Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Opinion on Gun Control II

Actually, forget that post title. This isn't so much my opinion about gun control, as it is my plea for us to stop being so proud of not empathizing with each other.

This post on The American Scene clarified something for me: the overwhelming majority of gun owners in the United States are very, very serious about gun safety. It's deeply rooted in gun culture, and it's something they expect of each other. Possibly more than non-gun-owners like me fully appreciate:

The number one thing you learn growing up in a gun household is that you do not touch a gun without an adult present, and you do not point it at anything (you’re not willing to shoot).

That made me think back to a Facebook thread from a few weeks ago (post-Sandy Hook) based off of a post by Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax, about a parent who expressed misgivings about letting their child play at the house of a friend whose parents kept guns in the house.

Several gun owners participated in the thread. Some of them seemed to take offense at the very notion of a fellow parent asking whether they kept the guns locked up safely.

What's the matter with you?, they seemed to be saying. Just because I keep guns in my home, why would you think I keep them where kids could get at them? Do you think I keep loaded guns lying about in drawers? What's WRONG with you?

They seemed just as baffled and insulted as if the visiting child's parent had asked if they planned to sexually molest their kid.

Putting myself into the shoes of a responsible gun owner who takes safety extremely seriously, I can understand why they would feel so insulted. But what's more, as a non-gun-owner who has heard plenty of horror stories of kids killing themselves and each other by playing around with guns, I can equally empathize with the non-gun-owning parent's unease.

This is why our society could do with some more empathy on both sides.

Non-gun-owners should recognize that actual gun owners are not represented by the likes of Yosemite Sam, Alex Jones, or Homer Simpson in that one episode where he gets a gun and proceeds to misuse it hilariously (or cringe-inducingly).

But it goes both ways, and gun owners should realize that people who feel uneasy with the fact they have guns have not necessarily been brainwashed into believing that the United States would be better off if thuggish federal agents forcibly confiscated firearms from every law-abiding American citizen.

In fact, even if you think no sensible human being should forbid their child from sleeping over at a friend's house just because the parents own guns, is it really so hard to feel a shred of empathy for people who might feel that way (again, without using the word 'brainwashed')?

I really don't have much more to say than my little plea for empathy on both sides of the cultural divide: being proud to own guns does not mean you are reckless, and feeling uneasy around guns does not mean you are ignorant.  My wife, who describes herself as a 'liberal hippie leftist East Coast Ivory Tower elitist feminist godless socialist Communist' (and it's only that last word that she's less-than-entirely-serious-about) and prefers living in a country where guns are scarce and gun control is extremely strict, grew up in a house that contains guns and doesn't really have a problem with gun owners who are extremely responsible with their firearms. I know resorting to stereotypes saves time and makes thinking easier, but it's still bad strategy when you care about bringing about social change.

I haven't said anything about gun policy, since I still believe any policy the government could enact will basically be useless, but I do have to give a shout-out to podcaster Dan Carlin, who is becoming one of my favorite non-echo-chamber political pundits.

His opinion is that gun control (as we generally think of it) is impossible because if it's not so ineffective as to be meaningless, it'll be so heavy-handed as to bring about wide-scale armed rebellion. So although he gets there by different reasoning, it puts him in roughly the same place that I arrived at when I concluded that the march of technology is going to render gun-control laws obsolete very soon.

So the question becomes, how can we prevent gun violence in America if it's impossible to extricate guns from American culture?

Carlin has had two gun control-related podcasts in the last few months. In the first one, which he put out in August after the Aurora theater shootings, he proposes that gun owners should help subsidize government mental health programs: gun owners should see helping potentially unstable people get the help they need as the price to pay for the right to bear arms. In the latter podcast, put out in December after the Sandy Hook shootings, he wonders if a concerted effort to change American culture could work, taking as his example the stigma that's been successfully attached to drunk driving in the past few decades.

He does tend to ramble a lot, and he has a habit of saying things that, if taken out of context, make him sound a bit like a crazed extremist, but if you're fine with his style he's a good 'outside the box' thinker to listen to.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know a gun owner how leaves his gun out even when his young grandsons are visiting. He tells the boys' mother "just tell them not to touch it." Yeah, like that's going to work.