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What I Think About Guns

Americans will always have guns. But it would be nice if the gun-toting right wing admitted that there is a price we pay.
 
 
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Some years ago, I was talking to a man about guns. At the time, I didn't really know anyone with guns (still don't), but he did. He had had guns himself. He said, "I gave my gun away, because when I had it, every time something happened that made me mad, my mind would start circling around that gun, and I would be thinking about using it. So I got rid of it and I'm glad I did."

Right up front I will say that I am opposed to casual gun ownership, but I also realize that Americans will always have guns. Period. It's a national fetish. But the mental state my interlocutor was describing years ago is the price we have to pay, along with, of course, the accidental deaths of children and other unprepared and careless people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and in proximity to the wrong gun.

What I would like is for the gun-toting right wing to admit that there is a price we pay, that senseless accidental deaths and traumas are a national cost and that it's not so clear that it's worth it, but hey, we pay it anyway because so many guns are in the hands of so many people that there would never be any getting rid of them.

I would like the right wing to admit that guns are not "good" and that the right to bear arms is not an absolute virtue and that the deaths in the US caused by guns are at least as problematic, philosophically, as abortion. But I'm not holding my breath.

I hadn't intended to write about guns today -- my original source of outrage was the op-ed in the New York Times that related the saga of Georgia Thompson, who worked for the State of Wisconsin. In the course of doing her job, she put the state's travel business out for bids. She chose the lowest bidder, but because, unbeknownst to her, the travel agency making that bid had donated to the Democratic candidate, the Republican campaign accused her of corruption, and -- pay attention, this is the scary part -- the federal prosecuting attorney drummed up a case against her, and got her put in jail. Right before the election. As part of the Republican gubernatorial campaign.

Imagine how Kafka-esque all of this seemed to Ms. Thompson -- the Republicans (possibly at the behest of Washington) destroyed her life for no reason other than political gain, and with so little evidence that the appeals court who just released her was appalled and astonished.

But Ms. Thompson and guns do have a bit of a connection in the eyes of the right wing. Some weeks ago, I blogged about the attorneys scandal as it was just coming to light. My fear was that the federal attorneys were being groomed to either exonerate members of the Bush administration who might otherwise be convicted of breaking laws, or else to drum up show trials against opponents and get rid of them (bingo).

My first piece elicited lots of responses. Many of them were schadenfreudenish exclamations of right wing glee -- if Bush declared martial law, that would show us gun-control adherents, because it would be the well-armed second amendment fanatics who would be able to save themselves from the martial law round-up, while those of us who have no guns would, I assume, be marched off to our detention centers.

Their implication was that the right wing was going to protect us from the right wing. My own view was that the trigger-happy ones were probably going to enlist in private mercenary armies and continue disdaining and condemning us wimps for putting them in such a compromising position as making them have to shoot us.

But that's how it is with the right wing, isn't it? Grievance is something they do, no matter how much power they have. They are shocked, shocked, that they don't have all the power, shocked and victimized and angry.

You could tell it in Bush's response to today's shooting. First he said he was shocked and saddened. Then he said everyone has the right to bear arms. He wouldn't want to let any of those NRA-types imagine for a second that any amount of senseless killing could possibly shake his commitment to a fully-armed populace.

Here's what I think about guns -- guns have no other purpose than killing someone or something. All the other murder weapons Americans use, from automobiles to blunt objects, exist for another purpose and sometimes are used to kill.

But guns are manufactured and bought to kill. They invite their owners to think about killing, to practice killing, and, eventually, to kill, if not other people, then animals.

They are objects of temptation, and every so often, someone comes along who cannot resist the temptation -- someone who would not have murdered, or murdered so many, if he did not have a gun, if he were reduced to a knife or a bludgeon or his own strength.

I wish that the right wing would admit that, while people kill people and even an "automatic" weapon needs a shooter, people with guns kill more people than people without guns do.

Jane Smiley is a novelist and essayist. Her novel A Thousand Acres won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992.

 
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