I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look of utter terror on my mom’s face when she told me about finding a gun in the recalcitrant brother’s car. We had known that things were bad–he’d been missing for about six weeks before he showed up at my apartment with everything he had (including my future sister-in-law) packed in his rusted out Camero looking to hide there for a few days because “his friends were trying to kill him.”
I’m pretty sure that, once they’re trying to kill you, they aren’t your friends anymore, but what the fuck do I know? Maybe things work differently in Georgia.
Anyway, they couldn’t stay with me, so I gave them all the food we had in the house (a half a loaf of bread, some American cheese, and four or five Mountain Dews) and all the money I had in the bank ($53) and sent them north to my parents.
It was a very scary time. We were all, on the one hand, so fucking happy to have him back. If you’ve never spent days which stretch into weeks wondering if someone you love is alive or dead and not being able to find him or find out any information about him, be exceedingly grateful. When he pulled up at my house, he looked like hell and he smelled like something chemical was burning. I was relieved anyway.
On the other hand, he smelled like something chemical burning all the time and had this angry unbalanced woman with him, supposedly people were trying to kill him, and he was armed.
I think the reason the gun crystallized how out of control the situation was is that no one in my family owns one. We don’t hunt. We aren’t particularly concerned about our safety. And, it seems like just one more thing you have to always keep track of in the back of your mind, so that the kids don’t get a hold of it. Plus, we’re a bunch of hippy-dippy liberals who are more concerned about religious freedoms and freedom of speech.
So, guns scare me. Not just because people kill each other with them, but because the presence of one in my life means that things have gone wildly out of control.
For that reason, I’ll admit, I haven’t really given two shits about whether people can buy guns or not.
But it nags at me that I believe in and depend on so much of what is enshrined in and extrapolated from the First Amendment and yet would be fine with the absence of the Second. That seems like an inherently hypocritic position. So, I’m determined to think this through.
First, I think “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” is horseshit. Obviously, people kill people, but people kill people with guns. But do we only kill each other with guns? No, obviously we stab each other and beat each other and poison each other. We’re violent.
But what about the school shooting “epidemic”? Would tougher gun laws prevent people from shooting up schools? Perhaps. Would it prevent people from taking their anger out on schools? My grandma, born in 1917, was named after a girl who died when a farmer, angry about having to fund public education, blew up her school with her in it.* Again, we’re violent and always have been.
Do tougher gun laws really protect the public? Here, I have no idea. It seems like criminals have guns no matter what and that once you’ve decided to break the law, you’re not going to say to yourself “Oh, I’m going to rob the 7-11, but given my choice between this handgun and this Uzi, I’ll use the handgun because I have a permit for it.”
This brings me to an interesting place. Even though you could make a case for there being a great divide between folks who champion the First Amendment and those who champion the Second, are they really in opposition?
I don’t want to get into what each amendment means legally. I want to get at what they mean symbolically.
We talk about the First Amendment, those of us who adore it, as if it is so important because it seems to do for our soul** what the Fourth does for our body, give us security in our persons, not physically, though, but intellectually. Thanks to the First Amendment, the government cannot force you to think or believe or say anything.
This is interesting. Clearly, we believe that this is the important battleground for freedom–our interior space. Maybe because we see that there are already so many ways that the government regulates our exterior space, we demand this one sanctuary from the interference of the government. This is the fragile space that must be protected–the mind.
Obviously, I’m not a “right to bear arms” person, so I don’t know what’s going on with them. But I’m going to make a guess. I suspect that gun’s rights people don’t feel that the most important struggle between the government and the individual is in the individual’s head. That, I suspect, for them, is too close. If you’re worried about the government somehow “tainting” your interior space, you are either dumb for not defending yourself from the reach of the government before that, or weak-willed for not being sure enough in your beliefs to hold them no matter what outside forces exert themselves.
No, I think they think the boundary between government and person should be drawn farther out than one’s skin.
And think of the things we say about each other, gun owners bashing us for not knowing enough when to shut up, for not being cognizant enough of the consequences of our intellectual work. We bash gun owners for not being cognizant of the scary consequences of gun ownership.
At this moment, I think I’ve come to grudgingly love the Second Amendment.
Here’s why: We are almost 300 million people with less and less in common. We’re not linked together by a common language, religion, or ethnicity. The human instinct, when trying to govern a large group of people with less and less in common, is to make order out of the chaos, to impose stringent laws that keep people in line. If people are doing something that frightens you, regulate it away.
But for the health of the country, this experiment in democracy, the framers of the Constitution chose another way: giving people the right to behave in ways that are inherently frightening to governing bodies and, often, other citizens, even me.
*It occurs to me that this story has a whiff of the apocryphal (hee, that should be the name of my dad’s biography “Whiff of the Apocryphal”). Were there even property taxes in 1917? Were they used to fund public schools? Hell if I know. But, I do know she was named after a girl who was murdered when her school exploded. Why it exploded has been the source of familial speculation.
**Or interior life or intellect or whatever. The shit that goes on in your mind. Your mindscape… is mindscape a word?