Not-So-Obligatory Gun Control Post

Long time readers know that generally speaking I steer clear of political topics.  I like to maintain this space as a relatively lighthearted place to engage in cultural criticism and geeking out over the stuff that I’m into at any given moment.  Of course, it’s absurd to maintain a stance of apoliticism; saying nothing about the status quo is paramount to endorsing it, and when it comes down to it, I’m really just over the gun violence thing.  It happens so often now that the national news only bothers to report when it’s a particularly heinous incident or there’s a story angle that can tie the shooter ideologically to one of the hot button issues of the day (the shooter in Orlando was homophobic, possibly conflicted about his own sexuality, an American citizen born to Afghan immigrant parents, and tried to connect himself to Daesh before he went off to murder a bunch of people who were predominantly people of color in the LGBTQIA community).  We shrug our shoulders at gun violence because one or two people dying is no longer a spectacle.

All that’s to say that I get the fact that this post is not for everyone.  Raising the specter of a gun ban terrifies people who like to own guns.  The gun is a symbol of American life that has a long, complicated history, and people who love to interpret the second amendment of the Constitution as protecting the right to own weapons meant to kill people feel like it’s a key part of American identity.  We’re not like the rest of the world because we believe our citizens should be empowered to protect themselves.

I don’t feel protected in a country where mass shootings are a daily occurrence.

The nature of a gun is this: it propels an object at a high velocity so as to damage the first thing the object contacts.  If a gun doesn’t function in this way, it’s not functioning at all.  The reasons you would need a tool to perform this function are limited: you want to hit an inanimate target from a distance, or you want to hit a live target from a distance; in both cases the purpose of hitting the target is to damage it.  Damaging inanimate targets is a value neutral activity; you have to consider other factors at play to determine whether what you’re doing with your gun is moral.  Damaging live targets is not value neutral; you’re setting out with your gun to injure or kill a living thing, and this act carries a moral weight in most socially normative value systems.

This is what guns do: break and kill.

Ideologically speaking, I find myself more and more identifying as a pacifist.  It’s an interesting label to embrace, because it carries with it the implication that I find violence so abhorrent that I’d prefer not to participate in it at all.  As a middle-class American white guy, I’m privileged enough that I don’t have to engage with violence most of the time.  I’ve never fired a gun, and I never intend to; I don’t have any desire to physically fight with people with whom I disagree; I don’t have to worry about my personal survival beyond basic economic means (that is, I can trust that the money I earn from working will allow me to pay other people for all the goods and services necessary for me to live my life).  I consider all of this and recognize that my pacifism is largely untested; put in a situation where violent force were necessary for survival, I don’t know that my ideals would hold up.  I know that America is a much more complicated place than it appears to be.

And still, I think it would be on the whole better if regular citizens didn’t have easy access to machines intended solely for breaking and killing.

I live in a country where we celebrate a fifteen hour filibuster meant only to force a vote on legislation (none of which passed) as progress on gun control.  The solutions being offered have their own problems that have potential to create further discrimination against various American minorities (tying a gun ban to the terror watch list is particularly problematic).  Moderate proposals like allowing the CDC to conduct research on the effects of gun ownership in America get treated like nonstarters.  A potential approach like banning people with records of domestic violence from owning guns (if you’re willing to physically hurt your partner or children, you don’t need a tool that makes the job easier) doesn’t even get play in mainstream channels.

We’ve tried being laissez-faire about gun ownership for decades at this point, and all we have to show for it is an ever growing pile of corpses.  I’m horrified by it, and sickened, and saddened, and all the other emotions that come out whenever the news tells us about people dying in a hail of bullets.  Mostly I’m just tired of it.  We need to try to do something different.

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Further reading:

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