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Archive for June, 2022

I want us all to consider how gun rights supporters were coping after the Uvalde, Texas gun massacre.

I do this because those of us in anguish at those events knew we were going to face a horrible backlash in the days after. The gun rights crowd couldn’t share in the grief because they knew people were angry at them. So their despair had to turn into something else. Tantrums. Lies. Conspiracy theories.

You knew to watch for it. That you were going to hear a lot of lashing out. A lot of untruths. Gun fans would distract us by suggesting that immigrants were somehow the real problem behind an American gun tragedy. When that failed, they would blame mental health. When that didn’t work, I was fairly certain they would turn to another familiar ploy: and say the tragedy didn’t happen at all. That those smiling kids, now dead, never existed. After all, gun fans had denied the reality of worse massacres than this one. Why would they suddenly demonstrate sympathy for the pain of others?

Here’s the deeper psychological message those gun enthusiasts are trying to get across to you: “It’s not me,” they want you to know. “I’m a good person, so it’s got to be somebody else. It’s got to be other people. It’s got to be you!” In other words, you were hearing the responses of children.

There’s a reason for that. Many rock-ribbed gun rights supporters likely developed their attitudes about firearms as kids. They couldn’t think to fight back against their social conditioning at the time, so they have been forced to rationalize the beliefs now as adults … and yet still with a kid’s defenses.

I grew up in Oklahoma. I was taught to shoot when I was around 12, maybe younger. (I can’t remember because I never liked guns, though I wasn’t a bad shot). There were three firearms in my house when I was growing up, including a handgun. These were sometimes left out when kids were around. My late father indeed taught me to shoot, and the understanding was that he was placing trust in me, fostering in me a feeling of independence and facility and acceptance that my fate was in my own hands, which seems like a gift when you’re a child. It also seemed to jibe with some vague notion we all have of the Second Amendment of the Constitution and our freedom in nature. You can’t help but form a bond over that, no matter how questionable.

I don’t want this to be terribly confessional, so I’ll just say that I never saw a gun in my house ever used in a safe way. I saw guns used in unsafe, thoughtless ways several times. I believe now that somebody could have easily died in my house because the gun owner in my life was irresponsible.

So in whatever ways I felt beholden to my father for the psychological bedrock, that was undone when I became a truly independent, thinking person.

I’ve rarely seen any of my most intransigent gun-toting friends make that leap. They aren’t strong enough.

This is likely why gun fans couldn’t hear your cries of grief about what happened in Texas. You are trying in many cases to shred a bond with their fathers and mothers. They can’t handle that. They’ve been told that the way they were raised is good, that it’s based in strength and values and virtues and competence. That the things they believe won’t harm them and won’t harm anybody else and that in the aggregate what they are doing is for the common good. If they are still alive as of right now, they win the argument. It’s the 100-year-old smoker fallacy.

We all rationalize bad behavior that helps us (I have plastic in my house), but it’s another thing to eat tainted meat and say it’s good for you even as it’s making you sicker. Who does? Gun fans. Why? The bad meat temporarily makes them feel good in the face of fear. They fear strangers. They fear sudden events. The gun is sold as an antidote, even though guns increase the risk of harm for their owners and everybody else.

They will pretend this value system was arrived at through rigorous analysis. They have a couple of pro-gun studies (debunked ones) that validate their feelings. Since those studies’ “facts” can’t be proved, gun fans will invent hypotheses of their own, even call gun massacres hoaxes before they confront the reality that their “analysis” was wrong, that it wasn’t even analysis but retread, or that the people they vote for are backward and evil, and in fact that they hand weapons to psychotics to kill a lot of children mainly because of a desperate faith in their own failed folk wisdom. They simply promise that the guns are going to finally work at self-defense at some point in the future in ways that haven’t happened yet.

I knew instinctively when I was young that firearms were bad news, that they were useless if somebody else’s gun was already drawn on you or if bullets were already flying. I understood later on that most of the ways people imagine that they are going to defend themselves with a gun is by conceiving situations they can control. Even Chief Justice John Roberts made that mistake when he asked questions in a recent Supreme Court case, one in which an important New York gun law was struck down. Roberts imagined all the ways New York City’s residents were going to be safer when they were armed and they could shoot at targets he imagined would be as stationary as trees. The fact is, the theater of violence is a fast-moving one, and in most of the scenarios you conceive of in which you win, you aren’t actually a defender. Actually what you’re doing is called homicidal ideation. “I’ve got it all down in my head. I’m going to be fast with my gun when the slow-moving mugger walks toward me with a weapon. I’ve practiced shooting at a paper target.” This is the basic fallacy I’ve heard from every gun owner friend I’ve ever had. Every one. Smart and dumb, credentialed and not, young and old, male and female. There’s something appealing about imagining you are lighter and faster than physics would normally allow you to be. It’s the reason we watch Superman. And Dirty Harry. Both movies are fantasies, but only one is acknowledged as such.

No, you are not faster than a bullet. Your gun is not a reactive instrument. It kills people far away who don’t know they are going to die. That is what it was built for. It doesn’t shoot other bullets out of the air like Israel’s Iron Dome. You’d think gun fans, who pride themselves on how well they know the mechanics of their weapons, would understand that. And yet every argument I hear them make ends up being something like this: “If he pulls out a gun, I’ll just pull out a gun.”

I can’t tell you how many seemingly intelligent people I’ve met in the south who seem to think this is how life works.

What they are really protecting is a script they’ve heard and repeated since youth, protecting logical mistakes, not reading the actual science, which has not changed since I was a child: It says having a gun is less safe than not having one. Full stop. Handing guns out to everybody isn’t a successful crime deterrent strategy. It should actually be called “vote for the worst.”

And yet, the myth that a gun is a good thing, a loving thing, signs of a strong value system, a sign of patriotism, etc., persists because of movies and debunked studies that collapse like tissue paper upon any standards of rigor and reproducibility. Gun enthusiasts still think they are defending themselves 6,000 times a day even though there is no paper trail for these defenses, no database of 6,000 defenses a day in newspaper microfiche. They believe it because Dad would want them to, and pleasing dad is hard.

Humor me here and let’s imagine the parent-child bond another way: That having a father you fear teach you blunt, cruel lessons with a loud object that can destroy your internal organs is actually something that could cause you post-traumatic stress disorder. And that grown men repeating their father’s dogma about the goodness of gun ownership is just one more facet of a hostage crisis that they have carried into “adulthood.” They see themselves as Dirty Harry. Perhaps the rest of us might look upon them as Theon Greyjoy.

I admit, it’s very dicey using psychological arguments to attack political stances. The Soviets did it, after all. And I wouldn’t want far lefties trying to assign any “sicknesses” to my belief that Marxism is a pseudo-scientific mass murder plan.

But keep this in mind: It is almost a certainty that the horror that went down in Texas is going to be called fake news sooner or later. Or that gun fans will write off the response of normal people to the horror this way: “Democrats murder babies, so I can live with 19 elementary school kids being torn apart by bullets.” (This is an exaggerated version of an argument one of my friends once used. He’ll never have enough self-awareness for shame, unfortunately.)

What are these if not a child’s responses? And why would these adults act like children were it not for the huge amount of denial involved? A child’s denial. And what deep, deep thing are they denying?

I’m sorry to drag people’s parents into this, but I grew up in this mindset. I know where it comes from and whom it is they think they are protecting.

It’s important that we go there. Because gun fans are going to keep getting our children killed unless they are brought to some reflection about their actions and their values, or forced to explain why it’s so important that people die just so they can hold onto their fragile identities.

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