April 20th came and went without much noise this year.
You know, Hitler's birthday, the Oklahoma City Bombing, and the Littleton massacre-all days associated with April 20th.
These last two incidents made think about all the debate about where
we're headed as a nation.
And how the debate has stopped after the news value of those incidents faded.
After the Littleton massacre, gun control was a hot topic again, and
heats up every now and again.
Especially when children are involved as either victim or perpetrator. But it dies back down again,
and nothing ever gets resolved. Latest polls show majority support for some sort of gun control,
but it isn't any more likely to happen soon than any other time.
We have two sides who won't give an inch-the guns at any cost folks
and the get rid of guns folks.
We have a hell of a problem that needs fixing with no clear consensus, and no progress.
I want to replay a conversation I had at work almost two years ago that
stands out in my mind
as an illustration of why we have a problem.
I was in the file room of the company where I work and Rush Limbaugh's show was on.
One of the guys in the department noticed me talking back to the radio.
I guess he hadn't heard what I was saying, because he asked me if I was a fan.
I replied that I am not.
Out of the blue, he asked me what I thought about guns.
To sidetrack for a bit, this guy wore camouflage gear to work sometimes
and had a PETA
bumpersticker on the wall. This PETA wasn't People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
His stands for "People for the Eating of Tasty Animals".
I can't think of Bambi's mother (or was it father? I forget right now) being shot
without thinking of him as someone who would have been proud to do the job.
I feigned ignorance and apathy to draw him out; I wanted to see what
he had to say.
I also really didn't want to get into a conversation about it.
(Where I worked, I was considered the token liberal, and a lot of the people there
were dying to take me down a peg or two. Never happened.)
He started in on how the government doesn't have the right to have a
say, the 2nd Amendment, etc., etc., etc..
The same lines I've heard a thousand times.
Now I knew how to proceed. (The thing that makes me laugh myself into
is that these folks at work never caught on that my trick was to let them go first.
They hit me with everything they've got and it gives me time to figure out how to go about
answering their point. And they don't know what I'm going to say. I love it when I pull it off).
I asked "Who do you think could do more human damage:
someone with an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds available to reload, or someone with a baseball bat?"
(Full disclosure: this is not my idea. BartCop proposed this idea a while back.
No, I don't take marching orders. It was just a point that makes sense to me.)
His answer: "The one with the car".
"The one with the car".
Me: "You're going to have to explain that one. Someone with a
car wasn't part of the question.
You know, the simple one I asked with two options".
Him (quite irrelevantly): "Someone in a car can kill more people
than someone with a gun.
But you don't see anyone wanting to make cars illegal".
I'm starting to wish I had a gun by this point.
I asked "Ok, so we've established that someone with a car can kill a lot of people. Now, of the other
two people, the one with the gun and the one with the baseball bat, which can cause the most human damage?"
(I wish I'd been in a more devilish mood. I could have asked how he felt about background checks at car shows
and a 5 day waiting period for purchases. Not to mention limiting car purchases to one a month.
I also could have asked how he hunts; does he use a rifle, or does he run them down in the forest in his SUV?)
He had the nerve to say "Well, if you want to play games, the one with
But the 2nd Amendment, blah, blah, blah".
And then I saw how to end this conversation. Just take it to its logical, absurd extreme.
Me: "Well, you know, that amendment doesn't say 'right to bear
guns', it says 'right to bear arms'.
What if I was able to get my hands on a nuclear weapon?"
Him (getting visibly nervous): "You shouldn't be allowed to have a nuclear weapon".
Me: "Why not?"
Him: "Because they're weapons of mass destruction."
Me: "What does that matter? They're 'arms'. And besides, who's
going to tell me I can't have one,
what with the 2nd Amendment and all?"
Him: "The government".
I couldn't believe he would resort to that, given what he'd had said
just a couple of minutes prior.
But I didn't take on that point.
Instead I said: "Well, here's what it seems to me then. Look at what
we talked about. We went from a
baseball bat, to a car, to an assault rifle, to nuclear arms. What we're talking about is the difference in
the level of ability to cause harm. You draw a line for the level of death you are willing to accept
somewhere between an assault rifle and a nuclear weapon. Some of us want to draw the line
somewhere lower than that. Now, who should get the say on where that line is drawn? Some of us
don't want you forcing us to accept your limit any more than you want us forcing our limits on you."
All he could say was "For a liberal, you make some good points."
I don't know if my point is good. But I do know that sometimes we need
to think outside the box.
We've proved that we can't answer the gun question by taking either of the two positions.
Sometimes when we put things in terms of either-or we put the answer further away.
By limiting the terms of the debate we limit the options available. And it's obvious that we're not
solving this problem with either of the extreme positions we've staked out so far.
How many deaths should we be willing to tolerate? Where is the point
where someone's right to
pursue 'life, liberty, and happiness' has to take a back seat to someone's right to have as many guns
as St. Chuck of the Locked and Loaded* says we should have?
I am not against guns. I grew up in Wyoming around people with a healthy
respect and regard for firearms.
But they didn't express their frustration, hatred, or opinions with guns. (It's more honorable to beat someone
with your hands or a barstool.) I don't recall hearing about gun deaths when I lived there. I'm not against
guns-I'm concerned about innocents dying. And while guns don't kill people, bullets cause massive damage
to tissue and bone, and are harmful to life and health. Getting shot is not a life-affirming experience.
Some inner-city hospitals are used as training grounds for combat medics.
And while there is evidence that
there are less gun deaths the last few years, it's largely because we've learned more about how to treat gunshots.
There are still as many gunshot victims as ever-just not quite as many of them die. And many of them who
survive are invalids for a long, long time, up to and including for the rest of their lives.
So, here's my question:
Can we stop going about this as an either-or question and do some thinking outside the box?
Thanks for coming and drive carefully.
*Charlton Heston and the NRA. Thanks to Elissa.
Please visit her at http://www.angelfire.com/nv/booradley