I wasn’t going to write about the mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut, not because it hasn’t been weighing heavily on my thoughts since I learned about it Friday afternoon (I was in grading jail so had been disconnected from the outside world), but rather because there has been so much commentary that I didn’t think I’d have anything useful to add. I’m still not entirely sure that I do, but here it goes.
People in my life, for as long as I remember, have owned guns. Those people have tended to be hunters, but it’s also the case that people in my life have owned guns that were not for hunting. I personally am not a gun person. But I know people who are, and I understand the arguments in favor of gun ownership. I happen to disagree with most of them, but I also am neutral to the extent that I can have people who own guns in my life without that being a problem for me.
So, The Dude. The Dude owns guns. A couple of them. And not for hunting. I learned about this within a week of us starting up, and we talked about it – his reasons for owning them (going to the shooting range; “protection” against intruders), and the fact that I’m not a fan of them. But no, that wasn’t a deal-breaker for me in getting involved with him. As I said, I grew up in a world where people I knew had guns.
Last night, just to fuck with me, he started this debate with me about guns and appropriate way to prevent gun violence. This was not a real conversation: we’d had that on Friday. No, this was a “let’s see what Crazy will do if I push just about every button she has” sort of a conversation. Because that’s entertaining. I would have been amused, I suppose, if I didn’t feel like he was being an ignorant asshole just to screw with me. (Yes, I might have raised my voice and said he sounded like an “ignorant asshole.” Because you know what? He did.)
Basically, he rehearsed all of the arguments about how if there were armed guards at all schools it would deter such crimes (I disagree), if teachers or administrators were armed then they could have “taken the shooter out” (I disagree), and that the only way to deal with violence is with violence, and not through policy-making (I disagree). And then he thought it would be really funny to call me a “tree-hugging liberal” who thinks I can solve the world’s ills by “giving people handouts.” (That was the part where I lost it.)
Let me be clear: The Dude does not actually believe all of the above bullshit, but it is the case that he falls on the more gun-toting end of the spectrum, and so while he was playing around, it is also the case that some of that playing comes from a totally real place. It comes from the real place of being a guy who comes from a small town where the two things of note are a nuclear power plant and a vast pig population. It comes from the real place of a late-capitalist crisis in masculinity, wherein there is a sense that being a “man” isn’t enough to protect the ones you love or to give you any sort of control over the world around you. It comes from a place of compassion – yes, compassion – for those whose lives were lost, and it comes from a place of fear that the same thing could happen to people that one loves and that one wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it. And I think that there is emotional truth to all of that, and I think, in spite of my total antipathy to the conclusions to which those emotional truths lead some people, it’s wrong to dismiss those things out of hand.
But. I also think that regardless of the emotional truths that underlie the arguments that The Dude rehearsed, the arguments themselves only make sense if one has the privilege of believing that one will never directly confront a person who is intent on shooting up the joint, and if one has the privilege of believing that these sorts of events only happen to “other people.” And they come from a naive belief that if we could just get rid of [insert target here - terrorists, mentally ill white guys in their 20s, evil-doers, whatever] then everything would be all sunshine and rainbows.
Basically, I believe that you can only think that the solution to gun violence is more guns if you believe that you’re one of the “good guys” and that it’s always easy to tell who the “bad guys” are, and that all people act rationally all the time. And you can only believe that the solution to violence is violence if you can’t envision yourself in a position where you’d “really” have to pull the trigger, or have to see the trigger pulled in front of you. In the end, it turns out that my bleeding-heart-liberal perspective is a hell of a lot more cynical than his gun-toting-conservative one.
I take these school shootings personally. Every time I teach in an unfamiliar classroom, I think about how I would secure the room or lead my students to safety or hide in the event that somebody came into the building intent on shooting the place up. When I think about how to arrange the furniture in my office, I think about keeping a clear pathway to the door and how I would get out of the office – or barricade myself inside of it – in the event that somebody came along intent on shooting the place up. I think about my responsibility to my students, and I think about the responsibility I would feel if one of my students didn’t get help when I could have intervened and ended up perpetrating this sort of violence.
The fact of the matter is that The Dude, and most other people, regardless of their stance on gun rights or gun control, just don’t respond to this sort of event in that particular way. They have the luxury of distance, of thinking that it’s unlikely that they would ever be directly involved in such a scenario. And so what they want to do is to find a way to make such scenarios impossible so that they just don’t have to think about them and they can believe things like what happened in Newtown, CT are just unique and terrible tragedies.
While I understand that desire, I don’t have the luxury of distance. Not only could something terrible like this happen to my kids, if I had them, or to somebody I know, or to somebody in my town, etc. It could happen to me. And no, I don’t think I’d be better off if I were carrying a gun if it did.