Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Banality of Guns

By Tom Kando

The mass murder and attempted assassination of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by Jared Loughner in Arizona has the whole country caught in an orgy of finger-pointing (Sarah Palin, the NRA, etc.).

And there is a secondary mass reaction among pundits and letter-writers: “Above all, don’t rush to judgment!” (this suits the Right on this occasion, as it suited the Left when Malik Hassan murdered 13 people at Ford Hood). The issue of gun control comes up once again, ad nauseam.

Gun control is something I have spent years researching and publishing articles about. And you know what?

After all these years, I don’t have a clear position on it. On the one hand yes, common sense and some data tell us that the more guns there are, the more people get killed by guns. But the correlation is weak. There are many examples of countries (Switzerland, Israel, etc.) and states (Florida, Arizona, etc.) with high per capita gun ownership and low murder rates.

And even if gun control is desirable (and I absolutely agree that it is), it’s not clear that it is feasible. Some jurisdictions with the strictest gun control laws (Washington D.C., New York City) have at times had astronomical murder rates. Etc. Etc. The two sides in the gun control debate will for ever be stalemated.

I do not wish to minimize the horror and suffering that this madman has caused, but my take on guns is the one stated in the title of this essay - paraphrasing Hannah Arendt:

What I find really disgusting is the glorification of guns. The fact that inner-city gang-bangers and others, most of them in the lower class, use guns to murder each other in large numbers is tragic, and it has too many causes to discuss here.

What is truly aggravating, are the puerile culture and politics which see guns and gun-related activities as things of beauty, and the 2nd amendment as a noble and sacrosanct law which trumps the public interest. This is a cultural phenomenon, and it is strongest among upper-middle class folks, most of them white.

Yes, we live in an infantile culture of violence. I can forgive my 8-year old grand-son for his fascination with toy guns, with Darth Vader and with violence. He will outgrow this, as I did. As a normal boy I, too, liked toy guns and cowboy-and-Indian movies when I was 8.

But grown-ups should understand that guns are banal. Guns are pieces of metal which shoot explosives into living flesh. Is it surprising that flesh doesn’t have a chance against steel and explosives? This is not fascinating, it is dumb. Any imbecile can shoot a gun and kill a person (or a moose). If it weren’t for the tragedy of the loss of life, I’d say that shooting off a gun is just plain boring. Banal.
The NRA’s single-minded purpose is to advocate for guns. This is not a lofty ideal, a sacred right valiantly defended. It is a lobby for one industrial product. Banal.

What’s so great about guns? Nothing. Cops and soldiers need them, and that’s about it. It is sick to see them as things of beauty. It is moronic to define gun ownership as a sacrosanct human right. Guns are banal.

As to my personal opinion about this latest act of insanity: The News Media’s editorial equivocations about “all” hate speech being equivalent are inane. When Keith Olberman speaks of “the worst person in the world” and President Obama uses the word “enemy” instead of “opponent,” this is in no way as noxious as when Michelle Backman says that she wants the people to be “armed and dangerous.” Today, the Right is far more guilty of incendiary speech than the Left. leave comment here