available for print and digital projects: books (academic, narrative/creative nonfiction, memoir, speculative/alternate history, etc.), websites/social media, and business communications. Visit his website (www.LittleFireEditorial.com) or email him at: Aden@LittleFireEditorial.com.