I grew up in a family of hunters. My grandfather killed an incredible number of deer during his lifetime, and he never needed more than a shot gun. He often used a bow. If I ever hunt again, it will only be with a bow. I gave up my license to carry when I left Massachusetts, and left the guns I had behind with family members. I liked the idea of the license to carry, I liked the idea of guns. So much power. To hold death in your hands is very powerful. I was raised in America, so of course I was full of fear. That fear is long gone. When I got home from Iraq, I no longer feared the boogeyman and I no longer wanted to have a gun, for ‘self-defense’ or otherwise. Unless you are hunting to put food on the table, shooting is about power. Owning guns is about power. The reason so many people fall in love with guns is the sense of power and control it gives them that many of them lack in other aspects of their lives. But the reason we want guns, if not to hunt, is fear. The desire for that sense of power and control comes from a place of great fear.
After my grandfather died and my uncle took his guns away, my grandmother said she wanted to get a handgun “just in case”. We convinced her she was perfectly safe without it and that if an intruder were to break into her house, they would probably grab it out of her hands and hit her over the head with it. If someone breaks in, just offer to make them a sandwich. Treat them like family, show them the love that they are obviously lacking, and maybe they won’t rob you. We also reminded her about the lessons of Jesus that she taught us as kids, about turning the other cheek and all that.
Most gun owners want their guns for the same reason my grandmother wanted one; fear. Fear of the boogeyman. Of course there are so many guns in America, we are more afraid than any other country (and some of these countries have good reason to be afraid). Fear is used to control us, and we are certainly controlled by fear. Fear of the boogeyman, fear of the ‘other’.
A lot of people support building a wall for the same reason a lot of people support the war, which is the same reason a lot of people own guns. We are afraid of what we don’t know, what we don’t understand. We can’t relate to those who have been dehumanized to us our entire lives. We’ve been socialized not to care when those who have been dehumanized are killed one by one, or by the dozen. Whether they are killed by a soldier in Afghanistan, a drone in Somalia, or a cop in Baltimore, we don’t see our neighbor when we look at them. We certainly don’t see our family. We don’t help them, we don’t mourn them, we ignore them and continue along the road to Jericho. We fear them. We fear the idea of them. We fear everything they represent. They are the enemy. They’re all around us and they’re closing in, that’s why we need a wall, that’s why we need to keep the bombs dropping, that’s why we need guns; to protect ourselves from the boogeyman.
If it’s not fear of the dehumanized masses, it is a fear of the government driving the desire to own guns. Many people who own guns not to hunt and not to shoot the boogeyman, own them because they think the founding fathers are depending on them to overthrow the criminal, corrupt, awful government. They think (apparently) that a shotgun, a rifle, heck, even an AR-15 will stand a chance against an MRAP, a drone, heck, even a ballistic missile. The American government is certainly criminal, corrupt, and awful, but it always has been. Genocide, slavery, and imperialism are encoded in our DNA. America is nothing if not violent. Violence will not stop it. The only possible way to make America a bearable, more humane country is to take a lesson from Dr. King, or take a lesson from Jesus. Non-violent civil disobedience. If you don’t like the government and the terrible things it is doing then stop paying for it.
Guns cannot stop the government. Guns cannot stop the boogeyman. Guns cannot stop fear. As long as we live our lives in fear of boogeymen, scarecrows, and shadows, we will accept violence as an answer to our problems. It never works. As Dr. King said, violence begets violence. Violence hasn’t worked in the fight against ‘terrorism’, it has only amplified the violence and the terrorism. Seventeen years after 9/11, we are no longer afraid, we’re paranoid. We have lost track of all the countries we’re bombing due to this paranoia. It was violent foreign policy that led to the terrorism of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and it was the violent response to that terrorism that has led to the chaos in the world we see today.
It is America’s culture of violence and easy access to guns that led to this most recent mass shooting, and all of the ones that preceded it. This young man in Florida was born in the wake of the Columbine massacre, and since he was two years old, America has been at war. Since he was two years old, America has been using violence to ‘solve’ its problems. This young man was certainly very troubled, but rather than compassionate health care, he was expelled. He was a ticking time bomb, let loose in a country filled with guns. If he didn’t already know about guns, he certainly learned as a member of the air rifle team and of JROTC. With a little more guidance, who knows, he might have wound up in the military, he might have wound up in Afghanistan, he might have killed Afghan school children instead of American school children, and then he might have went to college on the GI Bill instead of to prison or death row. He might have wound up being labeled a hero rather than a monster.
There are perhaps a few other countries that could have created such a young man as this, but in these countries he would have never been able to get his hands on a gun, certainly not a high powered assault rifle. Guns aren’t the problem, the problem is a country that produces so many citizens who want to own guns, and so many citizens who think, perhaps from studying their own government, that violence will solve their problems. The NRA is right that guns aren’t the problem. America is the problem. This culture of fear, this culture of revenge, this culture of violence, this American culture is the problem.
This young man should never breathe free air again in his life. This is a horrific, terrible thing he has done. But people will be calling for his blood, calling for the state of Florida to kill him, calling for revenge. Calling for violence as a response, yet again, to this terrible violence. And we will be right back where we started.