>> Tuesday, May 21, 2013
|(Image via Salon)|
Here's what I most resent about this pro-gun ad campaign that's popped up in Washington state: the continuing conflation of supporting various forms of gun control (or even prohibition, if Constitutional concerns could be set aside) with "preference" or "dislike" or somesuch.
I don't blame pro gun folks for reaching out to different kinds of people. It's even refreshing, however cynical, to see a propaganda campaign aimed at gays and lesbians that treats them with some respect, and refreshing to see a pro-gun campaign that isn't aimed squarely at paranoids and rednecks.
But, y'know, I'm not in favor of gun control because of an irrational prejudice against firearms. I have a wholly rational prejudice against firearms, matter-of-fact. They kill things, and some of the things they kill are people. Some of those people are killed under circumstances that have to be described as unusually gratuitous: that is, we might expect someone to get killed in a warzone, but getting killed while watching a movie, meeting your congresswoman, or going to school seems somehow unnecessary and especially uncalled-for. There are also people who get killed by firearms because they're mentally ill, and while they might have recourse to pills or razorblades or car exhaust if a gun was unavailable, those and other alternatives can be notably inefficient and unsuccessful, since these alternatives aren't necessarily designed for efficient killing. Not to mention the people who are killed by firearms during the commission of actual crimes, and while people can also be killed or injured with things like knives and such, these alternatives also tend to require more effort.
This gets to another peeve of mine, which is this common attitude I keep running into that either denies or whitewashes the point and purpose of a firearm. Whether you love guns or hate them, let's be honest about the fact that these are tools that are designed to deal violence at range. That is their intent, purpose, their raison d'être. The comparison of a gun to a car, for instance: a car is a tool for getting people and/or things from one place to another, whereas a gun is a tool for launching a relatively small projectile at relatively great velocity so that the projectile's momentum is transferred to a target. Cars can kill and maul people, but that isn't their point, it isn't why somebody invented them. And it's outright amazing that firearm advocates who believe self-defense is a valid purpose for gun ownership will nevertheless try to pretend that a gun isn't a weapon: it can defend you precisely because it can kill or cripple your assailant, and is designed to do so with maximum efficiency.
There is a question of context, and of using the right tool for a job buried in all of this. If one's job is to kill or maim, a firearm is at least a candidate, if not the perfect candidate, for this job. Soldiers ought to have guns, and hunters, and perhaps police. (The virtue or necessity of having soldiers, hunters and/or police might be other, separate questions: perhaps in a post-violent, more-civilized utopia citizens could choose not to have war, hunger or crime, thereby rendering some jobs as obsolete as that of gong farmer.) But the other side of this same coin is that a society might very reasonably decide there's no place for a firearm in the hands or home of someone who isn't filling these roles on whatever part-time, full-time, professional or amateur basis. We can also broaden this out a bit: one might decide that having a tool to deter coyotes is an appropriate thing to have around in coyote country but wholly and entirely inappropriate for possession within urban areas, f'r'instance.
Anyway. Upon expressing such opinions or concerns, I've been asked why I'm afraid of guns, which seems like a stupid question as the answer ought to be reasonably self-evident: because I am made of meat and evolution has not seen fit to grace me with a bulletproof hide, multiple-redundancy organs, or an interior assembly designed to disperse the p=mv of a small metal object burrowing into me at several hundred feet per second. It's a failing, I know. If I were better designed, I might have a more cavalier attitude. It also happens that I'm not entirely selfish, and many people I know and love are also made of meat, and even many people whom I have never met and never will are made of soft, spongy, easily-shreddable meat and I would miss the ones I know and can imagine missing the ones I've never met and the pain felt by those who did actually know them. I have similarly rational fears about rattlesnakes, great white sharks, extremely high places with rickety guardrails, and vehicles that run stoplights, with the presence or strength of the fear waxing or ebbing based on situation (e.g. at the time I am writing this, I am many, many, many miles from the nearest body of saltwater large enough to be inhabited by any kind of shark, and my fear of being eaten by a great white shark on a scale of one-to-ten is somewhere near negative infinity).
Or I've been asked have I ever fired a gun, which is also pointless. I've never smoked crack, which I hear is very enjoyable, but the legality or availability of crack cocaine probably shouldn't depend on whether I happen to like doing it. I've no doubt, from what many friends have told me, that firing a gun is quite a lot of fun, and I'll admit using pretend weapons in videogames is frequently enjoyable (which is not the same thing, but tends to corroborate friends' accounts). There are many things that are fun that shouldn't be legal, or should at least be restricted. And while I'm all for pleasure where it can be found, I can't believe I have to point out that fun is only a part of things, one element of measuring utility or virtue; by way of an obviously absurd example, if I were to find out it really was true that every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten, I would need to weigh the personal satisfaction and pleasures of self-abuse against the possible suffering of uncountable (yes, uncountable) tiny, adorable little creatures with their fuzzy little ears and furry little paws. Making the world safer for kittens might be worth the personal sacrifice.
Along similar lines, I think, it has to be pointed out that what is increasingly absurd about homophobia is that after attributing all kinds of social and individual ills to homosexuality, there's absolutely no credible evidence whatsoever that homosexuality leads to social decline, child abuse, perversion, inability to defend one's country, insanity, or any of the other assorted ills attributed to it over the decades and centuries. Indeed, when recently given forums to produce evidence of the supposed evils of homosexuality, homophobes have offered little when they've even offered anything at all (see, e.g., the district court opinion in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a.k.a. Perry v. Hollingsworth (PDF link)). The strongest argument any of them ever seem able to proffer is an appeal to Biblical authority, a case that doesn't carry any weight with Jews and Christians who interpret the selected Biblical passages differently, much less with anyone who isn't Jewish or Christian in the first place.
Supposing, just for argument's sake, the homophobe could offer something more compelling. Say, for instance, there was in fact some kind of evidence that engaging in homosexual activity led to some horrible societal ill that could be prevented by outlawing homosexual acts. Suppose further it were shown that having a homosexual orientation could even cause harm, and that if homosexuality couldn't be cured, predilections could at least be monitored, controlled and restrained. There would be an argument, then, for anti-gay legislation and social norms, and we might feel compassion and pity for the targets but would nevertheless have to try to balance what was best for the "afflicted" against what was best for society-at-large. This is all hypothetical, because, again, none of this is true and we're just playing a mental game here to make a point: but the point is that one might well justify banning "crimes against nature" if those activities caused demonstrable harm. (How far one might go is another subject, both simpler and more complicated: the dignity of the individual is a sacred thing, which is part of the reason enlightened civilizations try to legislate actions and not persons.)
All of this being a roundabout way of saying that if one can create legislative restrictions for firearms, doing so isn't based on a dislike of the firearms but rather a dislike of the harm firearms cause. (We should be clear, too, that the childish meme, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people", neglects the very obvious and essential point that guns make it a damn sight easier for people to kill people, and that if people were killing one another with other kinds of things, we'd reasonably look for ways to deal with the problem: e.g. if people were killing people with automobiles and alcohol, we might restrict access to both for certain classes of people (e.g. the young, people with a known history of abusing their access to autos and alcohol) and institute extremely punitive legal ramifications for people caught endangering others with automobiles and alcohol in an effort to deter such... oh, wait--) I am skeptical that the Constitutional regime as it currently exists in the United States allows much or any kind of gun control, so it's sort of moot in spite of recent state-level efforts to limit access to guns (and failed--as expected--attempts in Congress). The implication that the "dislike" is petty and indefensible is resented: disliking what guns do to the people shot with them, I dislike the things that do the shooting, and I think it's perfectly rational to stack that heavy cost of ready access to firearms against whatever benefits are supposedly gained from such access.