The why of guns

Over the past few weeks or months really, I have been more engaged with the issue of guns, gun safety, gun violence, deaths, shootings and rights to bear arms than I have ever been before. I have found this to be both fascinating, depressing and frustrating. I have tried to listen and make sense of the various perspectives, to overcome my innate dismissal of any pro-gun for personal protection, and as a vegetarian for hunting either – and it isn’t easy.

I follow the twitter stream ‘gun deaths’ and am infuriated at the idiocy of the number of deaths; of mindless shootings; of police shootings; and of children being shot, shooting others or themselves.

I listened to the first episode on guns from this American Life podcast yesterday and felt myself despairing. The teachers and principal at the School are amazing. Their love and belief in their students is phenomenal, the tragedy of the situation is incomprehensible. As I listened I found myself thinking that well, if this WAS a war zone – if it was Baghdad, Bosnia or the streets of a war torn South American mythical city, I might feel a little bit better about it, but even that is reprehensible. This account of kids feeling so threatened on their walk to and from school, of accepting being shot as being a norm, and this is all because of where you live with your parents and not because you choose to join a gang is out of control. This is a future generation that has a matter of fact attitude to violence, to threats of being shot, of death or injury. They have plans for how to fall to minimize injury – this is the stuff of battle. And not the battle of the sports field, but battle that we might think has some meaning.

It leaves me wondering – is this a war zone? Are the streets really to be conceived as that? And not by all, but only by our youth – the future? What or where is the sanity in that? What does it mean for the future? To my mind it doesn’t bode well… hopefully I am wrong. But, when you couple it with all the other inequalities of contemporary life in one of the leading, modern, richest and most civilized nations – is that really what this is?

Today whilst listening to the podcast ‘How to think about guns’ on Freakonomics – many things in the podcast annoyed me, but others didn’t. And, what struck me most was that this was the first time that I have read any commentary on the ‘why’ of guns. What is the social phenomenon that makes people so afraid, so embittered, so battle hungry that they need to be in this state of protection or attack?

Some things that came to mind as a result of their conversation were:

  • if guns were invented now, then we most likely wouldn’t make them available to everyone
  • the argument that if we take away guns then knives will become the norm is not really sound as knives are still less cumbersome
  • most gun deaths are suicide
  • guns in the USA are historically part of the culture and that is being held on to – but relatively this was true elsewhere as well – so why did they stay on here and grow as they have? the 2nd amendment or an arms industry that could make more money?
  • there is a marked difference linguistically between naming something as being a robbery, burglary and a home invasion – and with that, how does that affect my perspective of needing to protect my home and family?
  • when and how did Pittsburgh in particular transform from being a place of community, of generosity, of unlocked doors to becoming a place of fear and protection?