For the past few months, gun control has taken a large place in the national discourse. Pundits, talking heads, columnists, and average Americans have spoken passionately about banning particularly dangerous firearms. I believe we need to take a strong stand, but in order to succeed, we have to take into account the latent violence that exists within each of us. Guns have played a role in shaping the development of many American lives, even those of proud liberals.
The war we wage is not against guns as a whole, but rather the offenders who use them to kill innocent people. As a pacifist, I often find myself taking a position on this issue far outside the statistical norm. I oppose wars and armed conflict on any sort, but I know I must also keep an open mind whenever possible. Orthodoxy of any form is distasteful to me and often to blame for the overheated, noxious atmosphere that materializes whenever the issue of gun control is raised.
An obsession with guns might be harmless enough, if kept in its proper context. More of us that might care to admit have a history with firearms, even if we don't want to confront it. We often rationalize our conduct earlier in life, though examining our upbringing in this forum might be a worthwhile endeavor.
My mother is fond of telling a story. Prior to having me, her first child, she was convinced that she would raise me very differently. This was the ambition of many hippie parents, both then and now. The ethos is the same today. Her attitude towards motherhood, in the beginning, was super serious, unsmiling and adamant. One might say she was driven to be the best parent in the history of recorded time.
No child of hers would ever play with toy guns. This was a point upon which she was especially forceful and emphatic. She would never compromise, nor back down. Denied access to plastic toy guns, I began to improvise. I grabbed bits and pieces of the upright vacuum cleaner, and held them against my shoulder blade like a shotgun. Kow! Kow!
My grandmother was aghast. In a great show of uncomprehending disgust, she took me to K-Mart and purchased four brand new toy guns for my personal usage. After our return from the store, I played happily, running around outside, formulating a thousand imaginary war games of my own creation. My mother learned her lesson and never stood in my way again.
A little later in life, my father took me out into the country several times for target practice. I found the experience fun and enjoyable. There's something oddly thrilling about the loud boom of a shotgun blast. Dad's 12 gauge kicked back hard against my shoulder with an unforgiving ferocity. Until I adjusted properly, the experience was painful and a little scary. One had to respect a weapon that announced its presence so definitively and with such dramatic emphasis.
In time, I outgrew my interest in weaponry, though I have retained an interest in military history that now sits uneasily with me from time to time. As we age, our focus often changes substantially, but is, upon further analysis, merely a variation upon a theme. No one is suggesting that all guns be outlawed, of course. Even if they were, a substantial void would be left behind. We can't airbrush history, nor can we remove the cultural context. But this shouldn't be an impediment to reform.
If we removed guns from our societal framework, what would appear in its place? I can't help but think that some new form of weaponry would be created. Over the past several centuries, we have become a more empathetic, compassionate world in many ways. We no longer burn witches at the stake. Several U.S. states have abolished the death penalty, as have several countries. But every so often, an act of ultra-violence occurs, reminding us that we have a long way to go.