Guns and Minds:
I've had a gun pointed in my face by a mugger on a dark New Orleans street. I have pointed a gun at an intruder in my apartment in a crime-filled neighborhood. Had he come closer instead of running, I believe that I would have shot him. I have had another apartment in a clean, nice neighborhood strafed with automatic weapon fire when one gang member was pursuing another down my street. I pulled the bullets out of the stoop and the door. I have had to duck behind a garbage can at my college campus when a man who robbed the bursar's office was in a shootout with police. I have had a loaded gun pointed jokingly at my heart. I was on a street in Chicago when a young man ran by and a car chased him. The car stopped right next to me and a hand holding an AK47 (I think) came out of the sun roof and pointed at me before driving on. I have been target shooting with handguns at ranges multiple times in my life. I have been hunting with rifles that fire buckshot and rifles that fire bullets. I have not done either of those things in years. Growing up in Louisiana, I hung out with friends at their houses where sometimes one of them would ask, "Wanna go shoot some stuff?" and so we'd line up cans and bottles and shoot stuff. We were not using BB guns. I have never fired a semi-automatic rifle, although I have been with people while they were firing them. I have known people who died by gunshot. I know people who saved their own lives by shooting others who were attacking them. I do not come to this discussion naively. I do not come to it clean. I come to it honestly, with almost the entire spectrum of experiences one can have with guns, a spectrum wider than most of the people who believe that the ubiquity of firearms is our only defense against firearms. I have never been shot. I hope I die without that experience.
We need to dwell on horror, on the horror that those children faced in Newtown, Connecticut. We need to imagine how their 6 and 7 year-old minds processed what was happening. We need to individuate them: how many were exposed to enough violence in our culture, through movies, through TV, through online videos, through video games, and, yes, through their own lives to comprehend that they were going to die? How many were kept from that awful knowledge of the evil that exists in world so that they couldn't process the shots, the noise, their classmates bleeding and falling around them before they were hit? It's terrible and it hurts, Christ, it hurts to write this. But you need to know it. You need to know that Adam Lanza walked into one classroom and killed everyone in it, 14 children and 2 teachers. He could do that because he had 30-round magazines. He didn't even have to reload. One man. Everyone in the room. Imagine that. Imagine that.
Before they move on to the level of abstraction and statistic, the children and the adults who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School need to be remembered for their lives, most certainly. But they need to be remembered for the nightmare of their end, vividly, to where it's an ache that can't be soothed, can't be talked away, so that whenever it's mentioned, we all have a kind of trauma, a PTSD that must be treated. We know how. But we refuse out of some sense of misbegotten pride and willful ignorance.
There are many things that must be confronted, that should have been confronted long ago. While I don't agree with everything here, Chuck Todd et al wrote today about the possibility of getting greater gun control through Congress, "[T]he president is going to have to tackle every issue associated with these heinous crimes: gun laws, our gun culture, mental health, the desensitization of violence thanks to Hollywood and video game makers, and of course parental responsibility. If it’s a larger policy discussion, it’s much harder for the most ardent NRA-supporting lawmaker to walk away." I would argue with the violence in Hollywood and in video games part since whenever we start to walk down this road, we turn those into easy scapegoats rather than blame a broken mental health system and a paucity of limitations on gun ownership.
And as far as cultural influences, I would say that a nation that sanctions capital punishment, use of extreme force by the police in many situations that don't call for it, and the murder of people overseas by drones is a nation that has stated, in a quite official way, that violence is the answer to one's problems. I would say that as far as unintended effects go, those things have done more damage to the American psyche than all the versions of Grand Theft Auto we could play.
The first descriptions of Lanza have talked about his mental illness, but they have also talked about the video games that he played. You could lock yourself in a room and get into Resident Evil 6 until your hands were bloody from pushing buttons. Let's say it warps your brain in some way that it wasn't warped before. It's not likely, but let's say it made you bloodthirsty for real, not zombie or creature, blood. If you don't have access to guns and large magazines, you are not going to do what Lanza did. It's that simple. No, really, it's that simple. Bottom line. Ask any cop, any member of the military, any responsible gun owner. Secure the weapons. Always secure the weapons.
We'll talk more about this (and more rudely) this week. Today, mourning. Tomorrow, solutions.
When I had that gun pointed in my face all those years ago, I didn't think, "Damn, I wish I had a gun, too." I didn't think, "Damn, I wish someone else with a gun would come along and save me." I thought, "Damn, I wish he didn't have a gun."
As have many children and adults alike.