Naturally, the gun control debate now rages across the states like a fire.
Most advocates of the right to bear arms stay silent, including the NRA. Others have begged their opponents not to politicise the shooting.
A panel discussion was held on national television yesterday, and it invited some of the key voices in this vintage debate to speak. Of the 31 prominently pro-gun rights senators invited, not one agreed to appear.
Many of those who have seen fit to comment have suggested that schools should no longer be ‘gun free zones’, such as they were made in the 60’s, and that either armed personnel should be present, or teachers should be armed and required to do target practice.
So the problem is just not enough guns then?
Here in San Francisco everyone you speak to disagrees with this.
Back in Louisiana on the other hand, Mon went to a football party. A football party is when you go to someone’s house, eat chips (which means crisps) drink bud (which is some kind of piss), and watch football (which is a fascinating game, with almost nothing to do with feet at all, where a ball is thrown up in the air and then 22 people in armour headbutt each other as many times as they can before the it touches the ground again) and was surprised to discover that he was the only one present who was not armed.
These were gentle, generous, music loving people in their mid twenties, just like our hero. Asking them why they felt they needed their hand guns and their knives, our hero was informed that they were for safety.
Our hero asked them if they felt they could ever see themselves stabbing or shooting somebody. Most answered in the negative.
This is what our hero said to them next: the danger in the streets is being mugged. When you get mugged someone takes your phone. If you pull a weapon on them, perhaps they will run, but perhaps they are armed. Now you have escalated the situation to an armed struggle. A knife fight or a gun fight is not a good thing to be in even if you are prepared to shoot or stab someone. If your not your bluff is going to be called and you will be dead, instead of just having to get a new phone.
Apparently they said that he “didn’t understand”.
I think it is very clear that our hero understands the whole issue very shrewdly.
However, lets see things from the right-to-bear-arms advocates for a moment.
Attitudes toward the central government in America are strikingly different than in Europe. In England our central state is like an alcoholic mother with too many kids, some of whom she refuses to admit exist. Nevertheless she does attempt to keep us in some semblance of togetherness, for instance if we have something on our face she might spit on a napkin and rub it off (only these days she says she doesn’t have enough spit and she has recently sold the napkin. Luckily though a private company has provided her with some sandpaper instead).
This is a bit like how Americans think of their local state and county authorities; they run the schools, keep the roads open, etc. The federal government actually provides very little, and almost nothing in rural areas. They don’t have any healthcare for a start. An ambulance costs more than $3000 in the city, probably way more if you live in the back end of nowhere. There are the police, but the police aren’t like in England where they will always come out, here you have to really work to convince them.
Again, if you live in a rural area then effectively you just don’t have access to the police. These people’s culture is founded on independence, and to a large extent, they actually are independent.
Also, they are in some sense right when they say that it people who kill people, rather than guns. They are also wrong of course, because guns clearly do kill people, but remember there are countries with lots of guns where they don’t get massacres of this type.
The question is, what is different about America that means this style of mass murder happens with such rapidity? Guns are part of the answer, but not all of it.
The answer I’ve heard again and again over the last few days has been ‘mental health’. Now, it is great that lots of people are pushing to get more funding to shockingly underfunded mental heath services, but the idea of the ‘lone psycho’ who can only described by such shadowy words as ‘schizophrenia’ or ‘isolated’, and who we can never hope to understand, I think obscures the cultural nature of these terrible actions.
We can probably see the roots of these crimes in our own minds as ‘sane’ citizens. I can, and I’m not even American.
I’m going to be honest here and say that I have ultra-violent fantasies. For instance during a battle with Her Majesties Revenue and Customs I found it most comforting to imagine marching into their head offices with a magnum and an ornate sword and decapitating every last one of their horrid, bureaucratic little heads and shooting their computers and fax machines before plunging my ancient weapon into their mainframe and freeing the populace from their tyranny while being electrocuted to my glorious, martyrs death.
I frequently imagine blowing up the houses of parliament too, and I plan to keep imagining it.
These explosive daydreams express my anger and powerlessness, and keep me out of trouble on long bus journeys.
The things that stop me actually enacting them are as follows:
1. I know as soon as I went in there I would see that they are human beings, irritating maybe, but essentially my brothers and sisters. Killing them would be wrong, upsetting, and unsightly.
2. My future seems like it would be better lived out being free rather than imprisoned and alive rather than dead.
3. It is prohibitively hard for me to lay my hands on the requisite weapons.
How can a society make it that all of these things are true for every person?
1. Dehumanisation is a trick that the American military deliberately tries to teach to its ‘grunts’ through use of, among other things, video games. This is because, as armies the world over have discovered to their dismay, most people don’t want to kill people. The way that people are convinced to kill, or to support mass murder, is through programs of dehumanisation – such as the Islamaphobia perfected by the western media over the last 20 years. Putting a stop to such programs would be a great start.
2. People not having a future worth looking forward to is a social problem. Many working class people for instance are either outright oppressed or simply abandoned to soulless work stacking shelves as the industry that they spent generations fighting to make pay them fair wages is moved to countries where that fight has not been won. Even graduates often still have little hope of a secure job, creating what one sociologist terms the ‘precariat’. Working and middle-class people alike cannot afford basic healthcare, let alone any kind of humane treatment for mental health issues they may be suffering. One woman said recently that in the desperation to get her son mental health treatment she was tempted to try and get him sent to jail where it is provided free.
3. It will take a very long time, and it wont be easy, but you could take away America’s guns, leaving just the hunters and the farmer with their rifles. As one sobbing caller into a public radio forum put it, is it not the greater freedom gained by forgoing the right to carry weapons in order to live in a society where your five year old is less likely to be shot? Gun advocates have bumper stickers that say “Ban guns, and only criminals will have guns.” That is true, and that will be the biggest hurdle the authorities will have to face, but remember that school shootings are never done with criminally procured weaponry – they are perpetrated with licensed weapons, usually taken from the perpetrators own homes.
So there you have it America, I’ve solved another one of your problems. And this is the last one I will do pro bono.
Note: The author would like to state that although he used to think that ‘The Joshua Tree’ was an alright album, he is not pro Bono in any way.