From the Hip

by Dan Simpson

I knew when I began this blog, with its stated purpose of examining what it means to live wide awake, that politics would probably worm their way into these pages from time to time. Now that they’ve shown up, I feel a little apologetic for letting them in. I guess that’s because so many people already give them a lot of space, which makes me wonder what the point is of one more person saying something that has already been said. Then I remember that multiple silences aren’t necessarily better.

What I want to talk about is irrational thinking, if you will permit me that oxymoron. Not only irrational thinking, but intentionally irrational arguments, arguments intended to manipulate people’s fears.

(Full Disclosure: I am pleased to call myself a liberal, even though that word has problematic meanings, and even though I don’t agree with all “liberal” positions. Please read on, though, even if that puts you off; I’m open to thoughtful comments and responses quite different from mine.)

You don’t need me to recount all of the massacres, mostly carried out by lone gunmen, we have endured in the past few years. Finally, they have raised enough concern that we, as a nation, have been able to sustain a discussion about guns and violence for longer than the news cycle usually allows. We’ve kept alive the questions about screening, mental illness, background checks, magazine capacity, and the types of guns that should be available to the general citizenry.

(One question I haven’t heard people asking much is why it’s men who carry out these mass killings? Why does that question scare us?)

One reason we have trouble asking and resolving these questions is that our country is built on conflicting principles. We love that we’re a democracy. Democracy means we’ve made the agreement that, even if the other side wins and we believe the other side to be frighteningly wrong, we will abide by the “will of the people” and won’t seek to overturn the elected government by assassination or insurrection. But no principle characterizes the American spirit more than independence and individual freedom. Those ruled by this principle seek to limit the role of government to little more than being able to declare war and collect the funds to support it.

To complicate matters, capitalism, the economic system we embrace as a country, justifies the freedom of an individual person or corporation to make as much profit as possible in the marketplace, even if, in the end, doing so will not serve the general good. This can put the principles of capitalism at odds with democracy.

What do you do, then, with an organization like the National Rifle Association, whose laissez-faire attitude toward guns fits hand-in-glove with the agenda of those who stand to make money by selling guns, money which can then be funnelled into lobbying for the NRA? I don’t know that we should spend much time worrying what to do with the NRA. They don’t make the laws of this land. In effect, we the people indirectly make the laws by voting our senators and representatives in or out. Last week, I received a call from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, reaching out with one hand to thank me for past contributions and with the other to ask for more. They hit me at a bad time, however. I had just heard how Harry Reid, U.S. senator from Nevada, a fairly pro-gun state, was working behind the scenes to neutralize, or at least lessen the effectiveness of, gun control legislation due to come up before the Senate. I should have directed my ire and obstinacy toward the DSCC, but the DCC called first, so they got it. “I’m tired of people who hope we’ll settle for ‘Republican Lite’ when it comes to gun control,” I said. “I’m tired of being nickeled and dimed to support people who will take such irrational positions in a country where the Supreme Court claims that corporations are individuals and therefore can make unlimited contributions to political campaigns, thus controlling our so-called democracy. I think I’d rather support people who will take strong, rational stands, even if they lose,” I said. “Maybe we just have to put common sense thinking out there, let people take this country down another bad road (as in Iraq) and then wake up to rational thinking.”

And what do I consider irrational positions?

That any hunter needs to be able to fire fifteen shots without having to stop and reload.

That you need a military-style weapon in order to defend yourself.

That you should have the right to opt out of a background check when buying a gun.

That any new restriction on guns means you’re eventually going to lose your grandfather’s shotgun.

That we shouldn’t try measures that could protect the lives of innocent people, if it will make some gun owners feel bad, feel like criminals.

Imagine what it’s like to be the teacher who pushes two children to safety in a locked bathroom just before being blown away. Imagine what it will be like if you can’t go to the movies without wondering if some lunatic is in there with a gun he bought privately. Imagine, even, what it must be like to be a child who barely escaped having her six-year-old life ended like her friend’s was. We’re too smart a people to accept ridiculous arguments.

Honestly, I’m scared by any gun. That doesn’t mean I think I have the right to demand that you give up every gun you own, especially if you have no record of mental illness or criminal behavior. Yes, I’d much rather that you hunt deer with a bow and arrows, if you’re really in it for the sport, but I’m not gunning for complete control over you. Still, do you really need the right to a magazine with fifteen shots? Let’s say we compromised on a maximum of ten shots in a magazine. It just means that if the wrong person should get loose in a room full of children, the eleventh child would have a fighting chance when the shooter had to stop and reload. The fact that we might eventually be able to compromise on that and congratulate ourselves as a nation for doing so says a lot about just how out of whack our “thinking” has gotten.

Let’s not go to sleep. We’ve had more than enough wake-up calls already.