Well, This Blew My Mind

Over on Twitter, DMStevens sent me a link to this post by Timothy Burke. I’m just going to say up front that it’s really dense and a little on the academic side and the fact that he’s only got a few commenters and it’s already devolved into a gun control debate just goes to show that, even if it were in plainer language, what he’s attempting to get at isn’t something most people are ready to grapple with.

Still, I’m linking to it because I feel like he’s struggling toward something similar to what I’ve been struggling with. I do think that everyone who wants to buy a gun should have a background check–whether that means doing background checks at the point of sale or having a gun license that the government hands out that says you’ve been cleared to buy a gun. And I think that it should be very hard for people who use guns to commit crimes or to terrorize their loved ones in abusive situations to get their guns back once the courts have taken them away. I think you should HAVE to report a stolen gun. I’d like to see the laws we have regularly and consistently enforced. And that’s the gun reform I’m interested in. Everything else seems to be about just doing something symbolic to ward off bad things.

But the thing that terrifies me about the pro-gun people is that it’s clear that, for many of them, guns are magic. Something bad happens? Well, we should just arm teachers. Something else bad happens? Well, everyone should carry a gun in their cars. But when you try to get at what this would actually mean–how, for instance, are we going to train people to shoot children (which is what they’d have to be prepared to do to stop most school shooters)? Who’s going to help them process the fact that they’re trained to shoot children? Etc. I’ve already written about this. But also with guns in cars? How do you keep the gun securely in your car? What happens if it gets stolen? What steps can we take to make sure that children don’t get a hold of guns? All this stuff about what it really means, practically, to have such a powerful machine in the hands of everyone. And the resistance to talking about the practicality is just enormous.

And I don’t think it is within the gun community. I think they pretty regularly talk about this stuff among themselves. But when someone from outside wants to talk about it, it devolves, on both sides, into a kind of theological discussion. And I think this is what Burke is grappling with, too.

He says,

What I remember as we talked about the shooting in San Francisco is that he believed, ardently and sincerely, that if he had been in the San Francisco offices that day he would have found a way to stop the gunman. He would have tackled him or disarmed him or found a weapon. I don’t think this was empty chest-thumping on his part: he was serious and sincere and very willing to concede that maybe he would have died in the attempt. But he maintained that he would have tried.

My father was speaking the language of American witchcraft. And in saying this, I do not for one minute mock or dismiss him or his counterfactual imagining of that horrible day. Gian Luigi Ferri was one kind of American sorcerer, and my father was another. The two deep cultural ideas that we hold to that manifest around guns and gun control alike–and around many other things besides guns–are as follows: 1) that individual action focused by will, determination and clarity of intent can always directly produce specific outcomes and equally that individuals who fail to act when confronted by circumstances (including the actions of other individuals) are culpable for whatever happens next and 2) that there are single-variable abstract social forces that are responsible for seemingly recurrent events and that the proper establishing structure, rule or policy can cancel out the impact of that variable, if only we can figure out which one is the right one.

The whole post is so good, but, if you’re not going to read the whole thing, just ruminate on those two interconnected ideas. Because, wow, holy shit.

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3 thoughts on “Well, This Blew My Mind

  1. I was thinking about similar ideas today, because of the police shootings in California. What is inevitably missing in any “a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun” discussion is acknowledgement of the profound advantage held by the person who starts shooting first. That advantage is why armed policemen still die during traffic stops, and armed soldiers still die from sniper attacks.

    The first one to shoot wins.

  2. There’s much profound in what the guy’s raising, but then, there’s also this: Believing precise handling of, say, the prescribed bird feathers in the prescribed way at the right moment will lead to ill or fine fortune for a selected loved one or enemy might or might not work, when tested. Believing that school guards, the clinically insane, your family, the unborn, drunks, your friends and enemies, if armed with something somewhere between a slingshot and a low-yield nuclear weapon will make your and yours effectively safe might or might not work, when tested.
    But if I take out my loaded and well-tended 44, aim it at your cranium, and fire repeatedly, you will fall, bleed and die, and that has been tested–too often. Whether, when, and how I can do that, scott free, are best not be left entirely up to me. There needs to be some socially-imposed regulation there, and we are all, from the South of Africa to even Middle Tennessee, capable of rational, adult decisions on what those should be. And we–see, a “we” exists; we can test that, too– don’t have to let the spell-casting NRA suggest that we’re indulging in magical thinking by proposing that regulation, that we mean that all gun-related evil will disappear, and all with ill intent will heed the legal consequences. Murder laws don’t make murder disappear, either, and we’ve noticed that, too. But we’d be remiss not to do what we can, and there are things we can do.

  3. This blew my mind too, putting words to something I have always felt but never been able to express! It is an explanation, rather than observation, of the black-and-white thinking that is so pervasive in our culture.

    I can see how those two points apply to almost everything in our national discourse today! For example, abortion: 1) women lack the clarity of will to keep their legs together to not be sluts, to prevent themselves from getting raped, and to accept the consequences of their (sexual) actions, and I (the white man) would have that kind of willpower if I were a woman; and 2) banning abortion will solve the problem.

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