Friday, January 14, 2011

Shot to the heart and you’re to blame

America Fuck Yeah It's no surprise that the recent shooting in Tucson resulted in another discussion about guns and their prevalence in this country. I think this is a necessary discussion.

I've been thinking about this entry for a few days, and I've been thinking about the issue for some time now.

A little background. My Dad was a gun collector. He had a bunch of them. I mean...A LOT. I am grateful for this. He taught me how to shoot when I was in junior high school. But it wasn't just handing me a gun and telling me to point it and shoot; he taught me about gun safety, and he taught me a healthy respect for guns and for what they can do.

First and foremost? You never, ever point a gun at a person or at anything unless you intend to shoot it.

If picking up a gun to clean it or examine it, you first check to see if it's loaded. No exceptions.

If you want to keep a gun for personal protection, you'd better make damn sure that you are prepared to use it. If someone is harming you, or shows intent to harm you, it's not enough to point the gun at them and say in a trembling voice, "I have a gun." If you have that gun and you pull it on them, see the first point. Be prepared to shoot them. Know how to use the gun, know what it takes to pull the trigger, know how much it kicks, and know that if you shoot that person, you are going to be subjected to a mess on your wall and carpet that Spic 'n Span and Resolve isn't going to get out.

Does that sound harsh? It should. Guns are serious business, and they are not to be taken lightly.

I remember a few years ago, my Dad showed a young person in my family some of his guns. This young person's guardian was quite upset by this, said that she didn't want that to happen again. My Dad was doing what he did with me...teaching gun safety, teaching respect for guns. He showed this young person the type of rifle that he and his fellow soldiers carried in WWII, but the fact that this young person actually held a gun was somehow a horrible thing. I was amused when this guardian hooked up with someone who was also a gun owner. Suddenly everyone was pro-gun, pro-NRA, BANG BANG BANG! Heh heh. I guess circumstances change when you hook up! Fucking hypocrite. But I digress.

I know about guns. I know how to use them, and I know that I hope I never have to use one to harm another creature. (This is not a diatribe against hunters. There is no hunting at Nutwood, but I know that hunting keeps the deer population down, and serves as an important control in so many ecosystems that no longer have natural predators. I don't understand it, I don't participate, but I'm okay with responsible hunters. Just don't do it from a helicopter or in one of those bogus fenced-in compounds, okay? If you do that...fuck you.)

RoyLichtensteinGunI appreciated my Dad teaching me how to use a gun and how to respect them. But I have grown increasingly disturbed by the "gun culture" in my country, in which assault rifles and extended clips are sold on a daily basis, hollow-point, armor-piercing ammunition is available, and guns can be bought at garage sales without any sort of background check whatsoever.

This is unacceptable to me. There is no reason for anyone to own an assault rifle or an extended clip unless they plan on killing a whole bunch of people in a really bloody, gory way. The images of people carrying such weapons to political rallies is chilling to me. This serves no purpose other than intimidation. I am also leery about obtaining a carry permit. In all my years of gun ownership, I never applied for a carry permit.

After Dad died, my sisters inherited some guns, and went to the shooting range. They invited me along, but I declined. I know how to use mine and don't really need to fire it. When one of my sisters told me that she was thinking about applying for a carry permit, I had some words of caution for her. I said, "If you carry it in your purse, do you think you can get to it in time? Do you really think you'll have the time to dig in your purse to get it out if someone assaults you? Do you know that it's more likely that someone assaulting you will get your gun away from you? Are you really prepared to shoot someone?" I don't know what she'll decide, but in our cowboy culture, these are questions that people often don't think about.

I participated in a discussion thread on a local station's Facebook page about this topic. The overwhelming majority said that gun laws should NOT be stricter. Here was one exchange I had (the other person's name is changed to protect the...whatever):

Me: We have very lenient gun laws, and there is no denying that our deaths per capita due to guns reflect that. Again, I am not anti-gun. But I think we've got a problem here with a certain cowboy mentality in which a robbery would be treated with a death sentence by some. Do you really want to murder someone because they want to steal your wallet? If someone were threatening to kill me or my loved ones, I wouldn't hesitate, personally. But for things? Why would anyone want to kill someone for robbing them? A response a bit out of proportion to the situation, wouldn't you say?

Keith: Beth, you are anti gun and a pacifist.Which is fine,but dont [sic] put words in peoples [sic] mouth [sic] about killing people over "things". Someday you might have to thank a "cowboy" for saving your life. I would certainly use a firearm to protect my things.I wouldnt [sic] allow the perp to go on to rob somebody else. Shooting somebody in defense of property or self isnt [sic] "murder".

Me: Keith, which part of "I'm not anti-gun" don't you understand? I am neither anti-gun, nor a pacifist. I stated both quite clearly, and stated that I would protect myself or my loved ones—or a stranger, if it came to that—if our lives were in danger. I know how to shoot, and I'm quite good at it, because my Dad taught me when I was in junior high. My point is that if we are willing to kill a person because of things rather than a threat to life, I think we've got a real problem in this country. It means that we value possessions more than a human life. Personally, I'd rather not head down that road.

On the same thread, someone wondered why anyone needs an assault rifle. The response was "It's all about freedom." DO YOU LOVE YER FREEDOMS???

I value my freedom as much as anyone, but I am very disturbed by this strange gun culture going on in this country. Check this CDC report on gun deaths as well as this International Journal of Epidemiology study on worldwide gun deaths. Our gun deaths due to homicide, suicide, and accidents are the highest of any civilized nation. This is indisputable.

I am not calling for a complete ban on guns here. Well, maybe...but I know that is not going to happen in my lifetime. But can we please stop thinking that we're all Dirty Harry and get our fingers off of the fucking trigger? Can we consider some reasonable gun laws that restrict weapons that are designed to kill the maximum number of people in the shortest amount of time? I honestly don't know what is the cause of this hair-trigger, kill-em-all-and-let-god-sort-em-out-later mentality.

Gun B&W People have said that if there were more people at that Tucson Safeway that were carrying weapons, this never would have happened. I question that. If it were harder for people like Loughner to get high-capacity clips, he might not have been able to shoot as many people as he did; and do we really want a bunch of people packing at our local grocery store? That honestly doesn't make me feel safer. Even at a Safeway. Ha. The OK Corral shootout happened a long time ago. Do we really want to return to that sort of wild west mentality?

Gunshot wounds are ugly, messy, bloody, and horrible. A head shot would be even more horrible. We're talking brains on the wall, people. That is something that will stick with you for the rest of your life...maybe your family will see it, too, and they'll remember it. Is this something that you really want to do? Do you really understand the implications of what it means to shoot a person? Do you really want to do that just because they are stealing your shit, or trespassing on your property? Do you believe that theft justifies a death sentence? Are you prepared to be judge and jury and execute that person in your home? If someone steals your purse, are you willing to shoot them for it? Do you realize that if they steal your purse, they probably got your gun, too? So now you've put a gun in the hands of a criminal.

I feel that these are legitimate questions, ones that we all need to ask ourselves. The Second Amendment was written when muskets were in use. Not high-capacity assault weapons.

I don't think that anyone is in a hurry to seriously talk about gun control right now. But I think we should.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Let this be the end of it

Stop the hatred Like most of you, I watched with growing horror as the events of yesterday unfolded. If you've been living under a rock, a shooter visited a town hall meeting in Tucson and shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head, as well as several others. Giffords survived, although her long term prognosis is unknown at this point. Six others did not survive, including a federal judge who had stopped by to greet her, and a 9-year-old girl who had just won the presidency of her student council and was interested in politics. The young girl was one of the "faces of hope," a child born on 9/11.

I cannot begin to convey the feeling of disgust, sadness, and outrage that I feel about this. I do not want to overly politicize this tragedy, and my heart goes out to every family member involved, and anyone who called these victims friends. But a few things need to be said.

By all accounts, the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was not right in the head. They have been unable to determine what his motivation was, or what his political philosophy might be. He's not talking to the authorities. It really doesn't matter. He's got problems, and he is going to be prosecuted for what he did.

What does matter is that the level of angry rhetoric and hatred has grown so great in the past couple of years that I and others felt that something like this was inevitable. I am not going to place all of the blame on Sarah Palin; there is no evidence that he was an ardent follower of her or others of her ilk, like Beck and Limbaugh. However, she and her special friends bear some responsibility in this, and it absolutely needs to be said.

I remember during the campaign when Palin would speak at McCain-Palin rallies, talking about how Obama was "pallin' around with terrorists," and angry crowd members would shout "Treason!" and "Kill him!" Palin laughed it off, continued to fuel the anger of these ignorant cretins. Even McCain (who will have to live the rest of his life knowing that he is the one who thrust Palin onto the national stage) had the presence of mind to tell one of the aforementioned cretins that Obama was not an Arab or any other such silly accusations. "He's a decent family man and citizen," said McCain. Palin had no such compunctions about stopping the angry mob, and in fact, has continued to egg them on since Obama took office. Even during the campaign, I remember thinking and saying, "Nothing good can come from this."

Palin-Giffords Well, now that has come true, and I am not happy at all about being the Cassandra in this particular case. It looks as though 18 people in all were shot, and six are dead.

Although I cannot place the blame directly on Palin, it appears as though she seems to comprehend on at least some sort of reptilian brain level that she does bear some culpability. Her handlers have been busy little beavers, scrubbing her online sites to remove things like this graphic. Thanks to the wonders of the Interwebz, such things never really die, and this picture is every-freakin’-where. Remember the races she was targeting? How those gun sight cross-hairs appeared on those particular races? Giffords was one of them, and expressed her concerns about this tactic. It's chilling to listen to the Congresswoman say "There are consequences." Indeed.

Also missing is Palin's tweet in which she urged "commonsense conservatives" and "lovers of America": "Don't retreat...instead, RELOAD!"

Although Loughner may not have been a direct follower of Palin, there is no doubt that Palin's violent rhetoric has contributed to what one Congressman described as a "toxic atmosphere" in our country as of late. It happens on both sides, but you'll find that the vast majority of violent, inciting speech comes from the far right. You won't find Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow pitching dehydrated food for the coming Apocalypse. There is no place in our national discourse for such shoot-em-up imagery, and we need to get back to the place where we all understand that disagreements do not need to be violent. It's one thing to feel passionate about our political views; it's quite another to continually use violent metaphors and talk about revolution and "2nd Amendment solutions." (That one belongs to bugshit crazy Sharron Angle.)

Palin Reload It really needs to stop here. This tragedy is a national one. Not just one of violence and death and bloodshed; it is a tragedy of our, if I may borrow one of Palin's favorite phrases, American exceptionalism. We value the freedom to speak our minds, we value that we are guaranteed the right to peaceably assemble and even protest. We value that our legislators are accessible enough that we can meet them and speak with them at town hall meetings like the one in which Giffords was participating. These are things that I value, and I know most, if not all, of my fellow Americans do also.

Ms. Palin, I put it to you that YOU are the one that doesn't understand American exceptionalism, and that you don't have the slightest grasp of how your words are endangering that. YOU are the one who is putting at risk our legislators' availability to their constituents. YOU are the one that will make people think twice about running for public office because they fear the actions of people like Loughner who are spurred on by your endless violent-speak and that of your supporters and your fellow reactionaries. You need to acknowledge that you have played a part in this current toxic atmosphere, but I doubt if you will ever bring yourself to admit any sort of culpability. Nothing is ever your fault, and you just don't have the intelligence necessary to understand that words do matter. YOUR words do matter. ALL of our words matter.

There is nothing good about this tragedy. But maybe, just maybe, it will put an end to Palin's time in the spotlight on the national political stage. That's the kind of hopey-changey thing that will work for me.