Tilting at Windmills

Since the school shooting in Connecticut last Friday, I’ve been struggling to express the thoughts and feelings sprinting around inside my head. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get them out in some way other than a simple, primal scream. Of horror; of despair; of desperation; of anger; of pretty much any heightened emotion a person could name. I’m torn between calling down curses on the NRA, mocking the ill-timed piety of the “don’t-worry-God-is-still-in-control” Facebook crowd, and crawling into a hole to die. However you look at it, I’m messed up. More than I remember being by this sort of thing in the past. And it’s not, sadly, like there’s no point of reference for that observation…

I don’t know why. I don’t have children of my own, so I can neither share nor really even understand that particular brand of suffering. It’s a bit late to claim a crisis of faith, so I can’t blame my reaction on the infamous “existential dilemma.” I’ve never, nor has anyone in my family ever, been threatened with gun violence (or really any kind of violence), so it’s not like I’ve got any post-traumatic skeletons in my closet. I really can’t explain it.

Maybe it’s that the last great gun massacre, the Dark Knight tragedy in Colorado, is only a few short months in the rearview. Maybe it’s the fact that the terrifying novelty of a Columbine or a Jonesboro has given way to an almost apathetic resignation–a non-reaction, if you will. We’ve been desensitized by senseless violence. We barely even register surprise anymore when these headlines jump from the nightly newscast. They used to frighten us, shock us; now, we bat an eyelid (maybe) and go back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Maybe it’s the complete refusal to acknowledge that we’ve got a problem on our hands (and in our hands). I’ve seen so much denial in the past four days that I can barely remember what recognition looks like. Maybe it’s the self-righteousness with which many have insisted that now’s not the time to talk about it. Too soon. Tell that to the newly diagnosed cancer patient. “It’s too soon to talk about treatment options. We’ll revisit the issue in a few weeks, when things have calmed down…”

Maybe it’s that gun violence seems to be the only instance in life in which the proposed solution to a problem is more of the problem. We don’t fight termites by releasing more termites into our walls. We don’t deal with drunk driving by putting more drunks behind the wheel in the hopes they’ll all take each other out. But guns? How do we solve the problem of gun violence? MORE GUNS.

Of course, that solution makes perfect sense, because, after all, “guns aren’t the problem.” And if “guns aren’t the problem,” then by golly, they must be the solution. So don’t disarm the bad guy. Instead, arm everybody else. ‘Cause friendly fire never killed anyone…

Now, I understand that trying to stem the tide of gun violence by legislating against firearms is the rough equivalent of attempting to eliminate drunk driving by banning cars. I also understand that, for a gun to kill someone, someone has to use it. Moreover, it’s hard to argue with the whole “laws don’t stop criminals” thing–it’s kind of their stock in trade. There is an extent to which all preventative measures in the case of gun violence will have to be reactive, not proactive. None of this, however, means we should just drop the subject, bury our heads in the sand, and insist that the 2nd Amendment trumps all.

(It is, by the way, possible to uphold the 2nd Amendment without believing folks should be able to go duck hunting with rocket launchers.)

We can insist that guns aren’t the problem until we’re blue in the face. We may actually be right; in fact, we probably are. But knowing what the problem isn’t gets us no closer to solving the problem, and since all other discussion seems to have been taken off the table, who knows if we ever will. If guns are not the problem, what is the problem?

Could it be that our motto has become: You can’t hurt me if I hurt you first? Fortune favors the fastest? I don’t care what happens to anyone else in the room as long as nothing happens to me? We can’t beat it, so we might as well join it?

This is a volatile subject, and it must be handled with care (much like the shotgun out in the garage). But we have to admit that, ultimately, WE are the problem, at least insofar as we stand in the way of a solution. WE are the problem, in that we place so high a value on our own freedoms that we’re willing to place price-tags on other people’s heads.

The heart of democracy ISN’T being able to do whatever we want; the heart of democracy is being free to do whatever we want…and choosing not to, for the good of others. Until we realize that little nugget of wisdom, we won’t be solving anything anytime soon.

And we’ll be writing stuff like this about things like this. Over and over again…