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JANUARY 9, 2013 2:40PM

Pointing Fingers: Talking Guns with the NRA

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Action to stem violence

I grew up in Central Missouri in the 1960s and 1970s. People drove around our town with guns mounted in the back of their pickups -- mostly twenty-gauge shotguns and .22s. I had friends who hunted regularly. Duck season was big in our neck of the woods. So was driving around with a couple weapons for show. The idea of guns was part of life for us back then. Those were the days of the Vietnam War, too. Weapons, the potential for violent threat at any moment, and self-protection were an odd cultural focus that ran under the grain of everything else.

We were Quakers, though -- my family. We were pacifists. I was also the son of social scientists. My parents knew the literature and the research. Guns make people a bit more edgy than they would be otherwise. Guns are more than just dangerous -- they contribute to the illogic of violence and the idea that threat is a legitimate reaction to danger. There's a lot of very good academic research on this topic going back decades. The media should report on this research more so that we all know the issues.

I don't like violence of any kind. I never even spanked my sons when they were growing up (although my Quaker parents spanked me). And I find it utterly beyond reason that any parent would buy their child a gun for any purpose at all -- including hunting.

A bit over the top? Not for me. My best friend committed suicide on his 19th birthday with a hunting rifle his father had given him as a gift that day. They had an argument because my friend wanted to change majors and become an art historian. His father wanted him to continue on the path to becoming a dentist. My friend locked himself in his bedroom and blew his brains out.

Was my friend crazy or depressed? I don't think so. I'd seen him two weeks before. He was frustrated, without a doubt. And he was passionate about art history. He'd just given me a lecture on surrealist and modernist painters using a coffee table art book my mom had given me for Christmas. But he wasn't leaning towards a violent ending of his own life that evening. He just wanted to become a professor of art history instead of a dentist. That gun just made it all too easy, I'm afraid. Sometimes we feel angry and desperate and we do the wrong thing.

So, I don't like guns. I would imagine anyone who has lost a loved one to the irrationality of guns in any way feels the same way I do. Once you experience the viciousness of what a gun does to the mind, there's only one kind of logic to go with.

But I understand that my point of view is not all there is in this debate. Hunting and gun sports are legitimate pastimes in this culture. And people buy their kids weapons in order to teach them those pastimes. Some people also feel strongly that they need guns to protect themselves. And, yes, I think there is at least some legitimacy to people's concerns about government control of citizen access to weapons.

To me, serious talk between gun control advocates and gun enthusiasts is essential if we're going to figure this problem out. Real dialog. This essay here comes from reading a blog post by John Cashon called "A Dialog on Cultural Traditions and Understanding." In his post, John references the work of filmmaker Annabel Parks. She has made it her career to document the extreme divisions in our society. You can access Annabel's work through John's blog or in the links below.

Both John and Annabel point to the problem of civilized dialog when discussing gun issues. Annabel witnessed confrontations last week in Washington, D.C. during gun control rallies. See her video HERE.

This issue of dialog is more essential on the gun issue than it is on any other issue we have in society. Guns in American culture are at the heart of the question of violence for us. Violence is normal here in this country -- from video games to police dramas on TV to all kinds of movies to life on the streets. Violence sparks up at public events regularly. And we all remember those heady days on the playground and running around the neighborhood where older kids and bullies would try to dictate terms.

At the same time, too, of course, most of us are taught that violence is never the right answer. It's going too far to say that Americans are taught to be pacifists, but virtually all of us would tell you that violence is a sign of evil and that we would only use force in a situation where we were being attacked (or others were).

So there's a kind of schizophrenia here. Violence is part of everyday life and even seen as a form of entertainment (I love football and am always happy come January when the bowl games and NFL playoffs are in full swing). But at the same time we are taught that violence is bad.

Is it any wonder then that dialog on guns is so difficult? Whenever a culture has to negotiate sticky issues with competing concepts and a kind of mass cognitive dissonance it is almost hopeless.

Source: Hampshire Shakespeare Company

But take things one step further, and this is the real point of this essay. The discussion between gun rights enthusiasts and gun control advocates always reaches its loudest volume after a brutal slaying of innocent people. And it always gets started by those who believe in gun control. Gun rights people feel that the finger is being pointed at them. So they defend their position, circle the wagons, and go into a kind of lock down self-justification mode. We just watched this happen earlier this week. The suggestion offered by the NRA was to put armed guards in every school in America. We continue to hear people speaking about the idea that teachers need to have access to weapons in the classroom.

I shake my head. I hope you do too. When Newtown's community was first thrown into upheaval my heart was broken, but I also saw this cultural struggle coming. I wrote very briefly about my fears for all of us (go here to read "Who Are We?").

Somehow the dialog on this issue needs to be carried out without making others feel that they are at fault for the acts of the mentally ill and confused who perpetrate these bursts of rage. Somehow pointing fingers at each other needs to stop. Somehow all of us grownups need to understand the need to rise above petty, futile, schizophrenic thinking (how many gentle, liberal, intellectuals do you know who love Dexter and The Sopranos?). Gun control is not about taking guns away from people. It's simply about creating responsibility and doing the best we can to protect innocent people from this violent culture we so revere. But we can't talk about this responsibility and the idea of protection as long as we point fingers at each other.

There's so much more to the Adam Lanza story than we will ever know. This lack of knowledge is excruciating and contributes even more to the blame game and cognitive dissonance we all face. My hope for 2013 is that people on both sides of this issue work hard to overcome their inability to talk rationally.

This is one of those moments where our culture can take a huge step forward...not just by gaining a little bit more control over a major source of violence, but by understanding that we're all in this together and that we all have a part to play here. No one is to blame when everyone is to blame. The real question here is whether we see that we're building this world for our children and their friends, or whether we want to stay mired in a world that has proven, once again, that it doesn't work.

I honestly don't know what the answers are here, nor how we get to some meaningful change. I only know that peace and love are more important than violence and that no one disagrees with that. So how do we use them to dis-schizophrenalize our violent culture? That's what we need to figure out.


Worthy Links

"A Dialog on Cultural Traditions and Understanding," John Cashon's Musings

"Story of America: A Nation Divided," Annabel Parks website

"Mass murder, shooting sprees and rampage violence: Research roundup," Journalist's Resource

"The Geography of U.S. Gun Violence,", The Atlantic "Cities Place Matters" pages

"Who Are We?" December 14, 2012,


This essay was published at the website "Story of" Check it out HERE

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People love to blame guns because it's easier than holding as 'twer the mirror up to nature, so to speak. I may disagree with you on a few minor points, but I think that we've both reached rather the same conclusion: something needs to change, and guns shouldn't be the scapegoat any longer. I actually just wrote something this afternoon that you might find interesting, if only to clarify my own position.

Very insightful. Rated.
One element not mentioned is that the NRA is heavily subsidized by the manufacturers of guns in order to get maximum proliferation with no or minimum regulation. Considering the result, that should be regarded as criminal.
Good essay, David.

I think I can sum up its essential nature: You are asking us to grow up and act reasonably.

Unfortunately, my initial response is: Good luck with that (said dripping with sarcasm.)

We Americans are humans...and like all humans, we are (relatively) just recently down out of the trees. Our technological evolution has been mind-boggling. Our philosophical evolution has lagged to the point where it is not unreasonable to call it "stunted."

The gun problem is serious, but a more pressing problem is that we have the technological capability to annihilate humanity (and perhaps all life)...while not yet achieving the philosophical maturity to make that a statistical improbability.

I will be pleasantly surprised if our country has a mature, reasonable discussion between the extremes of the two sides of this issue, but I won't be holding my breath. And make no mistake about it...without the extremes of both sides finally coming to reality...this problem will not even abate, much less go away.
Chrissake, there's guns, and then there's military assault weapons. People seem to lump them all into one category. Get rid of the assault weapons in the hands of civilians (and to hell with the paranoid idjits who think the guvmint is comin' for them) and later most of the handguns. Most civilized countries manage to live in a virtually gun-free state... From beyond your borders, the whole thing looks insane: Duh, should we do *something* about the slaughter? As if it makes for a reasonable discussion!
Well written piece, but I think I come down on the side of Myriad. I find it hard to be rational with a group that thinks there's no problem with individuals having military assault weapons.
Myriad " Of the mass shootings since 1982 - 68 used semi automatic handguns, 35 used assault weapons, 20 used revolvers, and 19 used shotguns.

The number one caliber that commits the most killings each year both accidental and murder is the .22 cal. The .22 is also the most popular for target shooting and hunting as well.

According to a 2008 study by the FBI 68% of all murders were committed with guns and guns were used in 7% of the 5.1 million violent crimes of rape and sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault.

Sure ban assault weapons, it will not stop the violence, but at least it will make some people feel safer even if they are not.
Myriad " Of the mass shootings since 1982 - 68 used semi automatic handguns, 35 used assault weapons, 20 used revolvers, and 19 used shotguns.

The number one caliber that commits the most killings each year both accidental and murder is the .22 cal. The .22 is also the most popular for target shooting and hunting as well.

According to a 2008 study by the FBI 68% of all murders were committed with guns and guns were used in 7% of the 5.1 million violent crimes of rape and sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault.

Sure ban assault weapons, it will not stop the violence, but at least it will make some people feel safer even if they are not.
Thanks for all the comments. Balance in all of this is key. The assault weapon issue has to be dealt with. So does the ammunition clip issue. And a true national database that really functions to support responsible gun ownership and use is least, that's the way it seems. But as we've just witnessed in the past 24-hours, shotguns can be effective too. We're not going to stop misguided lunatic behavior. There is no one cause and no true cure. But pushing harder for responsibility may help some. And I do want to give a shout out to Jan Sand about the business support side of the NRA. It really worries me when public policy centered on safety and protection issues is tainted by people with a profit motive. Money creates the most insidious lunacy I know of.
The problems with money in our society are huge. The gun problem has recently been cited as a major contributor to the fact that life expectancy statics in the USA is far below that of other comparitive developed nations. See

Obviously no developed economic system can divest itself of the use of money but illegal and legal distortions of its function are severely damaging all aspects of society.
Good attempt at raising the level of dialogue. I'm not so sure that dialogue is "the answer" any more than gun control, "mental health" screening, de-violencing our pop culture, or any other "fix-it" type approaches.

The "American" version of mass industrial civilization is the most extreme in fragmentation, anonymization (a word I just invented), and isolation. This manifests in our architecture, urban-suburban design, travel (freeways, interstate highways, air), entertainment, and consumption syndrome, including where and how we shop.

In other words, the problem is holistic, comprehensive. Gun violence is one aspect of a larger problem. I wrote about a couple of aspects - a casually violent attitude towards the rest of the planet (invasions, rumors of invasions), and the effects of stress and absence in early childhood described by "Canadian" physician Gabor Maté in "Full Circle," which can be found on Open Salon.

Broadening the context, since our culture of violence cannot be removed from its context, we live in an era where the climate is changing, and not in a way that is more comfortable for humans. Indeed, as the climate heats up, we can expect that people will too. We also live in a condition of an infinite growth economic system on a finite planet is reaching the limits to its growth. We now have illusory growth, with high-tech frivolities paving the way for labor-displacing growth of consumer luxuries, while human misery and marginalization increases.

Like the Romans and so many others before us, the "answer" may be the all-too-likely decline and fall. If you look at it in evolutionary terms, natural selection might just select us out. I don't think dialogue between two "sides" will resolve this to anyone's satisfaction. Tomorrow will happen. The next day will happen. Then the next and the next and the next. There is a certain momentum taking place that we can't reason ourselves out of. Life will go on. I believe in the Divine. I'm just not so sure about man.
Good points John. The main theme I pick up these days watching folks try to deal with this from all sides (and it certainly isn't two sides) is that meaningful dialog is close to impossible. Not just because of a lack of rationality, but because the terms and POV of "speakers" are so confused and contradictory. And also because people try hard to pigeon hole these issues when in fact they are connected to so much more...from the illegal drug trade to mental illness, parenting, our education system, climate change (good call), advanced communication technologies, civil rights, Constitutional integrity, states rights, varying concepts of freedom, violence in America, media influence, community responsibility, fear of government, lust for governmental solutions, our justice system, etc. etc.

All that said, it seems to me (my prediction) is that the politics here (should have mentioned that in my list!) will get played out in a bill with some sort of stringent ban on semi-automatic weapons and their associated ammo clips, plus a national registry that allows law enforcement to speak to each other. This will all be watered down and compromised into oblivion so that it is relatively ineffective.

Two things that have been suggested to me since writing my essay are:

1. How much of this is driven by varying forms of fear on all sides?

2. Gun control advocates should join the NRA and make their voices heard.

I find both of those observations extremely interesting.
Looked at from a neutral point of view the aggressive ferocity of our species has probably motivated impulses to perfection of our ability to not only defeat all forces of opposition outside our species but also within our different cultures. This ingenuity in war has led to destructive abilities greater than permitted for life sustenance and it seems it is a race wherein when we win all we lose all. The champing at the bit for our manic maniac leaders to move to the final atomic showdown will no doubt be spectacular and finally our tired planet will relax into the sterility we perceive on Mars, an aptly named sphere.
very good.

there are social aspects to the gun argument which inspires my contempt. against the wimps, i charge that they only get excited when few middle class people are killed, while america shoots more than 200 per week with never a quiver from the 'progressive' side of town. against the big belt buckles i note that you don't need a military weapon unless your hunting season is year-round people killing, sponsored by the munitions industry.

and that's why nothing much can be accomplished: neither side will address the endemic poverty which creates the crime culture and the over-whelming majority of american gun homicides.
Americans appear to live in the most polarized society that I've ever heard tell of. There no longer seems to be a "middle road" about anything anymore. It's all an, "I'm right and that makes you wrong," attitude. This kind of thinking "KNOWS" that it is unnecessary to have any "discussions" that might water down their own position because "them other guys" are just wrong and should have the sense to realize it. If they won't even realize how wrong they are, what's the use of discussing anything; they won't change their stupid opinions.

As to the effectiveness of "peace and love", I, as an old peacenik of the sixties and seventies, can tell you that peace has eluded mankind for many eons and nobody can realistically 'love' everyone in any truly meaningful way. We might, however, find in in us to live and let live if "them others" will do the same. Love everybody just isn't ever going to happen, but we might get very good results with respect. we cannot control whom we love; we CAN control whom we will offer respect to. Were all human interaction based upon respect, I don't think we'd go too far wrong.

Great blog David. I'm happy that I stumbled across it!


The REAL CONSERVATIVE will never give an inch on this! Any restriction whatsoever an anyone's ability to buy or carry a gun is simply the first step toward having the United Nations march in (under the cover of black helicopters) and make us all slaves to the one-world government headed by Barak Obama and Bill Clinton!

Some liberal leftist commie bastards may find this view extreme; but I know a guy who was in jail with a guy who had a girlfriend who slept with an intern at the U.N. who overheard a conversation of someone who said that they heard someone say that this is all in the works! That's proof enough for me! I say repeal all gun laws and arm as many patriots as possible!
David: Some good points. I have a lot of Quaker ancestors, but they also included Timothy Matlack. (the Fighting Quaker.). You are right about heavy social dialogue being needed, but it had better not be about "guns". The real question is, why does the US glorify murder and torture; also, why is PTSD so Normal in our society that we have so many drunks, drug addicts, etc. All "Escapes" from our "normal life" . People with Battle Fatigue over-react to shadows, like "guns" and under-react to real threats, like the wipeout of the Middle Class
The fact is obvious that a video game never killed anybody. Research is at best inconclusive. It could in fact be the outlet that reduces violence, and we know it's only a diversion anyway by the paranoids who want to return to the age of vigilantes.

If you don't know the Real Conservative yet, he isn't a satirist. He spends all his welfare check on guns. It figures, just like the father of your friend who wouldn't let him live his own life was a gun nut.

As of this writing we now know unequivicably the President is on our side. I don't think he went far enough because I think all assault weapons and ammunition in the hands of the general public should be reclaimed. What a stunning victory for civility that would be. We can start to be proud again of our nation.
A lot of good points & congrats on your EP David!

What more do you need to know about the Adam Lanza Story? A mentally challenged young man used his mother's guns that she easily bought because SHE didn't have a record & shot HIS pent-up anger at precious children because he was different.

She knew he was becoming dangerous but was in denial & didn't get help in time & then in the dark of night; was sorry she ever showed him how to use them! R
There is little talk about the criminal Adam Lanza who murdered his mother, stole her guns and murdered more people with stolen guns. Did he have mental problems, yes? Was he abused by his mother, yes? Are they considered as the major factors that caused the horrible killing of innocent children? No because it fits the narrative.

Guns are used in 7% of all violent crimes. Assault weapons are used in 2% of all gun crimes. Don't worry Hollywood and the gaming industry please continue to sell our children violence as entertainment. You are not the problem, it was the size of the clip that is to blame.
"The fact is obvious that a video game never killed anybody. Research is at best inconclusive." Sounds like something a tobacco company would say. Ben you are correct a video game will not kill someone and that is true of a gun. Both are lifeless, mindless objects.

Now take a mentally unstable person set them down in front of dozens of ultra violent video game for decades, throw in a few slasher movies, sprinkle in some substance abuse or bullying and you may have a killer. Maybe they use a gun, set a fire, or just run someone over with a car.

I know the narrative is guns. That is the problem with dealing with ideology. Ideologues are so focused on their belief it becomes the single source for all the problems of the world. The Sturmgewehr (assault weapon) has been around for 69 years. They use to sell military surplus weapons mail order in the back of magazines until 62. Although there are more guns now, they are in less households than 50 years ago. Less people have guns today than 50 years ago, yet we are becoming a nation that glorifies violence in movies and TV. But, please do not blame Hollywood we are talking about guns.
I do wish we had some evidence of the emotional logic Adam Lanza was operating with. It is so weird that he would kill his mother and then go attack sweet innocent children. Clearly, he was disturbed. But we have no idea what was going on in his head.

That said, we do know what's going on in everyone else's head. A lot of fear on both sides of the fence. Fear and hostility. This is how you guarantee not being able to talk. This is why I wrote my essay (this was written about four days after the massacre at Newtown).

Are we really such children?
David guns have been around in abundance since the founding of this country, but the senseless violence of this kind was not. When I was a kid in Texas we would buy ammo at the local 7/11 and no one thought anything of it. Most pickups has a gun or two in the back window. There was little or no gun control. Most gun violence was criminal on criminal, or victim shooting criminals.

Maybe the decades of endless wars since the 50s is having a collective effect on our society. In the 60s we protested the war in Vietnam, today we have two wars going on for over a decade and nothing is said. Maybe all these events are the result of the chickens coming home to roost.
Real Conservatives will NEVER give an inch. We know that there are SECRET people out there with a SECRET plan to take away our guns! Obama may ne one of the SECRET people-or just their pawn. Either way we will continue to throw fits and cling to our guns. I love my guns! Without my guns, I'm sure that the government will come and take my FREEDOM away. We NEW CONSERVATIVES (unlike those wimply Reagan types) are always on guard against tyranny-which is lurking under every bush! This is not your grandfathers conservative movement! The black helicopters are coming! Be afraid! EEEEEKKKK! I'm shaking just thinking about it! I'll go clean one of me guns-that always calms me down!
The right to bear arms equates to the right to rebel against the government. - PERIOD - The assault weapons ban violates this right by placing potential rebellions on unequal footings per se. I own no "guns" and probably will never. The right of the people to join together and oppose an abusive government and reject the orders the rebellion members considers unfair is the principle once protected in the United States. Hunting, target shooting and self defense against criminals had almost nothing to do with the reserved right. The right of the governed to join together and rebel against the government was the rational for the second amendment.

This was typed slowly so that liberals and conservatives could BOTH understand.

The evil [sic] "open [internet]" will end in 2013 with no doubt.
Neeley Jr v FCC, et al, (5:12-cv-5208)

You make a very interesting point. Take it from the other side. The right of the people to oppose government with armed opposition is kind of like the hidden 4th pillar of checks and balances. At its root, democracy as it has been fashioned is successful because it is the best way, the most rational way, of legitimizing power. Providing this 4th pillar keeps the other three in check. That said, the 2nd Amendment is definitely an example of our forefathers not being able to think through the implications of technology development. More than likely they didn't even understand technology development as an issue that needed to be taken seriously.
The gun issue continues. It's not very pretty to watch the way the NRA is handling this. Same with conservatives in general. Did these people not see what happened in the last election and do they not understand that there is room to compromise and actually move to a more just and balanced approach to all of this? Oh well. I want to recommend reading Jon Cashon's excellent historical analysis of machine gun regulations as an illustrative point: