Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Guns Don't Make the Man

I admit I enjoy watching old Clint Eastwood movies. The fantasy of the solitary man taking on all the bad guys at once with his guns blazing is imprinted in almost every red blooded male in North America. Our culture is saturated with this stuff from movies and tv shows, to video games. Guns and gun violence are powerful symbols of manliness and male power. The problem is that this fantasy is very attractive to the disaffected and the loners, men who feel weak and unattractive. Men who resent their low status in society often buy into the fantasy that having and using a gun will make them more of a man and make others respect them.

The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech is a case in point. Last week a weirdo, a loner, a mentally disturbed man gunned down thirty-three people. Predictably, some people called for tighter gun controls. (Virginia's law's are particularly lax, even by U. S. standards) And predictably the gun lobby argued just the opposite. Prominent republicans, including the former House leader Tom Delay, actually claimed that fewer people would have died if more of the students had been carrying guns. Of course, in order to facilitate this possibility the school would have had to relax its rules to allow students and faculty to pack guns on campus. Or maybe not students, just the faculty. That way we'd get the added benefit of improving class discipline.

It's a waste of time to argue about gun control in the United States because it only creates a greater counter reaction from the gun lobby who are better organized and far more powerful. The heart of the issue is not whether we have a right to own guns, it's about why its so important to own guns in the first place. I can understand why criminals want to own guns. Presumably it makes them more effective at what they do. But what about the rest of us?

I don't buy the theory that you need a gun for self defense. I guess I haven't watched enough cop shows and action films or else I'd know that you can't leave home without one. Yes there are people out there who could harm me but isn't it better to come up with non-violent solutions to crime? Avoid dangerous places if at all possible. Learn self-defense. Travel in groups. Don't go out alone after dark. If you get yourself in a bad situation, talk your way out of it. Or yell for help. Run. Wear a bullet-proof vest. Hand over your money and don't resist. Make sure your home is secure, etc., etc.

I remember kayaking in Alaska and time and time again having Alaskans become incredulous when we told them we weren't carrying a gun. We did run into a few bears but they were more scared of us than we were of them. Yes people do get killed by bears but why is it that the first thing people think of is that you ought to have a gun? The problem goes far deeper than the availability of guns. Guns are great for hunting or for target practice but they are a lousy way to solve your problems. It's almost always better to use your wits to survive in the wild or in the city. Lots more people are killed by guns by accident than by bears or by career criminals.

We need to consider the fact that our elevation of guns into a symbol of male potency is very unhealthy for our society. We need balance between assertiveness and compassion. As my partner said to me, men don't get any points for being caring and compassionate. It's too bad, because our culture's over exposure to the fantasy that violence and guns are ways to “prove” one's masculinity helps make needless death and destruction much more likely.

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