Saturday, July 21, 2012

On Guns and Violence

Last year, my wife took on the challenge of doing one new thing every day, which she recorded on her blog 365 Alive.  Among the many cool things she did was to go target shooting with my dad.  For me, as I was tagging along, this raised several ethical and moral dilemmas.  For one,  Dad suggested we bring our daughter along, something I was not comfortable with.  For another, he offered to let me shoot as well.  I had to think about this.  I've never held a gun, much less fired one.  In the end, I said thanks but no thanks, having decided that I'd rather spend my life knowing I've never squeezed a trigger, even in a controlled setting.

I can honestly, unequivocally, say that I hate guns and that I think the world would be a much better place without them.  Now, this doesn't mean that I hate gun enthusiasts; I don't hate my dad, obviously, whom I'd certainly term a responsible gun user.  But it does make me uncomfortable knowing he has weapons in the house, even if they are secured.  I don't know how long he's owned a gun, and I don't know if we had a gun in the house during my childhood, and frankly, I don't want to know.

I bring all this up now, obviously, as I continue to process the horrible shooting at a midnight screening of the new Batman movie in Colorado.  Of that, I don't think there's much to say.  But, as always seems to happen in the wake of these ever-more frequent public massacres, my own feelings have begun to shift from grief and horror to anger and bafflement that we as a nation and community don't seem more outraged.  Oh, we're all outraged at the shooter, no doubt.  But why aren't we more outraged that he had guns?

From all early evidence, it seems clear that the shooter purchased his weapons legally, and passed any background check required to purchase weapons.  And our collective response?  To shrug and say "well, he purchased the weapons legally".  Doesn't that very fact implicitly imply that it should be harder to get a gun?  That background checks and waiting periods are fine and good, but they do nothing to deter the citizen with no criminal record and murder in his heart?

Unfortunately, bizarrely, incidents like this, and the Gabby Giffords shooting, and the Virginia Tech shootings, and hell, even Columbine, in the same damn state, seem to do little to move public sentiment towards stricter gun laws.  I've gone beyond asking "what will it take?", because if those things won't convince a majority of the population that outlawing assault weapons is a good idea, I can't (and don't want to) imagine what will.

Here's what I'd like to ask every gun enthusiast, every NRA member, everyone that has fought against any legislation that would eliminate the general public's ability to purchase assault weapons: why?  Why do you need them?  What is the possible reason that any private citizen would need assault weapons, or body armor, or tear gas, or any of the other items used by this lunatic?  And, I'm sorry, but "I like them", or any answer that essentially comes down to "I like them" is simply not fucking good enough.  The argument that "if we outlaw guns, only criminals will have them" is such a strawman, because, firstly, of course only criminals will have them: that's the point.  If they're illegal, you're a criminal if you possess them.  But, more importantly, we'll never know how stricter gun laws will work.  We'll never know if James Holmes might have been deterred had he not been able to walk into a store and buy an item whose only purpose is mayhem.  But we know that he was able, and we should all be appalled by that truth.

Really, what I don't understand is why gun enthusiasts aren't more outraged that something they love is more perverted, and why the NRA isn't leading the charge for stricter gun laws.  Because, let me tell you, as a lifelong comic-book and Batman enthusiast, I'm pretty devastated right now.  It seems to me an inescapable conclusion that something I love contributed directly to the death of twelve people.

Brutal,violent imagery has become such an accepted part of our culture that we barely even blink any more.  My wife, in talking about this last night, told me that, as a comic book novice, the first time she read Preacher she could barely make it through the book, so appalled was she by the gratuitous violence.  Then, upon rereading it two years later, she barely noticed.  In just two years, she'd become almost completely desensitized to the violence.  I can't imagine what a lifetime of it has done to me.  But I'm not so desensitized yet to not be aware that comics have become far more brutal over the last twenty years, and that I wonder what exactly goes on in the heads of writers like Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and Robert Kirkman that allows them to devise such elaborate depictions of death and mutilation.  It makes me sad that I have to be very careful of what comics I leave laying around my home, lest my four year old daughter pick up, say, the issue of Teen Titans where a beloved pet turns out to be a beast from Hell and brutally, graphically murders his owners.

I do not advocate censorship, nor do I believe a return to the Comics Code Authority is in order, but I do think that all of us that create, consume and enjoy Geek culture need to seriously evaluate how it has evolved.  It's not enough to say "that guy was sick; I enjoy violence, and I'm not going to shoot anyone, so I don't want it taken away or watered down"; any factor that may have contributed to a violent crime needs to be analyzed, not dismissed, certainly not for the sole purpose of keeping one's toys intact.

This post has been written in haste, and I freely admit that it comes from a place of emotion.  I will not presume that my opinions expressed herein will be popular, or are completely rational, but right now I'm just sick and tired of watching people die needlessly and saying nothing.  I welcome any rational, reasonable disagreements.

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