Friday, January 25, 2013

Shoot Out the Rights

My dad was a gun nut, which doesn't give me any special insight, perhaps, but it's not going to stop me from shooting my mouth off. And to open with an aside, what does it mean so many of our metaphors are rooted in violence? We attack problems when it's a war out there, fighting tooth and nail, hoping things don't blow up in our faces or that we get hoisted on our own petard, a phrase fine enough for Shakespeare. Forget a coarsened culture, we might be, at heart, ever trying to back away from the cave of our nasty, brutish, and short selves. Perhaps that we aren't even more violent is the wonder, and why so many great artists, walking on a precipice high above us with better views, so often topple into misanthropy. The more you look, really look, at us, the less you like.

Well, and then there's my dear dead dad. I've joked the greatest disappointment in his life was that he never got to shoot an intruder who broke into his house, but in light of the NRA's clenching of its warm twitchy fingers on its guns in the wake of Newtown, maybe it's not a joke. And it's abysmally not a joke in the slightest that my gun-owning brother-in-law used one of his to blow his brains out in the basement one day. Happy Good Friday, to my sister, coming home to find that. So guns--it's pretty easy not to be ambivalent.

I've fired them, but it's been years, back when in theory that very pretty .22 pistol was mine, even if I was still in high school. It never got pointed at anything more than paper--the biggest thing I've ever killed, a squirrel, I clobbered with a car and not a bullet, and then felt queasy about for the rest of the weekend. But there was an attraction way back then to shooting silhouettes, I have to admit, seeing how many you could cluster in that X where a heart should be. I even got to use some of my dad's guns, and he had a mini arsenal--that .45 automatic, that .357 revolver, and a .44 magnum Dirty Harry gun that supposedly could cut through engine blocks. I was taught to perfect a two-handed grip, to be ready for the kick, and those suckers did. But despite liking it, and probably more than anything liking spending rare time with my dad, I never ever tried to get that gun that was mine once I had a home (ok, for years a rental) to hold it in and perhaps defend. All that force wasn't something I needed at my fingertips. Hell, I liked books, and wound up writing poetry for years. (No doubt Robert Bly just shot a varmint to prove me a sissy-man, poetry or not.)

As for rising up to prevent tyranny--seriously? Even if you're armed to your teeth, methinks the government has more means to do away with you than you could imagine. Ask Anwar al-Aulaqi and his son. And sure, they were al-Qaeda and deserved it but they were US citizens and we've got some other constitutional rights no matter how bad we are--like the right to trial. But now is not the time to drone on.

It must be tough living atop firepower mountain with only slippery slopes as far as the eye can see. No amendment seems more fragile than the second--any hint of a limit to what an individual can do as far as gun owning and the whole right seems to crumble. Yet somehow freedom of speech can exist beside libel laws. And while you can't yell fire in a crowded theater, we seem stuck having to protect someone firing in a crowded theater because, well, you tell me, Wayne LaPierre.

And then there's the land of false equivalencies, the bit about how a car is more dangerous than a gun. Except few people use them intentionally as weapons (David Attias aside; note a car as weapon could manage to be a joke in Manhattan--"the car lurched"--but if Woody/Isaac said "I didn't know it was loaded" that's it for both Meryl Streep's character and humor). Plus what would be the gun equivalent of drunk driving checkpoints? Maybe, oh, stronger background checks? Perhaps what's good for the drunk is good for the shooter. We live in a society full of controls and limits, and a few on guns won't hurt. In fact, that's the very point.

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