I grew up in a hunting culture. My uncles all hunted and so did my dad and brothers. I ate elk, deer and pheasant meat regularly when I was a kid. I especially enjoy well-prepared pheasant. I'm not a vegetarian, and though hunting isn't something that has been a part of my adult life, I genuinely respect that it is a meaningful part of many people's lives. I'm not anti-war or anti-sportman. Guns are tools . . . powerful tools, but tools nonetheless.
But you and I both know that our recent brouhaha about guns has nothing to do with hunting. Or guns as tools. It is about something else entirely. But more about that in a moment.
Some of you may have seen John Stewart's bit on guns from a few weeks back. It was a very well-prepared and characteristically caustic. The massacre at Sandy Hook elementary happened while the Daily Show was on hiatus; when it returned the fiscal cliff was temporary news until gun control came back to light. Stewart had time to prepare and say exactly what he wanted. As usual, his delivery was very funny, and his logic biting. He brought up some excellent points that I think are worth repeating.
1. To Jessie Ventura's comments that just because drunk drivers commit murders with cars, we don't shut down Ford Motor company (talking about an assault weapons ban), John Stewart had an excellent response. No, we don't shut down Ford, but we aggressively police drunken driving and prosecute those offenders who cause harm. We have spent hundreds of millions on an aggressive public education campaign. We create strict laws for legal limits. We prosecute servers and bar owners with dram shop laws when they knowingly serve drivers who have had too much. We give police full discretion to do spot checks if there is suspicion. Drunk driving accidents are way down in the last 30 years. Have we eliminated them completely? No. But we've probably saved tens of thousands of lives since the late 1970's.
2. He addressed mental health issues, talking about support and treatment for those in serious circumstances (many of whom are veterans, and should have the support anyway). The president of the NRA had an answer to the mental health issue too; he called it a "national registry for lunatics." Who defines this? And why is not a violation of civil rights to keep a list of (even mild) mentally ill patients, but it is a huge violation of civil rights to keep a list of who owns which guns? Particularly weapons with no other purpose but to kill humans in body armor? I also think Stewart overlooked an important argument here--there is no money for treatment or containment of mental health issues because conservative politicians (at least in part) have continued to de-fund such programs time and time again. And they are de-funded at every level: from resource and counseling programs in schools that catch problems early to decent health care for the indigent. In a society teeming with desperate people, what do we honestly think is going to happen?
3. To the comments regarding violence in the media, he conceded that our culture had democratized and celebrated violence for children at younger and younger ages. However, he insisted that we must look at ALL the media in the mix: including the messages that insist our country is headed to hell, our leaders need deposed by any means necessary, and language that paints our current administration in terms of the most egregious socialistic despots (and all despite record profits to large corporations over the last couple of years). These messages lead a certain segment of our population toward increasing paranoia and fear. A recipe for hoarding weapons if ever there was one.
"So now we are getting somewhere . . ."
Stewart closed his bit with a man on a horrible, jowl-shaking attack against Piers Morgan, "Hitler came for the guns! Mao came for the guns! Chavez came for the guns! And by God it will 1776 all over again if they come for the guns!"
The second amendment as a provision after the right to keep and bear arms . . . "for a well-regulated militia." So which militia do you prefer? The one organized by the nation, subject to congressional oversight (such as it is) and presidential appointment in a relatively open process? Or perhaps your state's national guard--an honorable group that your husband or brother might be a part of on the weekends? Or the one your half-paranoid neighbor up the street is storing in his basement? Perhaps the reform language needs to start with just what the hell a "militia" is in 2013. We aren't a group of disgruntled colonists upset about a foreign power anymore (no matter what the Tea Party tells you). The government was designed to be flexible: to fit in any time and place, and for any thinking people. It is time to stop wondering what this amendment meant to those with the blood of 1776 on their hands . . . what does it mean to us NOW with the collective guilt of Sandy Hook on our hands?
And now, for Stewart's very best quote from his piece, "Are we going to let imaginary fear of some dystopic future stop us from fixing our very real dystopic present?" It seems that indeed we are.
If you don't think so, there was a picture that circulated on Facebook this week taken of a man in Utah at a JC Penney my mother regularly shops at. He was carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle around the store. You see, in Utah, as long as the safety is set, he can carry it anywhere he wants. How do you think people felt when they saw him in his cut off acid wash jeans and muscle shirt toting that bad boy around a store where families shop? Do you think they felt safer? Grateful that he had taken the NRA president's words to heart when he said, "The only thing that stops a bad buy with a gun is a good guy with a gun"? Do you think that anyone felt comfortable asking him if that weapon was on the proper safety setting? If he was the good guy or the crazy?
While what he was doing was perfectly within the law . . . and what many would like to see happen at our schools (with teachers armed or security guards with weapons), does this really make you feel safer? Can more guns ever beget less violence? Where else do you go to see regular people and makeshift militias armed with really scary weapons in plain sight on regular streets and in markets? Oh, right. WAR TORN COUNTRIES.
Ideally I would love to live in a society filled with people choosing to follow God's commandments and treating their neighbors and families with kindness, goodness and unselfishness. This ideal society would be governed by charity--the highest form of love. In this society nobody ever steals your things. In our current society, people of good heart are doing a great imitation of Sisyphus, forever pushing the boulder up the hill against incredible odds to make the world more peaceful. In the end, all we can do is make the choice for ourselves and hope to influence other people.
There are other societies that maintain peace because everybody is so heavily armed that you are afraid to take any other course. Think of Russia and the US in the arms race. Such a society is held in check by fear. Quite possibly the antithesis of love. Or at least a great deterrent to it. In this society, you can blow the head off someone trying to steal your stuff.
The first we cannot achieve yet . . . our choices too often prevent us from realizing our true potential. The second is very, very dark. The middle road is settling for something not quite divine, but fighting against something primal. It is called civilization. This is where we agree to give up some of our freedoms (impulses, thievery, murder, etc.) to a greater governing body in exchange for protection and equal treatment under the law. In this civilization you report a crime when your stuff is stolen and wait for justice to take its course.
Civilization is a poor substitute for Zion, but it is remarkable and wonderful compared to Chaos. As you think about the gun control debate in the coming weeks (and you should), consider what the voices are really saying. Are those fighting control the most vehemently really saying they believe their brand of justice is better than civilization? Is that what you believe?