Monday, June 09, 2008

When everyone is packing heat

-- by Dave

I was raised in an NRA household. My dad is an amateur gunsmith; he's very good at fixing the arcane and often delicate machinery of firearms, and is a real problem-solver -- so much so that I recall the local gunsmith begging him for help with special problems. I used to help him in his shop, watching and learning -- loading ammo, fixing rifles, carving stocks.

So I'm reasonably comfortable around guns, though I only own a couple of memento pieces. What I'm not comfortable around are the people who make fetishes out of the damned things.

This weekend's LA Times piece about people advocating the open carry of firearms really made me squirm -- with dread, mostly.

The Jensens are part of a fledgling movement to make a firearm as common an accessory as an iPod. Called "open carry" by its supporters, the movement has attracted grandparents, graduate students and lifelong gun enthusiasts like the Jensens.

"What we're trying to say is, 'Hey, we're normal people who carry guns,' " said Travis Deveraux, 36, of West Valley, a Salt Lake City suburb. Deveraux works for a credit card company and sometimes walks around town wearing a cowboy hat and packing a pistol in plain sight. "We want the public to understand it's not just cops who can carry guns."

You hear a lot of this kind of nonsense from the gun lobby whenever there is some kind of horrendous massacre involving guns: "Oh, if only the victims had been allowed to carry guns openly, somebody could have stopped this from happening."

Besides having watched too many bad action movies to understand the realities of gunplay, none of these geniuses seem to have stopped to think about what a culture in which people openly and casually carry guns would look like. Every interpersonal conflict would take on life-and-death dimensions because of the constancy of the implicit threat of guns becoming part of the human equation. If you think we're paranoid now, just wait.

"Open carry" advocates strike me as gun fetishists, people who are so enamored of the things that they lose sight of their humanity. Let's be frank about what guns really are: you can dismiss them as mere tools that can be misused, but the fact is that they represent the ultimate power -- the power to end another human being's life. And when you hold that power in your hands, dispensed with the mere squeeze of a trigger, it can be a very seductive thing, especially for someone with a grudge against a world that has disempowered them.

More to the point, since guns inhere such power, they also invite their use. People who fetishize guns are never content, in the end, to simply own them. At some point, they feel compelled to wield the power they hold in their hands.

If people are encouraged to casually carry handguns to the grocery store, the realities of human nature are going to be paramount -- and that reality includes the failure of normative restraints when people lose their cools or are traumatized or simply succumb to mental illness or similar demons. The tragedies we've seen at school campuses and shopping malls and the freeways are going to rise exponentially.

I remember growing up around guns, but I also know well their meaning and proper place. They are not mere enforcers of our personal security but the means for wielding real ultimate power over others. Encouraging its broad use willy nilly, especially for the Homer Simpsons and Buford Furrows of the world, is a human disaster in the making.

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