Friday, March 1, 2013

Gun Control?

What can I say? It's a rainy Saturday, and while I do, actually, have better things to do than sitting at home with the TV on, that is how I've chosen to spend my time. Chosen to spend it relatively dry.

And what a great day of viewing it's been, too. My attention has been mostly caught up with visiting neighbours, sad dogs who don't get so much running since I no longer smoke and even less on rainy days like today, and playing a fascinating (to me) pseudo-historical computer game that challenges short-, middle- and long-term memory, something which I think all people grapple with and which I in particular need to keep working on. At least, that's my excuse to be addicted to the computer-game, and I'm sticking to it.
Saturdays, we get treated to a lot of current affairs and documentaries on ABC-1. I enjoy them. I also enjoy having them on as background-noise.
Today has been interesting. I very much enjoyed something on technology to help the paralysed communicate with others which was out-and-out fascinating, but what outraged me and drove me here was a documentary on gun control in the USA. Again, this with the disclaimer that I only heard it as background noise over other activities and thoughts, with an occasional glance over my shoulder at the screen.
A lengthy portion of it was grabs from an interview with an American gun club executive, as well as hardly less lengthy grabs from gun salesmen, legislators, parents of shooting victims, hunters and the like.
The American gun club executive talked and talked. He was a real worry. He said that since he had children in his house, he couldn't feel safe unless he had a loaded gun within an arm's reach at all times. Why, I felt like asking. I remembered sharing a house in the early 1980s with a very rare kind of Australian, one who actually had a gun. He kept it loaded, too, and upright in his wardrobe. Highly illegal - they are supposed to be stored unloaded, and in a locked safe. And we found out why - his gun fell over, accidentally firing as it did so, and a bullet penetrated the wall between our bedrooms, lodging in the ceiling of my bedroom. He was not at home at the time: he came home to a virago who yelled at him a lot and made him do the right thing - which consisted of getting the firearm out of the house until such time as he bought a safe.
The American talked about a possible burglary (which hadn't happened to him yet) where two people might break into his house when he was home with burglary on their minds and nine mill handguns in their pockets. He said he sure-as-hell didn't want to tangle with them if all he had to "defend himself" with was a nine mill handgun, so he had this. I glanced over my shoulder: it was a long, long thing, menacing, heavy, looking like something you might find in a war-zone. The interviewer probed: his house had never been burgled. And yes, the gun wasn't a luxury, it was an absolute essential. For self-defence. To be in his home, close to hand and loaded at all times - after all, what use is an unloaded gun? The burglars who hadn't burgled him yet wouldn't be gentlemanly enough to give him time to look for a gun that wasn't within reach, much less to load it, so it had to be convenient at all times and loaded at all times.
I kept wondering about the kids in his home, what they were learning from him. Were they learning that the whole world was dangerous, were they learning fear and suspicion and a lack of trust? The whole world isn't dangerous: fear and suspicion should only be responses to specific situations, not a lifestyle thing.Were they learning that their daddy approved of killing anyone he didn't know? Were they learning that visiting other people's homes might cause them to be shot? Were they learning that violence is okay? Were they learning that peace is about firepower, that is, about armed ceasefire, not peace? At best, from an upbringing like that, they would learn that what Daddy fears and says, never happens. At worst, they will never question it, and will grow up fearful, suspicious, and believing it is okay to kill strangers if they make you feel a little nervous. Is that how we want our children to live, in fear? And do we want them, after a childhood of fear, to believe in killing anyone who makes them afraid as adults?
He had four handguns in his car. I kept thinking about road-rage incidents. I had one of my own just recently where the rage was mine, in fact if completely surpassed rage and went to blind, red-eyed, end-of-line extreme fury. I won't bore you with that the guy did to deserve that kind of fury, except that it was horrible and he should never been on the road. If I were a gun-carrying-kind of girl there is NO DOUBT I would have pulled it on his car at the very least, and shot out all four tyres (you can change one but four is a problem). And if the tyres didn't scream enough and bleed enough to satisfy me, I would probably have started shooting off his fingers, one by one, just to hear the screams and see the blood. He's just lucky I didn't have a length of wood with a few rusty nails sticking out of it in the car. And me, a pacifist who hates guns. What about someone like the guy in the documentary, who kept talking about the damage that the pacifists were doing to his country - what would he have done if we had swapped places for that moment? The other driver was an idiot and a dangerous idiot, but his dangerous driving didn't kill me, and my dangerous rage didn't kill him. The shooter's dangerous rage and dangerous shooting would have killed him in an instant.
I have a friend who is a nomad from a nomadic family. I have known the whole lot of them since the late 1970s. In that time, their wanderings firstly as a family then as individuals, have centred roughly around Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland. When I met my friend all those years ago, she and I were both only teenagers, and she was just back from a couple of years in Auckland. She was constantly spooked by our Australian policemen. I asked her why, once. Because they had handguns in holsters hanging from their belts, she said. She was terrified of being shot or witnessing a shooting - it just seemed so strange to her that law enforcement had only violence as its tool against "the baddies". She calmed down, eventually.
I am in my fifties, now, and I have never seen a copper take their gun out, even in situations where I witnessed someone being arrested - we just don't have a culture of shooting. It would never have occurred to a cop to draw their weapon as a routine thing. In New Zealand the culture was even more anti-shooting - the cops didn't even carry guns because gun-crime was so rare. Sure, there were armed units that could be called on if needed, but they were badly underworked. And in New Zealand far fewer people own guns proportionate to the population-numbers. In America, I believe there are two and a half guns for every American.
There is a place for guns in Australia. In 2007 I drove twice through the area between Cobar and Wilcannia in NSW a week or so apart. The terrain there is fairly flat - the horizon as about twelve kilometres away, therefore, in all directions. The road is a thin grey ribbon through a rumpled sheet of red earth, punctuated by saltbush and the occasional stunted gum. There was a feral goat plague: a goat every one and a half square metres as far as the eye could see, picking at the last of the leaves on the stripped saltbush and standing up trying to get the lower leaves on the gums. And for every female goat, because it was breeding season, one or two tiny kids were also in her metre-and-a-half, barely born, far too small to be weaned yet. This was over a distance of hundreds of square kilometres, between and on both sides of those two towns.
Goats have completely ravaged the bushland and wiped out whole ecosystems, driving Australian native animals to extinction through starvation, and plants to the very edge of extinction. That was the first and only time I have ever wished I owned guns and knew how to use them: if I'd had one, I would have been stopping, and picking off all the breeding bucks and childless females. And if I had hit a mother by mistake, I would have "wasted" another bullet or two making sure her offspring were dead, not letting starvation and exposure do it for me. It's the only compassionate thing to do. After all, they don't understand that their population is a menace to the environment, as humans do.  And humans, knowing that humans are a menace, still perpetuate the species and bemoan deaths, and beg for pain relief! The only decent thing you can do for the environment it to reduce species that are out of control like the goats in that area - but do it quickly and kindly, making sure as few as possible suffer an instant longer than they have to.
Some weeks or months before I saw that documentary, a science programme that I usually enjoy ran an item on gun-related behaviour. In particular, they tested male hormonal levels before, during and after playing with "toy" guns (games consols) and "real" guns. When handling toy guns, there was some upswing of testosterone, similar to that when viewing visual pornography, but when handling real guns, their testosterone levels were completely off the scale. The conclusion most educated laymen would draw from that is that most males see guns as a huge turn-on, more than pornography. During today's documentary, the gun-club executive said something like (and I paraphrase): Every time there has been a gun-based massacre in America, sales have spiked. He seemed to see that as a Good Thing. Bearing in mind the testosterone-rush revealed in the science show, I saw it as a bad thing.
What is wrong with the psyche of a nation, where the deaths of beloved family members of a great many families produces a surge of rapaciousness, and people go out to buy guns? Some would, no doubt, be individuals who would be concerned that the same thing might happen to their loved ones tomorrow, and might have some misguided belief in "protection", that two deaths is somehow better than one. But the rest? They get turned on by the idea of mowing down others in a hail of bullets? How sick is that?
An executive of an American gun-selling company had something just as grim to say,  and said it in an unctuous voice rich with greasy self-satisfaction (and again I paraphrase): During the recession, our sales boomed. What a shame the rest of America's economy can't run itself as well as the gun industry can.
Did he not think? During the recession, tens of millions of Americans were as-miserable-as. And the totalitarian nature of their society made them feel so powerless that they ate dry bread for a month so they could afford to buy themselves a gun, to make themselves feel just a little less powerless. Sir, having your business boom during a recession is not so great, if it has ties to power, powerlessness and testosterone. (Brothels boom in recessions and times of war, too - people go hungry, but use sex to allay fear).
I was talking to someone here in the house an hour or two ago after seeing the documentary, someone who has lived on that gloriously gun-supplied continent (which I haven't). We talked about how, when Australia had the Port Arthur Massacre last century - our last - almost our whole civilian population cried out against guns, and handed in their privately and legally or illegally owned guns. We haven't had an event like that since. In America, faced with a massacre, people go out and buy more guns. And keep having more massacres - I seem to hear of yet another one almost every other month. Which country is healthier?