Look at my face!!!

It’s important to me that you be able to connect this face with the following words, because this is a moment in which anonymity only serves to make things worse.

By now you’ve most of you probably heard about the school shooting in Oregon yesterday. Once again, I’m faced with the undeniable need to say…something…don’t know what. I’m losing the will to write about this stuff, since it’s obvious that the right people are not listening.

I could write another poem, with language well-couched and mostly unintelligible, but let’s face it: the ones who need to understand don’t generally devote enough energy to the situation to ferret out my meaning (whatever that may be).

I could be level-headed and politic, but we all know how far that sort of thing gets us these days, and in any case I don’t have the intestinal fortitude for it this morning. I don’t feel level-headed; none of us should.

So, follow the bouncing goddamn ball.

Did the shooter target Christians? Who the hell cares?! Beyond being one more excuse for Christians in this country to go on about imaginary persecution, this redirect elbows out the more important point: he targeted people, human beings, all of whom are and were of great value regardless of their religious inclinations. So let’s ask the question that matters, okay?

Do guns kill people? Or do people kill people? Or are we just making up stupid questions and mincing meaningless words to keep from having to address the real problem? Innocent people are dying, and we’d rather ignore that than risk having some of our toys taken away.

Are these shootings down to mental illness? Sure, some of them. Not unlike the NRA party line. But the fact remains that an environment in which the mentally unstable may so easily obtain what in cases like these can only be called weapons of mass destruction relegates the shooter’s mental state to a position of secondary concern. An insane system obviates the sanity of the individual: whether I am nuts or not doesn’t matter; only whether I happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong freaking time.

If you are one of those who values the 2nd Amendment over the lives it has taken and will continue to take, I say this with all the vehemence I can muster: Screw you. It’s not about you. So get over yourself, stop inventing excuses for your own selfishness, and get it through your heads that these “fun guns” you crave were created to kill. Even when they’re used for protection.

We inhabit a cycle of unending and ever-increasing interpersonal violence. It’s not because of The Fall or original sin. It’s not because of mental instability or video games or hip hop and heavy metal. It’s because we refuse to pull our thumbs out and take even the most minimal of actions. It’s because the majority of us, after being briefly outraged, turn a blind eye and wait for the next one to happen.

True, this is a problem that isn’t going away any time soon, but that’s only because we’re too busy sitting the fence (or shooting at it) to do anything about it.

So this is on us. Again.

And again. And again. And again. And…

Toys Don’t Kill People. People with Toys Kill People.

You’ll shoot your eye out!

– Mother Parker

As I was getting ready to leave for work this morning, I was accosted by my television, which told me that Uncle Sam wants me to HAVE A GUN!

This commercial, produced by a local Waco store called (I’m not making this up) Fun Guns, has apparently launched a campaign that is in some way tax refund-related. Thus the Uncle Sam reference. But it isn’t the mechanics of the thing that concerns me. It’s the message it sends about guns and the part they play in American society.

Anytime we attempt to start a conversation about gun control, everything goes sideways. You’ve all had this discussion, from one side or the other: Either A) the government wants to take our guns so we can’t defend ourselves when they come for us, or B) if the government takes my guns, I won’t be able to defend my family from the bad guys. In both cases, the argument boils down to one idea: protection.

I call bullshit.

The store’s name (Fun Guns) is revealing enough. But the commercial’s tagline wraps everything up in a nice, neat, terrifying little bow. Uncle Sam wants you to “get you some!” To the sound of automatic weapons fire.

Come on, folks! All I’m asking for is a little rhetorical honesty. These people don’t want protection. They want toys.

This attitude toward firearms is not manly. It’s moronic. Let’s allow that guns are necessary tools, and that hunting and even home defense are legitimate reasons for owning them. Even if that is the case, in what universe is it remotely responsible to treat potentially deadly objects in the same way one might treat a frozen daiquiri on Bourbon Street during spring break?

It’s not a matter of gun control; it’s a matter of self-control. I find it highly suggestive that even as we demand parental guidance stickers on violent video games, we hawk real-life weapons as if they were stocking-stuffers. By all means, teach little Sally to hunt. But does the pink bedazzled deer rifle really send the message you’re after?

Remember, folks: It’s all fun and games until somebody shoots his eye out…

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…