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Guns, In America

Over the last few days I have read a number of people commenting about guns, gun law, and violence.

A lot of it was similar to watching Salman Rushdie on twitter bait people who are pro-gun rights, which, while I love Rushdie dearly, seemed kind of childish. Emotions run high and etc, etc, but not a whole lot was said in the end.

Gun availability in America are excessive. That's my opinion as a foreigner, as someone who stood very recently in a Walmart and saw semi-automatic rifles on sale for four, five hundred dollars. You really don't need that kind of thing, but like everything else, once you have it, to take it away opens a series of doors that are linked to a series of other concepts, many of them linking back to a question of a freedom of expression. That part of the question is often ignored by the people I know because, as Bill Hicks once said, "There's no connection between not owning a gun and not shooting someone with it." Which, of course, is true: if you don't own a gun, you don't shoot it. But that argument is good elsewhere and on the other side of left, as well. After all, if you don't read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughter House Five you can't at all think that war is bad. And if you don't read Darwin, you don't know that evolution is an important part of how we have come to be. And if you don't read about Climate Change, you'll never know about the things that we have to do to stop the world from dying.

Does that mean I'm for guns?

No.

I neither see guns as good, nor evil. They're simply objects.

What is problematic, however, is a society that feels it has to arm itself, that lives in fear of home invasions, of being attacked on the street, of being carjacked, of being violently beaten and raped, and which requires--requires, I repeat--for you to be armed and has a series of laws that ensures you can be.

That's the problem. I've spent time in tiny, rundown, hole in the wall gunshops and clean, bright ones, to rich and poor individuals, to elderly men and women with loaded guns in their drawers, to young people with them on themselves due to conceal and carry permits. I have listened to what I considered undesirable ways to use guns ("It blew a hole in the barn wall") and I listened to people who had strict gun safety rules. And none of that, really, is the problem--though we could probably all agree that we would like people to use guns in a responsible way if they have them, rather like we all like people to drive safely.

However, any conversation about guns, especially now, does not take into account any of this. The left make villains out of the right for wanting to be gun wielding maniacs, and the right make villains out of the left for taking away their rights, which neither helps nor furthers the argument, nor addresses what I consider the fundamental issues surrounding guns in America. That is the culture of fear, the culture of threat, and its prevalence in lower socio-economic States and communities. It does not seek to address the cultural need of a society that requires semi-automatic machine guns in their supermarket, or a law that allows them to sell firearms privately to men and women for whom it is impossible to background check. As my girlfriend said to be earlier today, Trayvon Martin was shot by a man who took a gun so he could go shopping in Target. There are lots of questions to be asked out of that case, many of them important, and one of them is, "In what kind of culture do you live where you need a gun to go to Target?"

Sadly, the shooting in Colorado is not a good example of why there should, or should not be gun laws. If a person is intent on their desire for harm, no amount of laws, policing, or well armed civilians are going to stop it. It is a tragedy, but beyond that, it doesn't lay claim to either side of the argument. Some people may not like that as a statement, and you're free to do so, just as some people will no doubt not like me linking gun ownership, or even gun rights, to the rights of science, literature, sexuality, or anything else. But that's kind of the point about the freedom of expression: you don't have to like it, you just have to tolerate it. You just have to respect individuals their right to make that choice, no matter how ill or well formed you believe it. If that is a particularly hard pill to swallow right now, that's fine, because it is.

But a proper gun debate will not begin in America until that basic step is taken. If you want to change the availability and accessibility of weapons--and I think America should--then you need to have organisations like the NRA on your side, and you need to have them speaking about socio-economic issues, cultural profiling, cultures of fear, and the negative impact that some gun laws are having on people and communities. And the NRA and those think similarly need to listen to independent, rigorous data. They need to have intelligent, cultural theorists talking to them, and those theorists can't just come from right wing think tanks. They need--and we all need--to understand that to hear something we don't like doesn't mean you should close down that voice.

Especially when that voice says that there is a problem with guns--their availability, their cultural importance--in America.