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…

The Human Me

Writers who wish to do more than bear witness to human suffering or add to the overburden of entertainment have a responsibility to advocate for justice, humility, and compassion.

– Alison Hawthorne Deming

Recently, a friend of mine slapped me upside the head. Not literally, of course, and not intentionally; figuratively only, and in a good way, a necessary way. She posted the above quote on her blog’s Facebook page. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. I went to bed thinking about it; I got up thinking about it. I’m still thinking about it.

There is so much truth in that short little statement that I have no idea how to begin to unpack it. What exactly am I up to here?

As a writer and a human being, I am under a dual obligation, both to tell the truth and to be the truth. And it’s that second one that gets me. It’s so easy to take a bird’s-eye view when I’m sitting at my keyboard, communing with a lifeless monitor; so easy to expound upon the errors of others and lay out a carefully-crafted philosophy for living as a corrective to the world’s ills. But if I put down the message along with the pen, if I follow pontification with prevarication, then my work becomes all plot and no action: my life is, to quote the Bard, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Moreover, to act in the moment as the moment demands (one of my favorite Zen teachings, and one that challenges me every time I attempt to live it) is more difficult, more threatening, than we often imagine. True spontaneity is a rare gift; it is also the essence of authentic living; it is also usually just beyond my grasp. To be truly spontaneous is to respond to the exigencies of the moment simply because they are there, thoughtlessly, not in the sense of acting carelessly, but in the sense that action follows opportunity naturally, as inhalation follows exhalation. And for me, anyway, that sort of open response to unfolding circumstance is much more easily said than done.

I want to know how to marry deed to word. I want to be that finished product, The Compleat Writer, that Alison Hawthorne Deming references in her quote. But how to do such a thing? Will Wheaties-eating do the trick? Is it enough to say what needs to be said and hope to hell someone’s listening? More importantly, am I listening? Am I the same guy, out there in real life, that I am when I’m all crammed into this blog post?

Writing humanity is a difficult task: character development, authentic dialogue, the ability to tap into the core of human emotion–all these things require great skill in the best of writers. But humanity in writing is another thing altogether: I can’t afford to be just another one of my own characters, and my dialogue can’t get by just sounding real. I have to be willing to let others tap those human emotions right out of me; I have to bleed so they can see it; the ink and the sweat must mix.

This is a responsibility I cannot ignore. It is also one I all too often pass over unthinking. So thank you, my friend, for the wake-up call. I needed that…

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