Thursday, February 28, 2013

Guns and Guilt

One thing missing from much discussion about guns and Second Amendment rights is the issue of the aftermath of shootings.

Thanks to the graphic reality (and sometimes hyper-reality) of violent films, we now know what we did not when I was growing up in the ‘50's. Then there was little or no blood. Bullets made small holes or none at all. Death followed only a grimace or two. Death looked relatively easy. Recovery from a wound looked harder, but the wounded were fixed up and sent home and back to work. Everything was fine.

So I played with guns when I was a kid probably from 7 to 11 years old. I especially prized a very exact copy of a .45 Colt revolver. It even had fake bullets that inserted into brass casings. A cap would fit into the casing and I could load, fire, and reload, just like Hopalong Cassidy, my hero who for some reason dressed in black. He had a nice smile.

My friends and I played cowbows and rustlers and Indians, and re-enacted WWII with great intensity for several summers. We shot and were shot. We fell and died. Perhaps we were preparing for the movie business.

 We knew nothing about death or dying. My maternal grandmother died when I was eight, and I attended the funeral. It was the first time I saw grown men, my uncles, cry. It was scary but all I knew was that Grandma was gone forever.

Most death is fairly clean, i.e., no blood. But we ought to know that death is the end of everything. If you kill someone they are gone forever. You have taken everything from them. You have taken them from them and the world. A number of films recently have commented on this, but I have not taken notes. It is said that killing someone changes you forever. There is no going back from being a killer. How can killing be forgiven or forgotten?

But a killing is soon over. Worse may be the woundings. Word from Aurora CO is that the wounded from last year’s mass shooting are having a very hard time. We aren’t talking flesh wounds that heal with a scar. We are talking about shattered bones and joints and destroyed internal organs. Wounds that disfigure the face in ways that no plastic surgery can fix. Destroyed hands or feet. Broken backs, paralysis. Unending pain. These things are the most likely outcome of a shooting.

The wounded also have families who must help, who must deal with life-changing circumstances. Interrupted or ended schooling. Jobs and careers ended. Plans wiped out. Many, many tears. Depression. PTSD. Etc. “And so it goes,” as Kurt Vonnegut used to say.

The movies have done us wrong. They created the myth of redemptive violence, that violence and vengeance are good and can make justice and save us from death and destruction. They created and amplified the myth of the gunslinger, the vicious outlaw, the bad Indian, and the wonderful Calvary in the old West. (This mythmaking began in print before the films.) They also helped amplify the myth of the glorious old South, that was done wrong.  Here are some lessons on the laws of physics that are violated in shootemup films.

I think that if you want to carry a gun, you should think about the following:

1. Carrying a gun makes you a target for someone else carrying a gun, who is afraid of you or what you might do.

2. If you draw, you should be prepared to shoot and have damn good reason to do so.

3. You had better be a mighty quick draw. One of the lessons of the gunslinger was that there is always someone better.

4. No matter how good you are on the range, you won’t be that good in a shootout.

5. Even if you shoot, so might the other guy. Be prepared to be killed or wounded.

Me, I stopped playing with guns when I was 11. When I was 12 the NRA taught me to shoot at Scout camp. That’s what the NRA did then. That’s about all they did then. They made sure we knew how dangerous it all was. Ultimately, guns are about a false kind of power. It is the power to destroy rather than to create. It is a power over and against mostly for individual purposes rather than power with others for societal purposes. Happiness cannot be a warm gun.

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