Guns: The power of illusion and the illusion of power

South Florida Times - - OPINION -

As the body count mounts in Amer­ica’s war on it­self , the at­ten­tion fo­cuses on its var­i­ous com­po­nent ac­tors, mal­adies and in­stru­men­tal­i­ties.

There’s the fo­cus on ter­ror­ist, foreign and do­mes­tic. The fo­cus on the men­tally ill. The fo­cus on ur­ban gang bangers, school shoot­ers, and the ‘lone wolf ’ killers. Evil ac­tors with dif­fer­ent mo­ti­va­tions but all achiev­ing, through the means of firearms, the same tragic re­sults.

There’s alien­ation. There’s the avail­abil­ity of guns. There’s the lack of back­ground checks. There’s the im­po­tent, or cor­rupted po­lit­i­cal le­gal and reg­u­la­tory process. And there’s the gun cul­ture, what­ever that means.

But some­how it seems there’s much more to the trip. While it is easy enough to say that “guns don’t kill peo­ple, peo­ple kill peo­ple” and while that’s true, it is also un­de­ni­ably true that Amer­i­cans kill more Amer­i­cans than do peo­ple of any other na­tion not in­volved with civil war, an­ar­chy or reli­gious con­flict. And, for the most part, Amer­i­cans do it with guns.

I re­cently de­vel­oped an urge to own a small arse­nal. And I didn’t feel very good about it. Why is it that I was feel­ing this urge to arm my­self or even more fright­en­ing, why is it that I f elt the de­sire to arm my­self?

Af­ter all, with the right gun (or guns) I alone can fend off the in­vad­ing zom­bie/vam­pire/were­wolf hoards, felling them one af­ter the other with sin­gle, well place head shots and silver bul­lets.

l can stand my ground against com­mon crim­i­nals, thugs and gang­sters, of­ten just by let­ting them know that I have some­thing for them should they deign to “make my day.” And, if need be my “lit­tle friends” and I can make life a liv­ing hell for un­friendly space aliens or any in­vad­ing army (the Rus­sians are com­ing).

I can in­tim­i­date any op­pres­sive do­mes­tic author­ity that dares to try to take my land (or make me pay rent if the land is not mine) or that oth­er­wise threat­ens what­ever I de­fine as “my free­dom.”

I can put food on my ta­ble, I can pro­tect my f am­ily and I can have a lit­tle fun shoot­ing up cans in the woods or shoot­ing holes in targets at the range.

Tak­ing a step back, look­ing at the rhetoric, it could be that I am in­flu­enced by me­dia images, in the news and in en­ter­tain­ment, that use fear as a stalk­ing horse for vul­ner­a­bil­ity and that posit weapons, par­tic­u­larly firearms, as the panacea for all f eel­ings of help­less­ness. Why? Be­cause with a gun in my hand, I have power.

I have the power to con­trol the destiny of any­thing or any­one at the busi­ness end of the barrel. I have the power to put their con­tin­ued ex­is­tence at risk. I can ex­tort, threaten and per­suade any­one look­ing down the barrel of my weapon to do what they are told, when and how they are told to do it. I have the power to do that, be­cause with a gun I can “take away all they’ve got and all they’re ever gonna’ have.”

Hold­ing a gun gives some peo­ple more power than they be­lieve they will ever have. The way they see it, they may never have lu­cra­tive jobs, they may never have nice homes in peace­ful neigh­bor­hoods, and they may never be able to pro­vide nice things for their chil­dren on any sus­tained ba­sis. They may never be held up as im­por­tant peo­ple in the com­mu­nity. But now they have the power of life and death over other hu­man be­ings in their hands. In their eyes, they will never be more pow­er­ful.

Of course, my gun can’t get me a bet­ter job, it can’t pay my mort­gage, or bet­ter educate my kids. It won’t cure can­cer and it can’t pay for my f am­ily’s health­care. It won’t bring my son or daugh­ter back from the wars in the Mid­dle East. And truth be told, there are no zom­bie hoards to fight, and f ewer and f ewer were­wolves, aliens and vam­pires to shoot down with silver bul­lets. Even if we can’t get the wall built, there likely won’t be a foreign mil­i­tary in­va­sion in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

And the odds are that if I’m ac­costed by a street crim­i­nal, it will be with a gun stolen from some­one like me. If I am shot, it will likely be by some­one I know or I might shoot my­self . But, can these sta­tis­ti­cal re­al­i­ties over­come the emo­tional ap­peal of be­ing “ready for ac­tion” “armed to the teeth” or ready to “stand my ground”? Prob­a­bly not. Re­gard­less, “don’t tread on me” be­cause af­ter all, I’d be the “good guy with a gun.”

When all is said and done, the power of mil­i­tary style weaponry in the hands of civil­ians to do good is more il­lu­sory than real. The risks of a firearms tragedy are far greater than any hoarder’s fan­tasies would ever an­tic­i­pate or al­low. But are changes in our gun laws the an­swer?

So many of our gun laws have been ren­dered in­eff ec­tive by con­vo­luted lan­guage and con­flict­ing reg­u­la­tions and by in­ex­pli­ca­ble pol­icy changes forced on ATF by the gun lobby, that we al­most need to start from scratch.

Nev­er­the­less, there is a mod­est con­sen­sual agenda that has emerged in the wake of the car nage of Columbine, Sandy Hook and Park­land. That agenda, which in­cludes: uni­ver­sal back­ground checks; pro­hi­bi­tion on mod­i­fi­ca­tion of firearms to make them shoot like au­to­mat­ics; and age re­stric­tions on the sale of mil­i­tar y style f irearms; needs to in­clude more. There also needs to be pro­hi­bi­tions on state laws re­str ict­ing biometr ic ID sys­tems f or weapons; stolen weapons re­por ting re­quire­ments; tighter reg­u­la­tions on in­ter­state trans­porta­tion of mul­ti­ple weapons f or sale; rea­son­able time frame pur­chase lim­its; str icter qualif ica­tion re­quire­ments for gun deal­ers; stream­lined pro­ce­dures f or con­fis­ca­tion and de­struc­tion of guns used in crimes and the elim­i­na­tion of im­prac­ti­cal re­str ic­tions on firearms con­trol by law en­force­ment.

But are changes in our gun laws the an­swer? Not en­tirely, but they would be a good start. Un­for­tu­nately, the en­ergy man­dat­ing change that in­evitably emerges in the dark wake of a mass shoot­ing tragedy, al­ways seems to wane. In the long r un, the pas­sage of time and the po­lit­i­cal do­na­tion money gen­er­ated by the bu­colic f an­tasies and f ear­ful con­jur ing that sus­tain and em­power the gun manuf ac­turer’s lobby seem to win out. Nev­er­the­less, those who want mean­ing­ful change in our gun laws and in our na­tional “gun cul­ture” are be­com­ing more and more re­lent­less -- and that’s what it will take.

Be­cause until the need for change is taken se­ri­ously, the body count will con-

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