Guns Я Us

President ObamaI have a great deal of respect for President Obama’s intelligence, character, and commitment, yet I’m not thrilled by his leadership or public speaking abilities (and I consider the latter an important part of the former). That said, he thoroughly impressed me at last night’s Guns in America town hall event on CNN!

Now already, in Philadelphia, we have news-worthy gun fire. In this case, despite numerous rounds fired, everyone (that is to say, both guys) lived. (Which, ironically, makes it kind of like TV.) To raise the public fervor ante, the shooter did it in the name of the Islamic State.

What was that curse about interesting times?

It seems like something out of a Tom Clancy novel…

North Korea tests an “H-bomb” (so they claim). China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan, as immediate neighbors, all freak out big time. The world in general freaks out in general. Regardless of what actually just went BANG!, it’s clear a paranoid nut-job is developing ever more powerful weapons. (Sadly in this case, such is the way with science, weapons, and Pandora’s Boxes, in general.)

Red Storm RisingSaudi Arabia and Iran get into it with Syria already a mess with Russian and USA fingerprints. Gas prices stay low, a problem for the Saudis on top of their fears about our supposedly shifting favor towards Iran. This could go wrong in so many ways.

Meanwhile, back home a carnival barker comedian channels the George Wallace campaign, stirring and inflaming a highly polarized electorate that operates from regional tribal allegiances. This isn’t new… we’ve seen this movie.

It’s really nothing more than a large-scale mob dynamic with a tribal us-them sensibility as fuel. Rocket fuel.

It’s bad enough what politicians do (and what cable news allows) to the dialectic. Donnie Boy just craps all over it. It’s as if someone came into your open house and took a dump in the middle of the living room floor. When you express your righteous outrage, your visitor protests that he’s just trying to start a conversation about your decor.

And, God help us, he’s probably going to win.

The awful thing is, there are real problems. Terrorism is a problem, and it’s a problem increasingly right here at home. San Bernardino at the end of 2015; two refugee men arrested, and now Philadelphia, this year.

And 80 people die by the gun every day here (about 2/3 of them suicides).

Whatever else: Guns Я Us.

Obama and CooperWe should probably be at least talking reasonably about this, and that town hall event last night was a refreshing start. The right, of course, is losing its shit in a predictable manner. (“They’re coming to take your guns away! Oh my! Oh my!”)

But they do have a point. The event did lean left, despite including some voices from the right.

(To be clear, the left and gun control proponents tend to be synonymous to my eye, and so does the right and gun rights proponents. At least here I’m assuming it to be true and using the left and the right as shorthand.)

As I try to listen past their usual polemic rhetoric, I think I hear a valid point, and maybe it is a pity this aspect isn’t reflected in the many debates.

There is, on the left side of this issue, a voice that doesn’t always actually say, but always implies: Guns Я Evil!

We hear it in the refrain: “Guns are designed to kill people!” (Which means both guns used in Philadelphia must have been poorly designed Both weapons were, in fact, cop’s guns, so perhaps the cops in Phili are using badly designed guns?)

We hear it in the refrain: “How many guns does someone need?” (Heart disease and traffic accidents kill more people annually, so logically we should limit the number of fast food meals or miles driven, because, after all, “How many hamburgers does someone need?” And do you really need to do all that driving?)

There are those — and some, it must be said, with very good reason — who absolutely hate and fear guns. In some cases the feelings are very personal and based on direct horrific experience. Their stance is understandable.

But unless you really believe in the impossible dream of a gun-free world (and that is a practical impossibility; see my FTR: Guns post for more), it is also a socially unhelpful stance. Public policy can’t be based on fear and hate.

gun showEspecially when it’s not at all shared.

On the other side are people who see guns as tools (which, like all tools, can be used in positive or negative ways). Specifically, there are those who see value in guns and in gun ownership (number me among them).

And the idea that guns do have value to many wasn’t well represented last night.

There was the woman, a rape victim, who spoke about owning a gun to defend herself and her kids, and there was the sheriff, and the SEAL widow, and the gun dealer. They all spoke in favor of gun ownership, but I don’t know that the idea of gun value was really embraced.

Certainly not by President Obama, and — I suspect — generally by the left. Or so I have the impression, and maybe that impression (if shared among the right) is a problem in the discussion.

If not, it may point to an irreconcilable difference in world view by the two sides. As the right sees the world in terms of small government, and the left in terms of bigger, perhaps the world view involving the value of guns is likewise a matter that cannot be resolved.

Obama 2008Regardless, conversation and compromise are the trick, and I thought last night was a decent start.

And, almost to my surprise (so much so I just had to post), I was very impressed with my President.

That’s an awfully nice feeling.

I haven’t said this, I believe, since 2008, but Go Obama!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

11 responses to “Guns Я Us

  • revolutionofwords

    Interesting piece. I appreciate your thoughtful and balanced approach. With that said, I think the gun issue is a replacement for the more damaging political focus on terrorism. After the San Bernardino shooting a lot of people on the left chalked it up to “gun violence.” That is a problematic interpretation. It was an incredibly engaging town hall format, especially with Chris Kyle’s widow and a rape victim. Thanks again!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thank you. Welcome to the blog.

      Yeah, it was unfortunate that the left jumped right to the issue of gun control after San Bernardino. It seemed pretty clear even then that most forms of gun control wouldn’t have mattered in that case. In fact, it wouldn’t have mattered in most of the high-profile big-news cases. And terrorism is a distinct (and growing!) problem with its own threads and knots.

      That said, we’re capable of dealing with multiple problems at once. Terrorism is a clear and present danger, but so is gun violence (and numerous other issues — we have a lot that needs fixing). This is a game with multiple balls; we shouldn’t take our eyes off any of them!

      The thing is, of the 30,000 who die by the gun every year, about 2/3 are suicides, which leaves 10,000 who are shot by accident or intentionally (some justified, some not). That’s 10,000 per year. Versus the 7,496 Americans killed by terrorism including those killed in the Iraq war since 9/11. That’s 7,496 in 15 years (about 500 per year).

      Which makes gun death (exclusive of the twice as many suicides) 20 times the problem terrorism is (when considered as mortal danger). It’s 60 times the problem if suicides are included. That’s why many people don’t want us taking our eye off that ball. Or rather, they wish we stop apparently ignoring it.

      I wish both sides would stop pretending. I wish the left would stop pretending guns have no value and that gun users are evil. I wish the right would stop pretending there’s no problem. I wish both sides could come together. The thing about a democracy is that, when it’s working properly, no one gets their way completely.

  • Steve Morris

    It’s certainly a complex issue, but one that has been mostly solved in Europe. In Britain it happened slowly and incrementally over a period of 100 – 200 years. The story is instructive.
    Those who want sudden dramatic change are being unrealistic, and are maybe actually slowing progress by causing the the other side to become ultra-defensive. Balanced views like yours are probably the way to address such divisive issues.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “Those who want sudden dramatic change are being unrealistic, and are maybe actually slowing progress by causing the the other side to become ultra-defensive.”

      I very much agree on both counts. As you point out, the UK’s journey took at least a century, and I’m not sure the USA has even really begun its journey.

      I’m skeptical of comparisons between the USA and other countries. We’re probably closer to being something like all of Europe when it comes to diverse world views. The American North East seems almost a different country than, say, the American Deep South or American South West. And nothing really matches American dynamism and creativity (for good and ill).

      There is also that many Americans wouldn’t stand for the strict gun laws of England. Even President Obama acknowledged there is a legitimate reason many Americans need (not want, need) guns in their home (they would be defenseless without them).

      And our country is deeply founded on the principle of armed revolution (as you Britons know full well 😀 ). Our Founding Fathers clearly wanted the citizens capable of overthrowing a tyrannical government. Many (should be all) consider this a vital right.

      I think, for us, the US, the only way out is cultural change. I really think that has to start with a look at entertainment media. But it also has to involve conversation. (And Bravo to President Obama for starting a level-heads one; let’s keep it up!)

      Say… maybe you can answer a question…

      A topic in the gun debate involves the value of the perceived presence of guns acting as a deterrent. A frequent argument is that violent home invasions where homeowners are known to be present rose sharply in England once weapons were banned from homes.

      It is said (and what few numbers I can find seem to bear this out) that such invasions are lower here because invaders fear armed resistance. [See my FTR: Guns post for those numbers.]

      Can you speak to this? Are home invasions a topic of conversation there?

      • Steve Morris

        I don’t have any statistics, but home invasions are totally not a topic of conversation here. There was a case about 5 years ago where a homeowner shot an intruder with a (licensed) gun and was prosecuted for murder. That caused a public outcry, with loud cries on both sides of the issue. But very few people here own guns, and gun ownership simply isn’t on the agenda at all.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Certainly very different from the situation here! We have about as many guns as people (roughly 300 million), and about 1/3 of our citizens own guns. And they lie at the heart of much of our culture.

        I knew a guy who said, when it comes to guys: “If it flies, goes really fast, explodes, catches fire, or makes a loud noise, it’s cool.” Guns (and NASCAR) hit several of those, pardon the expression, bullet points.

        And it’s interesting how many people who were skeptical about, or even somewhat opposed to, guns change their attitude after being taking to a target range to actually experience shooting. The truth is, it’s fun!

  • ~ Sadie ~

    I missed the town hall meeting, but heard many say that it was engaging.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It was a decent beginning! (It’s probably available on YouTube if you wanted to see it.)

      The more I listen to the two sides, the more I think the key is in one side accepting that guns are tools with value and the other side accepting that we do have a problem in this country. And both sides accepting that progress depends on compromise.

      I heard a talking head on one of the Sunday morning shows assert that compromise isn’t possible if one side (or both) insists on having it their way. He referred to perfect being the enemy of good. He’s right, as far as it goes. The trick, then, is first convincing people they need to lighten the fuck up.

      which can be quite a trick.

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