Let's Talk About Guns, Baby!

Something odd happened on Valentine's Day. I went out to dinner with Michael at IHOP. Shut up, I love IHOP. Anyway, despite the restaurant being nearly empty the hostess kept seating people all around us. This meant that they tended to become part of our conversation when they spoke too loudly.

This septuagenarian couple decided it would be a great idea to hold forth on the horrible mass shooting incident in Florida. Armed with Fox News talking points they loudly agreed with each other that teachers should be armed, the shooter was an "illegal" and probably Mexican, liberals are to blame because they hate guns.

At one point the woman said loudly, "Those liberals will be whining that it's all about the guns." Something happened that has never happened before. My brain did a skid and I felt my head snap around. Then I heard my mouth open and say "It IS the fucking guns you fucking moron!"

Wait, what? My reserve does not allow me to really speak to strangers much less call them out in public. But there it was. The woman then kept mumbling that guns don't kill people because they don't have "arms or legs." No, but they have some pretty damn lethal bullets.

I'm so sick of this argument that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." On the face of it, I agree that guns unloaded, sitting in a gun safe, with a trigger lock do not tend to kill people. However, guns not in that particular state of existence kill a whole lot of people.

Yet, even when we try to do something about the people who kill people we are thwarted. The gun violence apologists like to tell us it's all about crazy people doing crazy things. Yet, our Congress overturned a rule keeping guns out of the hands of mentally ill people who have been deemed too unstable to even handle their own finances! What is the reason for this? According to a comment I saw on Facebook today it's because we don't want the "government" deciding who is too incapacitated to own a weapon. Well, then, who is going to do it? Are we going to have roving bands of private psychiatrists?

Every argument that the gun lobby and their sycophants make is not designed to address the problem at all. They are all smokescreens that are so ingrained in opposition to sane and reasonable reform people like my accidental dining companions regurgitate them without any real thought.

Ed Kilgore argues in a piece on the New Yorker website that perhaps the NRA and their flood of cash and threats is not the real the culprit in this paralysis we face about guns. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is the outsized influence of rural America.
"In other words, the partisanship and gridlock that characterize Washington on hot-button issues are not primarily the product of vote-selling to lobbyists or the zest for combat among professional activists, though these factors contribute to the toxic atmosphere. Underlying it all are real differences in outlook between different parts of the country, made more important by the distinct institutional features of a constitutional system designed to protect the interests of small, largely nonmetropolitan states." - Ed Kilgore
Could it be that my brethren in the rural south are more to blame than the craven lobbyists and talking heads of the NRA?

I'll admit I am out of touch with rural America these days. I live in a city and while Arizona loves its guns and has a high tolerance for mass shootings somehow guns don't seem quite as ubiquitous. When I was growing up the biggest gun anyone had was a good shotgun or lever action rifle for deer hunting. There was nothing like an assault rifle. So what changed?
"It may seem counterintuitive for a tool linked to so much tragedy and heartbreak to remain so popular, but a 2014 study by the Violence Policy Center found that marketing plays a significant role. In ad campaigns and catalogues, the industry communicates the masculinity and patriotism an AR-15 style rifle bestows upon its owner. With words like "freedom" and "protection," and images of square-jawed commandos in tactical gear, the ads also play up the gun's military roots and ability to "neutralize" security threats.

The gun industry even plays into users' video-game fantasies, an indication that -- similar to the epidemic of mass shootings that don't seem to be going away -- the AR-15 will be around as long as the demand, and profits, remain high. And the gun industry, which recommends the AR-15 model as a starter weapon for young riflemen, is now focused on cultivating the next generation of consumers." - US News & World Report 
That certainly makes sense. In my youth, the "starter gun" was usually a .22 bolt action. Today, it's an assault rifle and if you really want your boy to be a man - give him a bump stock to make it a legal automatic. Yet, the memes put forth by rural voters and assault rifle aficionados still try to make the case that a .22 bolt action equals an AR-15 with a bump stock. You've probably seen it on Facebook: When I was in high school every truck had a gun rack with a gun in the parking lot. What changed?

Well, first I can assure you they had the gun rack but not the guns. I went to a rural high school and a lot of the guys went hunting before school during deer season. They didn't bring their guns to school because that was illegal back then. They also didn't have assault rifles. At most, they'd have maybe a Winchester with a magazine of fewer than 5 rounds.

I get it. Assault rifles are fun to shoot. I remember shooting an Uzi on full automatic at an event for Ellet Brothers, a sporting goods company where my sister worked. I was maybe 12 or 13 at the time and it was really cool. I mean really cool. But these were not sold to the general public back then. It was just something for the employees to do at this event. Did I need to own one? No, not unless I was joining the Symbionese Liberation Front with Patty Hearst.

While the advertising pull seems to be geared to rural Americans I think there is one group we're leaving out of the "rural vs. city" debate - veterans. I worked with a physician who is a veteran. He is also former law enforcement from what I understand. He's very much a fan of the right wing and thinks Sean Hannity is the best thing since sliced bread.

An example of the hypermasculinity gun manufacturers
advertise playing on the sexual insecurity of rural males.
He also has a major collection of assault rifles. On more than one occasion he would take time out of his busy day to make calls on gun deals. One day he spent the majority of the day tracking down some automatic weapon he had used in the military and he just had to have in his personal arsenal. I'll admit, it gave me the creeps. Don't get me wrong, he's a perfectly nice guy and I really like him and enjoyed working with him. But why on earth did he need so many guns and so many assault rifles (some which I got the impression were modified for fully automatic)? The fact that he bought into so many conspiracy theories about the government, liberal politicians, and even healthcare was enough to give me pause.

While writing this I looked for some hard data on our military and right-wing paranoia. The numbers are fleeting and nothing solid enough to hang your hat on. But the general consensus seems to be that our military takes in young people on one end and spits our very, very conservative veterans on the other end. Some make the point that maybe these kids go in leaning right and feeling paranoid and the culture of our military just turns that up to 11. Hard to say. But what seems to be true is that upon leaving many of these veterans retain their love of those very powerful and destructive weapons.

So what do we do? Hell if I know. It appears that the gun industry in this country, nearly completely unregulated and in cahoots with the National Rifle Association has created a near perfect storm of gun porn. They have perverted rural Americans traditional ideas about responsible gun ownership, tapped into racism, paranoia and, yes even the sexiness of these weapons to make them the new normal. Now we have a rural community of assault rifle fetishists who define their masculinity by how many rounds a minute their gun can fire and because of our bizarre legislative makeup and dependant gerrymandering they get to make the rules for all of us.

Maybe the genie is out of the bottle and we can't put it back. I hope we can for all our sakes. In the meantime may I suggest you sign up for a field medicine course? Chances are you may be in a situation to need it at the next mass shooting coming soon to a public school, college or shopping center near you.