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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I got your back kid.

February 3, 2011

I was driving away from Logan’s Steakhouse with a backseat full of kids and Terrance in the front, after a “go well to Africa” lunch with his family, when the little dude proudly said it, “Ryan said he’d take anybody out who ever tries to mess with us or hurt us.” Well, wasn’t that a gangsta’ thing for me to have said! At first I had no frame of reference and wondered when this kid might have dreamed up me saying those menacing words. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about at first, but none the less, at the very least, the latter part of the statement is true, so I just nodded my head and said, “That’s right!” I looked at Terrance to see if he thought I was gangsta’, well, and also to see if he wondered what the hell I had been telling his nephews.

And then I remembered, and knew exactly what the kid was talking about.

The little dude is Mike Mike, Terrance’s 8-year-old nephew. I’ve enjoyed hanging out with him, and the rest of Terrance’s family, on my recent visits to Nashville. They’ve kind of taken me in as “that dude who sleeps on our couch”. I’ve grown to love them dearly. So dearly, I suppose, I am making hypothetical threats, to hypothetical bad guys. Like, anybody who wants to get to them’s gotta get through me first! But I guess it didn’t really happen that “on the nose”, so let me explain.

A few weekends ago on a Nashville visit, Terrance and I got in late one night. Earlier in that day I had shown the slightest bit of interest in a video game the boys had been playing, and so when we came in that night the nephews and a friend were playing and offered to let me play with them. I decided to take them up on their offer, and Terrance went to bed. Game on! It was one of those shoot ’em up games, and they were playing multiple players, where you try to find each other and, well, shoot! I was terrible. And they loved it!

I went on like a geezer about how “back in my day the controllers only had two buttons”, and these modern-day controllers have a few hundred, at least! I couldn’t work the stupid thing. I would finally get the guy to run and, gradually as he ran, he would begin looking up at the sky, pointing the gun straight up in the air. This happened often. I never got the knack of aiming, or pretty much anything for that matter, and so when I would sense someone was near I would spin in circles and hold the trigger down. My little man would spin, and bullets would fly. That rarely worked, if ever. I died, often. And lost, every time. But they seemed to thoroughly enjoy taking turns beating me. So, I enjoyed that.

As we played we talked about all sorts of things: South Africa, life there, the kids I worked with, crime, and what not. I told them some stories about different exciting times. All in all, it was a fun night. It became a joke that I would challenge them to a rematch, revenge if you will, the next weekend. And, what do you know, one late night last weekend that moment came. Rematch! And I was worse than ever before. It was to the point of embarrassment, really. But I finally hung up my controller and just chatted to them as they played.

They started talking about how scary it would be to actually be one of those little men running around with a gun, with people after you, trying to kill you. They asked if I would want to do that, or if I would be scared. I told I ideally would not ever want to be in that position, and that I’d definitely never fight for the army, and I don’t believe in guns or killing, so it would have to be a very worthy cause for me to pick up a gun and run around trying to kill people. “Like what?” they asked. I thought for a moment. “Well, like if someone tried to hurt or come after someone I loved or cared about. Like if someone was after you guys or something, I’d try and take them out. But I think violence is rarely the answer.”

I guess, looking back, I could see it in Mike Mike’s eyes when I said that. He looked at me for a moment with sparkly eyes, which, at the time, I am sure I thought had more to do with my noble pacifist stance and final closing statement, than me saying I’d take someone out. But driving in the car I realized that Mike Mike had heard me, and he heard me right, if anyone tried to hurt them, I’d probably be quick to jump into action. And when he proudly, and randomly, stated in the car, after a peaceful Sunday lunch, I realized something that I’ve realized before: every kid likes to know there are people out there who’ve “got their backs”. Nice reminder.


God Bless America, or we’ll bust a cap!

February 1, 2011

Americans love guns, alot! And they are durn proud of their Second Amendment, “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms…” I guess I’ve always known this, but it hasn’t ever really hit me the way it has this visit. I mean, friends, family, people I’m really close to have guns, and they talk about them! People I always saw as more pacifists than not, they are proud gun owners. I know I sometimes think idealistically, but are guns really all that necessary?

I mean, I personally believe if any situation comes down to a gun being the answer, then we are asking the wrong questions. I realize some people rationalize their “questions” through the “questions” of others; like, a man with a gun protecting his family from another man with a gun. And in that we like to think that some people’s “questions”, or rather their “answers”, are more noble than others. In doing that we are putting value on life itself. One might argue that if someone breaks into your house that person deserves to be shot, and killed. They might even justify it by saying that if they had not shot and killed that person, that person would have hurt or killed their family. Fair enough.

However, I believe every life is priceless, no matter how it’s being lived.  Rather than putting more guns in the hands of more people, I would rather begin to see guns being taken out of the hands of more people. Because as humans, we often do not make the best decisions, and in this matter we are literally talking about life and death situations and decisions. It is easy to look at a scenario and try to justify why that person’s life “needed to be taken”, but, in my opinion, when we put price tags on the lives of others we’re only devaluing our own, through perceptions that our lives are worth more than theirs.

I know gun control has always been a heated debate in America and I am not saying I have the solutions. Chris Rock jokingly offered his solution, “Gun control? We need bullet control! I think every bullet should cost 5,000 dollars. Because if a bullet cost five thousand dollar, we wouldn’t have any innocent bystanders.” I guess gun owners feel safer knowing they have protection, but on this trip, more so than ever before, I have felt more insecure knowing that just the average Joe can own a gun, and even carry it around in some States. Knowing the track record of humanity, I do not feel that this reality makes us “safer”.  This fact only makes me think that we  live in a more potentially hostile environment. And sadly, we humans are arrogant, and we will continue to take life, as if it was us who gave it in the first place, as if it is ours for the taking.