Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Way of the Gun

When my son Isaac (age 12) wrote his Christmas gift wish-list this year it consisted of:
  • Nerf gun. 
  • Nerf gun. 
  • Nerf gun. 
  • Money. 
This year we had also had a 14-year-old French cousin joining us for Christmas. So, when my mother called in search of gift suggestions, I had the bright idea: Nerf guns for everyone!  I figured a big, plastic firearm was the quintessential American gift and envisioned much merriment with all of us boys - I included myself in this plan - blasting away at one another.

In the aftermath the Sandy Hook shootings, the thought of pointing guns, even bright plastic ones, at children filled me with nausea and dread. I had second thoughts. But my always-agreeable mother had already gone ahead with my plan. So it came to be that a substantial Nerf arsenal awaited us under the Christmas tree.

Christmas morning came. The Nerf guns were a big hit. Of course. As soon as they were opened and unboxed, with piles of sparkly presents still sitting unopened under the tree, we ran outside to shoot blue darts at one another in the fresh snow.

The Nerf guns was hardly the only firearm-themed Christmas gift received. Our favorite toys, computer games, board games, card games, television shows, movies, and books all feature guns and lots of them. The depiction, recreation, and immersion in imaginary gun violence is one of my, and now my son's, major preoccupations. Blowing holes in a wide variety of zombies, mercenaries, aliens, and assorted "bad guys" is a near-daily staple and a welcome source of temporary escape from the basic banalities of modern life.

For all my indulgence in firearm fantasies I've pretty much kept my distance from the real thing. I've rarely held, and never fired an actual weapon. I don't own a gun and don't ever intend to. But I can see the appeal. I understand the powerful  pull, and the mythic aspects of guns. In spite of that, and in some ways because of it, I wouldn't want an actual weapon in my home or in my life.

For a great many Americans their relationship with guns is much less distant. Around 45 millions households in the US own a total estimated around 270 million firearms. The vast majority of these weapons are kept perfectly safely and securely. They are used for sport, hunting, collected, and used responsibly for fun or recreation.

But these are weapons. They are designed to do damage. With weaponry that powerful, and access this easy, it takes only a tiny percentage of dangerous individuals to cause horrific damage. Every year there are thousands of firearm deaths in the US. Thousands of murders. Thousands of suicides by gun. Every few months we receive news of another shocking mass shooting. It is too often, too regular, to easy for a psychotic individual to go on a shooting spree in an office, a movie theater, or a school. Each time we are appalled, we grieve, we shrug, and we go on.

Here in the US, the guns have always been here. And the tragedies have come with them.

I wonder if we aren't ready for a change.

There are multitudes of guns owners in the US. They are also citizens, parents, colleagues, businesses owners and community members . The horrors of gun violence reach the guns owners and those without alike. We should be unified in our desire to prevent gun violence. We should share the objectives of reducing violent crime, and stopping the terrible killing sprees, while preserving lawful, safe, responsible, and even for-fun firearm use.

In my next post I'll propose a plan to do that.

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