On Guns

"Guns are bad for us" my repeated refrain often reads. It's simple and to the point: guns do little good for our society.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about guns and their impact on our society lately.  Two obvious events have brought the conversation to my mind.  On July 20, 2012, a man walked in (dressed in armor) to a packed movie theater and opened fire on the room during the opening of a movie. I have yet to watch that movie because of the incident.  He killed 12 people and injured 58 others in one of the largest mass shootings in the US's history. All of that occurred in what witnesses say was about three minutes; from the moment he shot until he was arrested was less than ten minutes. Later that year, one week after the 71st anniversary of the 'day that will live in infamy', a deranged 20-year-old entered an elementary school in Newtown, CT with no intentions of walking out alive, or letting anyone else survive.  Mercilessly he continued his shooting rampage that had begun against his mother, killing 28 people in total (including himself and his mother) in about 11 minutes.

These were two horrifying tragedies.  I grew up in the age of Columbine and 9/11. I was in college for Virginia Tech.  I, and the rest of my generation, have experienced more mass school shootings than any generation should.  We are beginning to see a time in our nation's history when, through the internet and other means, young people have more access to more things.  These things include immediate information, pornography, instant access to all their friends, and…most of all, guns. James Holmes, of the 2012 Aurora shooting, bought his weapons, legally, from shops around the Denver, CO area. He bought an unbelievable amount of ammunition on the Internet, where massive quantities of product are available in two days with free shipping.  Guns, as we have understood them, are a different threat to our society than they've been in the past. So, if they were bad to begin with, they've become worse.

Let's think about the nature of guns, shall we?  What is it that makes guns different than say, a knife?  Most agree that the first effective projectile weapon used predates any recorded history.  That weapon was the bow and arrow, best known in the United States for being used by Native Americans to hunt for their food.  Perhaps, when processing projectile weapons, we ought to begin there.  Why would the bow and arrow have been invented?  Generally, tools are developed by humans (because we are an innovative people) so that our lives could be made better.  Think about the first people to use spears.  The spear is technically a projectile weapon which humans used to capture their prey.  What if a human could invent a device that could essentially throw a spear, but from a further distance and more accurately?  Wouldn't that be better for killing prey?  Wouldn't that be better?  Enter the bow and arrow.

The bow and arrow did something innovative, something new.  It, for what some consider the first time, allowed a stationary human being to inflict harm on something else (human, animal, or whatever) without moving.  A spear, for any accuracy at all, required a human to be close to its target.  A bow and arrow allowed the human to shoot from a distance with increased accuracy.  Humans were suddenly able, with their innovation, to kill with more accuracy and deadliness than ever before. The earliest guns are typically dated to around 1,000 years ago, appearing first in China (where else?).  These guns accomplished what many were seeking to do: improve upon these projectile weapons.  The Chinese were able to use their extensive knowledge and experience with explosive powders to create a projectile weapon that could inflict harm on its target from a ways away.  The shift here is significant: humans beings were now able to inflict harm on something that they were not touching.

This shift is fundamental to my argument and one I think we cannot take lightly.  If, prior to projectile weaponry, humans wanted to inflict harm on other beings, humans needed to be touching them.  Once spearing became popular and bow and arrows progressed from that idea, the ability for defense against such an act by the other being was eliminated.  The power shift happened.  Because of innovation, one being had declared power over the other being by simply employing a 'tool' that could cause harm to the other. This shift is significant.  How much could a person well trained in the martial arts defend themselves against a weapon that sent its destructive force through the air?  If one is not in contact with a human body, how could someone defend themselves?  Innovation, here, meant a paradigmatic shift in how we understood defense and violence.  The winner of a wrestling match used to be the smartest and strongest one there.  One could be smart, but it was likely that in order to defend oneself, they would also need to be able to physically combat the other.  Fighting back, in other words, required brute strength as well as smarts.

Innovation though, as it always does, won out.  Suddenly, with a projectile weapon, one could combat another who was significantly physically stronger than them.  This is a fundamental shift in how our world thought about winning.  In order to win, then, required no physical strength…it simply required you to own a projectile weapon.  Think about the change that has happened because of the mass production of weaponry as well: one doesn't even need the brains to out smart another with a projectile weapon, they simply need the weapon.  Even if I am both strong and smart, I will still lose to a gun. Every time. This principle is crucial to one's understanding of how to deal properly with talk of weaponry.  If a human's dependency on winning is no longer intimately connected to their physical well being or their traits, then the enemy of the human is no longer the human.  The enemy of the human, the one that can destroy a human's essence, is then the human who created the weapon which the human holds.  The enemy, in a sense then, becomes the weapon itself.  The enemy becomes innovation.  The weapon has put into place an entirely new power dynamic.

And so we have a situation like the one on 12/21/2012 (the day some thought the world was going to end) where someone could stand before a grieving America and make a statement like, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  Guns, projectile weapons that become extensions of the violent bodies we maintain, are unstoppable.  We can only defend ourselves by using the weapon itself.  LaPierre suggests that the only way to solve our murder crisis in America is to arm our schools.  So the solution to the enemy that he proposes is to carry more enemies, not to rethink the enemy itself.  Aren't we allowed to look back at innovation and ponder whether it was good for us in the first place?  Should these fundamental shifts be taking place?

Guns are different than anything our society has ever dealt with before.  They extend our brokenness on others, without the immediate danger of being broken ourselves.  This shift takes lives every day.  It has taken more lives since December 14, 2012 than those outside terrorists took on 9/11/2001 (talk about a reactionary shift!).  This shift, in the form of a weapon, not only shifted power but as the iterations of innovation rolled in it has increased the likelihood of one shot being killed.  Now not only can shooter warn an opponent, a shooter can kill an opponent without the opponent having the God-given ability to defend oneself.  An opponent, then, is left to resort to the manmade innovation, the enemy, in order to even have a chance at survival--and that's only if they get the shot off first.

It seems to me that playing in this territory is dangerous.  I believe some, in fact most, innovation to be good.  But innovation that exists only to kill?  That innovation is dangerous at best, and catastrophic at worst.  

This isn't a conversation, or shouldn't be at least, about 'rights' (even though this 'right' to bear arms is not what was considered a certain 'inalienable' right endowed by their creator).  This conversation must be about what is good for us. This is why I maintain that if statistics exist that point us to see that guns are regularly stopping mass shootings, or preventing more deaths than they're causing, then I am open to change my views.

Until then, I maintain that guns are bad for us.  They fundamentally change the way that humans exist.  This fact, above all, should constantly be brought into question.