Guns and Words, and Words About Guns…

February 19, 2012

You know it’s time to vote for a new president when Facebook is overrun with political banter. Statuses, pictures, posts, articles, videos, and other forms of cyber-soapboxing flood my newsfeed, stretching from the left to right. Pro-life, pro-choice, homophobes, gay rights, small government, big government, healthcare this, healthcare that, tax the rich, lockup the poor…oh, and yes, guns, guns, guns. Many Americans, especially Southerners, love their Second Amendment Right to Bear arms, and some take it very seriously.

Not this kind of bear arms.

Growing up in the American South I was exposed to my fair share of guns as a kid. Back then I thought they were cool. My neighbor and I were always building forts in the backyard and shooting imaginary enemies with plastic guns. My Great Uncle was an FBI agent so he would bring special edition, FBI issued guns on family vacation and let me shoot them; couldn’t get much cooler to a kid like me. My grandpa had an old GMC Jimmy that he would drive out to his “Lake Land”, and he velcroed  a sawed-off shotgun to the dashboard. Talk about Southern swag.

As a teenager one of my good friends had a bunch of guns, and we would always go out and shoot them. We also made homemade bombs, but that’s another story for another day. Around that same time my fourteen-year-old neighbor took his own life with a shotgun. It was devastating for this small town, to say the least. To this very day my eyes get teary if I think about it for too long. At the time I didn’t blame the presence of a legally owned gun. I blamed Kurt Cobain.

It’s easy to shift the blame, to avoid painful feelings, when someone’s life is taken by a gun that was meant to protect the family, most especially if it is a young person’s life; Kurt Cobain, video games, Slipknot, rap music, movies, anything that takes away from the fact that the gun was readily there and available for use. However, no matter how we spin it, guns are used to take life; that is their sole purpose. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that The majority of gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides, with 17,352 (55.6%) of the total 31,224 firearm-related deaths in 2007 due to suicide. That’s sobering.

Of course, nonfatal gun accidents also happen. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, there were 52,447 deliberate and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries in the United States during 2000. Also pretty crazy. Tons of Americans get maimed and killed by guns every year. But the Second Amendment supporters adamantly swear that guns are not only a right, but a necessity; mostly for three things: hunting, to protect the family, and to be ready to rise up against the government.

Ok, I get the hunting one. Now, with all the guns I’ve fired, the only things I’ve ever shot were tin cans and impromptu targets. I’ve never been hunting. The only thing I’ve done that’s even close to hunting was when I was about eleven. I got a new BB Gun, and I decided I was going to go out and “hunt me a squirrel”. I stalked the neighborhood varmints, and eventually got one in my sight. I carefully aimed and fired my weapon. The little BB went flying through the air and BOOM! My first shot connected with the squirrel’s skull.

My squirrel victim immediately began convulsing and jumped from the telephone pole it was on to the electrical wires. It twitched, and flipped, and freaked out as it tried to run across the wire, until it jumped to a tree, bounced off, and fell to the ground. It laid there for a few seconds, twitched some more, convulsed a lot more, and then jumped up, running off in a twitchy manner. I felt so bad, and so guilty. If I’m honest, I almost cried. So, yep! That was the end of my hunting career. But I know that many people love hunting, and like I said, I get it. I’m not against it. It’s just not for me.

That brings me to the “protecting the family” argument. Valuing family as I do, I also “get” this one. I don’t necessarily agree with the argument though. Many illegally-owned guns are guns that were stolen from legal gun-owners’ homes. I’m not saying that’s right, or ok, but it’s true. Also, in my life, I have heard far more stories of people (and their family members) being injured or killed by their own guns, than I have about people who have been able to protect their families with them. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying I haven’t heard many, if any, of those stories.

Living in South Africa for ten years, especially doing the work I did (working with youth at risk), I was confronted with violence of different forms on a daily basis. Guns were one of those forms. I’ve had guns held to my head. I’ve driven through gunfire. I’ve heard gunshots from my home. I’ve taken a gun out of a cop’s hand when he was misusing it, abusing a child. I’ve seen gangsters joke around and play with loaded guns. I’ve also lost a great deal of people who I cared a great deal about to gun violence, and the vast majority of them were kids. And all of those deaths were brought by illegally owned guns; illegally owned guns that were meant to be in the hands of a legal gun owner. For a Second Amendment advocate, this may be even more evidence as to why they need a gun to protect their family. But for me, the more guns that are out there, the more people die, period.

Then we have the “we need guns to protect ourselves from the government or rise up against it” argument. Ok, this is the one I get the least. It made sense when America was first colonized, and the average man wore a wig; when the biggest weapon was a cannon, and bullets were little balls and it took a couple of minutes to reload a gun. But, in these modern-day times, with all due respect, do people really and truly believe they are going to be able to rise up against the government with handguns, and/or even legally owned automatic weapons? The government has tanks, and planes, and helicopters, and missiles, and nuclear weapons. So yeah, even with a barn full of guns, unfortunately, if we were to have to protect ourselves from the government, I’m pretty sure we’d be screwed…like, overwhelmingly so.

I know those people disagree with me. That’s ok. My main point is this, I hate guns. I really, really do. And these are all just my views. I don’t expect you to believe them with me, and I’m not trying to convince you to either. I’m just sharing them. The amendment I value more than the Second Amendment is the First Amendment: the freedom of speech. I think words are much more powerful than guns. Because when all is said in done, it is words that start wars and bring peace. Some of the most revolutionary people of our time used non-violence and words to combat violence they were confronted with; ironically, many of those very people’s lives were taken by guns.

But what is more powerful? The fact that someone, arrogant enough to believe that they have the right to take life they cannot create nor give back, is able to pull a trigger, from a distance, and kill a person? Or the fact that the words of that murdered person will forever live on, beyond their grave, and continue to speak powerfully and bring life, even after death? I would go with the latter of the two. Sure, guns have been used to protect life, but they cannot bring it, or give it back. And although misused words can bring death, words used in the right way, for the good, can literally shape, form and bring life into any situation, even if the person who speak’s them is killed by a bullet to the head. So yeah, paper beats rock, rock beats scissors, word beats gun.

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Crime Does Not Perpetuate Racism. Racism Perpetuates Racism.

May 26, 2010

Last night’s Sidewalk Talk show topic was racism. It’s quite a heated topic in South Africa at the moment, with recent events stroking the headlines, but in general, I find many South Africans do not want to speak about racism anymore. They feel it’s a tired and worn out topic. They want to “move on, forget the past”. They don’t feel it is necessary to speak about racism anymore because we are a “rainbow nation” in a “new democracy” and racism is “no longer a problem”. But then (say for instance) a political leader gets up and sings a song about killing a white guy, and then a famous racist white guy actually gets killed… you see those very same people, who said racism is “no big deal” totally freak out; the equivalent of hitting a hornets nest with a baseball bat.

You see clips of people on the news, black people lined up on one side with white people on the other, shouting, screaming, threatening, trying to get at one another, smacking and hitting each other if they get close enough. “It’s just better if we live separate! Let them stay that side, and we will stay on this side!” one white girl said, quite frustrated. These feelings and emotions, to that degree, cannot be caused by one event. No, no! Those feelings and emotions are there, maybe only appearing in subtle ways, or coming out in the safety of same-race-company, but they are there. These type of events don’t cause these feelings and emotions; they merely stir them up.

And that’s why it’s important to keep the dialogue about racism going, whether we feel like talking about it or not. And that’s why I did a show about it last night.

So… last night on the show there was quite a bit of input from the listeners, which I am always happy about. One listener sent a text message saying that he felt crime perpetuates racism. I both partially agree and strongly disagree with his statement. The part of me that partially agrees, sees that people allow crime to perpetuate racism. I have personally spoken to several white people, just after they or someone they know has been a victim of crime (the perpetrator being black or colored), and the racist things that came out of the white people’s mouths after that experience were totally mind blowing to me.

They even make excuses and say things like, “I am not normally racist but…” with a terribly racist statement to follow. But the thing, maybe they don’t realize, is those feelings (about the other race) were already there. Maybe they were hiding, or not even known to the person, but they were there. And that negative experience just stirred them up and brought them to the surface.

But that person was already racist, and that situation merely validated feelings they already had, and put them deeper into their mindset, and more outward with their opinion. Because frankly, when it really comes down to it, who cares what color the person was that robbed you?! A stolen laptop is a stolen laptop, no matter if it was stolen by an albino Nigerian midget, or a white person who stained his skin dark brown using coffee grounds. The laptop is still gone, and you will more than likely not get it back.

Some (white) people come with the rebuttal that most crime is done by coloured and black people. Fair enough, most crime is also done by men, but you rarely hear a lady talking bad about men all of the sudden after being robbed by a man. And we know women don’t need an excuse to speak poorly about men! And yes, if we look at the South African history, and the current social issues that are directly linked to the past, and the lack of true repatriation that has occurred, then yes, let’s talk about the link of race and crime, but I guarantee you the conversation will not go the direction you (white person with that particular rebuttal) would want it to go.

So yeah, when the listener, and other people say that crime perpetuates racism, I hear what they are saying, but I actually strongly disagree, and tend to even think that statement in itself is slightly racist. Crime does not perpetuate racism unless you allow the race of the victim and/or perpetrator come into play, and unless it is a race-based crime, the race of either person is insignificant. Crime does not perpetuate racism. Racism perpetuates racism.