Sunday, January 09, 2011

Guns, Words, and Thoughts

I guess if I'm a blogger, I've got to opine on yesterday's shootings in Arizona. A lot has been said already, some worth reading and some not. Clearly Jared Lee Loughner is mentally disturbed. But mental disorders take certain directions depending on the environment, and there's been plenty to point him toward shooting up a political gathering lately.

We can expect to hear more about the gun he used and how he got it. I really, really wonder about why guns are so important to so many Americans. I had a male friend who felt I needed a gun. We went out to a quarry for target practice. I had a fair bit of archery experience and was delighted to learn that ranged weapons have some similarities. In fact, guns are ever so much easier to aim than bows and arrows. He noted that my first target practice was much better than his, and somehow the subject of my putative safety never came up again.

There is a lot of psychological baggage attached to guns, and we would do well to understand it. I don't hear many jokes any more about guns as phallic symbols. Perhaps that's become a cliche, but it also appears to be a real connection. So Democrats become wimps for wanting to limit gun ownership to, oh let's say the mentally capable. Everyone needs a gun!

Well, Freud's followers eventually figured out that half the human race does quite nicely without their gun substitutes.

But if you convince yourself by whatever means that a (real) gun is necessary for your safety, then you need a gun. And once you have a gun, you think more about how you might use it. That's important, because on the real side of gun ownership, there's a fair bit to know about handling and maintaining a complex and dangerous mechanism. Guns are meant to damage and kill people and animals. It's important to understand that to handle them safely.

The more you think about your gun, the more you are likely to think about the situations in which you might have to use it, in which you might be threatened by others with guns. And that sort of thinking makes the world seem more dangerous and guns more necessary. Of course, there are other ways to deal with a dangerous world, like laws and various other precautions, but if you hold and cannot change the idea that you are all alone and the only one responsible for your safety and others, then your options will focus more closely on guns.

So it's a self-reinforcing cycle. Aided and abetted by other things you might think, like that immigrants and socialists and liberals and communists are out to get you, as is reiterated over and over again, repetitively, on rightwing talk radio and Fox News. And 99% or more of what they say isn't true. So why are they saying it? That's a hard question. People I like and respect believe things that come from the rightwing media and politicos that simply aren't true.

Another lesson from this is that making shit up is okay. That message gets through too and frequently shows up in the methods of argumentation used by rightwingers. Like Bill O'Reilly's proof of the existence of God by tidal action. Say anything to shut up the opposition. And, apparently, it worked for O'Reilly in that tv show, even if the bloggers seem to have had the last word.

All this repeated by the rightwing media - guns give you control, the commies are out to get you, and whatever you want to believe is true - doesn't do much good for anyone's mind. It doesn't do any good at all for democratic governance. And it could have a bad effect on a young man whose grip on reality was none too sure.


Andy said...

Let me start off by saying that I've owned a variety of guns for about 20 years. For me they are a hobby and I own and enjoy them probably for the same reasons archers enjoy archery. There's the skill required to use them safely and effectively, the appreciation of the capabilities and craftsmanship of the weapons themselves, as well as the social aspect common to any hobby.

One of my other hobbies is brewing beer. A lot of people don't seem to understand that either, though thankfully beer is getting more respect as a craft as opposed to a mere means to intoxication.

I've never really thought of guns as necessary for safety (I've never been interested in obtaining a concealed carry permit, for example) and I don't keep guns in my house in such a way that they would be accessible and useful in defending myself or my family in a timely manner (actually, I have a sword in my closet near my bed for that). That's just my perspective, of course, but there are many more like me. Point being is that people own guns for a variety of reasons.

I have met a few gun enthusiasts who fit the Freudian profile you've described here, but IMO they are a minority. I've also never had any "psychological baggage" about guns, whatever that means. Such terms do not make sense for people who consider guns a fairly normal and largely mundane part of their lives. Additionally, not all guns are "meant to damage and kill people and animals." All guns have that capability of course, but then so do all knives.

I think the self-reinforcing cycle you mention is true in some cases, but not universally. Your passage (except the fear of commies and liberals and such) specifically made me think of Geoffrey Canada and a passage from his memoir. In the environment in which he grew up, that characterization fits.

I grew up in a far different environment and in a completely different context, so my experience with guns as a child and young man did not enter that kind of cycle at all - not even close. I guess what I'm trying to say with this rambling comment is that life and circumstances are complex, viewpoints vary widely, and that is just as true of guns as it is of anything else.

J. said...

Great post, Cheryl.

For Andy - "Additionally, not all guns are "meant to damage and kill people and animals.""

Well sure, but there are just so many easier ways to punch holes in paper, aren't there?