To quote (or misquote) Neil Gaiman on Twitter:
Warning: contains Me.
My first semester of grad school is wrapping up (I should be working on at least one of my last two final papers right now.) My husband has been unemployed for five months, I have been unemployed for two years, and money is tight. There is no medical insurance, and despair is setting in. There are other things, lots of them, but this is enough to support my statement that I can not afford emotional excess right now. I’m not prone to emotional excess normally, but much less so at the moment.
I have made a huge mistake, and that is trying to engage with internet-only or past-local friends on the topic of guns in the aftermath of the Lanza shootings. These friends fall, with only a few exceptions, in two solid categories: gun nuts and anti-gun nuts. I am a pro-gun leftie who thinks banning all private ownership of guns is extreme, unnecessary, and probably impossible. I also think that unrestricted, unregulated access to all forms of ordnance is extreme, unsafe, and irresponsible.
My mistake is being emotionally ragged, needing all the positive vibes I can get, and taking a chance on playing the calm, respectful devil’s advocate to both camps.
It turns out that gun nuts don’t want to be reminded that individuals don’t get to own bazookas and grenade launchers and cannons, and the Bill of Rights hasn’t withered because of it. Banning assault rifles will not be a material abrogation of their right to bear arms. They do not want to hear that urban environments are made volatile and dangerous by guns, and that many urban owners are scared folks with no safety training and no target practice. They do not want to acknowledge that gun shows, private transactions, and gun theft are real problems. They do not want to require mandatory safety training or proof of current training to purchase guns, nor do they want to put revocation of rights on the table for irresponsible gun use. They also do not want to hear that the NRA is hurting the cause of responsible ownership by its extreme positions, or that they need to try to understand the anti-gun crowd rather than dismiss them all as ignorant reactionaries. A lot of them are ignorant, but no one is educated by derisiveness. Teach them. Show them better if you can. If you can’t, check yourself.
It also turns out that anti-gun nuts refuse to acknowledge that there is such a thing as responsible gun ownership, or circumstantially appropriate gun use for self-defense. They don’t want to hear that most gun owners have trouble-free experiences. They don’t want to hear that there is no psych test that can screen out potentially dangerous people. (Most so-called “crazy” people are harmless, or harm only themselves; most so-called “sane” people with no history of problems are the ones who snap under certain kinds of pressure; and anyone can game a psych eval with high face validity anyway. It’s true.) They don’t want to hear that all the regulations and restrictions being discussed might be great ideas (some are not), but none would have prevented what happened. Reducing damage is possible, and it’s important that we pursue that. (My insurance-worker past goes to the bone, and I’m all about risk management.) But thinking, for example, that a gun safe can defeat an intelligent 20 year old with unlimited time and access to the safe is not rational. They didn’t want to hear it.
I told them about growing up in the deep country where all of us used guns and no one got hurt, and they said that nobody hunts anymore.
I described having people try to break in, thinking deep country people who had no neighbors within earshot and no cops for many miles would not be able to stop them, and how the sound of a shotgun being shucked (and, once, a warning shot being fired) got them to move on when turning the yard lights on didn’t; they said it never happens.
I told them of my single working mom opening a gas depot on a trucking road at 3 a.m. and keeping her .22 handy until the other folks arrived; half were shocked that she didn’t either shoot herself or someone else, and the other half said she never needed it so she shouldn’t have had it. (We keep a First Aid kit in the car, too, and we’ve never needed it, either.)
I told them about being out with a girlfriend (in the days of our young hotness) and having a group of guys making noise like they wanted to mess with us. When they walked our way, making ugly noises, she opened the trunk of her car and displayed (not brandished) a high-powered handgun; they departed. I was told, “You should have just driven away. They would have just taken your gun away and used it against you — that’s how it happens.” Only if you are not willing to shoot before they get within arm’s reach, and that was not the case. “No way were you going to shoot someone!”
Well, what about all the still-dark mornings at the bus stop? What about all the crummy neighborhoods I’ve lived in? What do I do if a guy, or more than one guy, wants to mess with me? How do I outrun a van? Sneering is all I got, and I really didn’t need it at the time. I don’t expect my personal anecdotes to change anyone’s mind, but I thought that people would at least understand how a person they get along with otherwise might find guns useful. Instead, I was told to ignore my personal experiences because irresponsible gun owners exist and plus, statistics.
This aspect of the hooraw is particularly hard for me, since I cleave hard Left. Openmindedness, inclusiveness, and respect for difference is what it’s all about. But lately, I’m getting derided and dismissed. Contempt and sneering are no fun. They certainly don’t make me think, “Wow, I’m being sneered at! They must be right and I must be wrong!”
This is like the conversations between steak lovers and morally indignant vegans. The carnivores who chant “top of the food chain” at the top of their lungs are stupid to ignore issues of sustainability, animal welfare, or ethical slaughter. The vegans who dismiss all consumers of animal products as murderous cannibals are stating that anyone who doesn’t already feel the way they do are cretinous savages incapable of reason and unworthy of persuasion. There is no thought that someone else might be reasoned with, on either side. Certainly there no attempt to get inside the other guy’s head and figure out why he feels the way he does — and certainly no acknowledgment that hey, if I had been in your shoes, I might feel the same way. Scornful, simplistic rejections are so much easier than admitting the other guy might have a point. Then we’ll actually have to THINK THIS THROUGH.
It’s so much easier to feel than to think.
I know this horrible shooting has everyone feeling emotional, and people need to work out their feelings. But there is a difference between ventilating feelings (an unburdening that leads to relief and improved perspective), and narcissistic emotional indulgence (which gets you all worked up as you follow the emotional spiral toward hysteria.) I’m seeing the latter on both sides, and it’s wearing me out.