Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ending our gun culture

On Tuesday, 19 January 2010, a rural Virginia man slaughtered eight people because, his neighbor speculates, he was worried that his sister and brother-in-law were planning to make him move out of the inherited rural home he and his sister inherited from their mother, who died in 2006.

How many of these mass murders must we endure—this one even included a four-year-old—before we address the painfully obvious logic that such events are almost always committed with legal firearms, and almost always would not have been nearly so deadly to so many if guns were not involved?

Yes, suspect Cris Speight could have conceivably attacked people with a vehicle, a knife, a baseball bat, or his bare hands. He might have murdered one or two in such a fashion, but it is far less conceivable that he could have slaughtered so many and then used—what, a spear, thrown in an unprecedented might toss?—to pierce the fuel tank of a police helicopter participating in the siege that eventually resulted in Speight’s arrest.

Guns exacerbate our national fascination with violence and reify the otherwise meant-for-entertainment violence in our media. Violent video games are, by themselves, relatively benign. Guns are used for hunting and, in the hands of some, as a deterrent to violence. But for those who are susceptible to mental breakdowns (isn’t that ultimately most of us at some point?), guns are literally massacres waiting to happen and our victims are out there, innocent and unsuspecting.

Ah, but there are those for whom guns are a harmless hobby, those who relish the history of the guns that won this land (for white people), that helped create our United States. Harmless? From the 21 January 2010 Washington Post story on this tragedy:

“Speight had collected at least 25 firearms, including black powder weapons, replicas of Old West era "cowboy"-style cap and ball six-shooters and many .223-caliber AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, which were among Speight's favorites.”

Ah, these quirky but responsible collectors of the cherished firearms that built this country.

Other gun lovers note that they support the need for gun safety training, which will make all these problems less likely or even non-issues. Again, from the news, referring to the future shooter’s application for concealed weapon permit in 1995:

"Roland B. Parris Jr. of Appomattox wrote to support Speight's gun application that year, saying that Speight had participated in a National Rifle Association high-powered rifle clinic and competition, which he excelled in. 'I can tell the character of a man after coaching him for two days on the rifle range,' Parris wrote."

Maybe two days of coaching shooters can show character, but perhaps the psychopathic tendencies are either not so apparent or are so deeply shared by fellow gun enthusiasts that they can sincerely approve. It is hard to tell, but it’s not helpful in either case.

All this may be true, but really, do we want a society in which sane, regular, law-abiding folks cannot arm themselves to protect against…against…against, um, other certified sane, regular, law-abiding folks with a legal permit to own and carry weapons that can, in moments, be used to massacre everyone in the room?

At what point will this circular logic shatter at our feet, to be rejected not just by pacifists but by those who don’t like to support conditions that lead to the senseless slaughter of children who happen to be in the vicinity of a person who is experiencing both an emotional meltdown and who has no prior criminal record but who is heavily, legally, armed? Will we ever grow enough backbone to take on and tame our self-destructive gun culture?

I suspect we will make progress toward this when we begin to share and catalog stories of unarmed de-escalation of those who are armed and threatening. I also suspect that once we begin to train our youth in these de-escalation techniques we will see some of that progress. These two steps are a beginning and others could make the journey swifter. May our best minds and most loving hearts help with these tasks and more. We clearly are in need.

Man is charged with murder in 8 Appomattox shootings, Washington Post, 21 January 2010.


Tom H. Hastings said...

I sent this out via PeaceVoice and it has been picked up by a number of both mainstream and alternative media outlets, from West Virginia to Wisconsin and beyond. Of course I also had two editors demand their removal from the PeaceVoice editor database, which of course I immediately did. Guns are such a hot button in our land, sort of part of my point.

Terri said...

That right to bear arms makes this very sticky indeed. Pro-gun friends that I have claim they keep them to ensure the gov't doesn't get too much power, hmmm, wasn't that the thought behind the folks in Waco TX and Ruby Ridge ID. Do they really think they'll have any chance up against the Blackwater gang?
Most the time I think the pro-gun stance is directly informed by fear. Fear that our government, or another will occupy us, fear that someone will steal from us or hurt our families, etc. That anyone would think that it's somehow justifiable to kill someone over material things that are ultimately destined to the trash heap anyway, is just unfathomable. This life is so temporary and every dear thing to us we will eventually have to part with anyway. The only thing of real value is our breath.
Even on the hunting front I see no need for guns. The Native Americans hunted buffalo without firearms. Surely the modern "sportsman" could manage without the cheater repeater. Maybe the gun is more instant for the animal, but I suspect that fewer animals will be killed if men have to do it up close and personal. The hunter would also learn to respect the life of that animal, as its final breathe exhaled into his face. He would also then cherish every part of that animal, using it only with sacred reverence for what he has taken.
Guns have made life cheap and expendable in America. It's time to quit being afraid of so much that we fail to live at all or enjoy the lives of the people and animals around us.