“I've gone to a Christmas party for a houseful of sex offenders; learned how to shoot a gun, and liked it.”
If you happened to read my first post this week, you will recognize these as the words of Seattle Times feminist opinionator Nicole Brodeur. The tone of this statement suggests that Brodeur may occasionally fantasize about the opportunity to be an “avenger," or dare someone to perceive her as a "victim," even if they are not interested. It also helps explain the fascination with guns in this society. Many people, like Brodeur, would say that they purchase guns for self-defense; what they are really saying is that they are unduly paranoid; like the armed protagonist in the Bruce Springsteen song “Murder Incorporated,” they see danger all around them, and have this expectation of being a victim, no matter how statistically unlikely it is (particularly for white women). The subject of Springsteen’s song ends-up being a victim because instead of trying to avoid trouble, he invites it. That is the “power” many people think that a gun gives them.
Not all people who buy guns intend to use them if necessary on another human being, such as for hunting animals or for “sport.” There are others, however, like the Times’ “doom-preppers,” who envision a war (most likely a “race” war), or the gang-banger or punk who always keeps a gun tucked in his pants (like Daniel Adkins’ killer) for whom a gun is an extension of his personality or a “necessary” accessory for “survival” in the world he lives in. There is also the psychopathic or schizophrenic personality who feels he must exact “revenge” on society for some slight. And, of course, there is the police who provide us with the example of just how cheaply human life can be regarded under the color of “law.”
But there are some of us who do not believe that gun ownership is a necessary requirement in a civilized society. The key to “survival” is that you don’t go looking for trouble, and you are also more likely to treat people with respect (at least on their “turf”), or with care. You usually have sense enough to realize when you approach a certain line when dealing with troublesome people. If you happen to find yourself in a neighborhood where you feel uneasy, you walk as if you are going somewhere, not as if you are lost, because that makes you look “vulnerable.” Instead of living with paranoia and fear, you mind your own business and just live. But when you choose to buy a gun for something other than “sport,” you are acknowledging that you expect at least the possibility that you might “need” to use the gun, and you actually see or perceive rationales that are largely in your own mind. By making another person aware that you have gun and are willing to use it, you heighten the tension and make it more likely that something lethal will happen, maybe even to you. And sometimes you use that gun to take a life when there was no justification for it.
The manic gun culture in this country--satirized by John Lennon in songs like "Happiness is a Warm Gun" and "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," and by a cruel twist of fate took his own life--began with the arrival of the first European settlers, who arrived in a land without the constructs of civilization as the Western world understood it. It was every man for himself against the native inhabitants who did not want the white man simply taking what he or she felt like. There was no government or law and order; there were no great cities where civilized mores, culture or academia could flourish. That would all take time, but for two centuries, America outside the original colonies was ruled by the gun or rifle; no man dared be caught without one. Even today, many people feel “naked” if they don’t own a gun.
Nevertheless, this “philosophy” hardly explains the “stand your ground” laws in 21 states, in which the one in backwater Arizona is perhaps the most troubling. Even in that state people claim to be “civilized,” yet they are often the first to resort to uncivilized methods. There is a “presumption” that a person has acted “reasonably” when using deadly force, and if there is no witness or the evidence is not “clear,” the shooter can literally get away with murder. And even when there are witnesses and the shooter admits to falsifying his “reasons” for shooting dead a person—as in the case of Daniel Adkins—the law puts more weight on “psychological” factors rather than if the victim was actually a threat (although in the Trayvon Martin case there was nothing “psychological” about the physical beating George Zimmerman was experiencing). A study by the Urban Institute found that half of all homicides were ruled “justified” in “stand your ground” states.
And so it is that people are shocked by the shooting spree in Seattle by an anger-challenged man named Ian Stawicki, which isn’t the first such incident in this city, nor likely to be the last. After a spate of shootings in the city this year, the police tell us not to blame the usual suspects (gangs) but the fact of gun ownership and the likelihood that in the wrong hands, guns will be used. For once, I agree with the police.