Saturday, February 02, 2013

Confessions of a Liberal Gun Hater


            Avid readers of the New York Times may remember a recent op-ed by Justin Cronin, entitled “Confessions of a Liberal Gun Owner.”  Cronin is a “devout[] Democrat,” who has voted for a Republican only once in the last three decades, and only then because he deemed the Democrat in that (mayoral) race mentally unbalanced.   Cronin goes on to talk about how he owns six semiautomatic pistols, shoots at the range at least once every week, and enjoys himself when he goes.    He acknowledged that “statistically speaking, a gun in the home represents a far greater danger to its inhabitants than to an intruder,” but then added that “not every choice we make is data-driven.”  To Cronin, “a gun feels right in my hand,” and notwithstanding the data, he feels in his gut that by owning guns, he is better protecting his family.

            The funny thing about the recent gun control debates in the mass media is just how many people on both sides of the debates resemble Cronin.  One after another, the gun control partisans begin their argument for assault weapons bans or other gun laws by pointing out that they, themselves, have found a place in their hearts for guns.  It’s almost as if they need that sort of “street cred” in order to identify themselves as legitimate, reasonable participants in the discussion.

Consider, for example, the words of President Obama, who has introduced a sweeping set of pro-gun-control proposals:  "Up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time.  And I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations.”  In that regard, he is joined by gun control’s new “power couple” -- former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, the ex-astronaut, Mark Kelly.   Here’s what Kelly told a Congressional panel: “Gabby is a gun owner and I’m a gun owner.  We have our firearms for the same reason that millions of Americans just like us have guns:  to defend ourselves, to defend our families, for hunting, and for target shooting.”

I applaud the folks like Obama, Kelly, Giffords and other prominent leaders (Senator Joe Manchin and talk-show host Joe Scarborough come to mind) who come from a pro-gun background and yet recognize the need for reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.  But I feel compelled to say that there are those of us who care about gun control and who come from a VERY different place.  We don’t skeet shoot.   We sure as hell don’t hunt animals.  And we don’t even possess firearms to protect our families.   Why?  Because we just flat out hate death, and since we associate guns with death, we hate guns too.   And no, we’re not ashamed to admit that either.

It was Spinoza who penned that “the free man thinks of death the least of all things and his wisdom is a meditation not of death but of life.”   If he were alive today, I’m sure Spinoza would also feel queasy at the thought of a pistol in his hands.  After all, in our society, what has come to symbolize death more than a gun?   Cronin said it: when you keep them at home, the ones you endanger most are yourself and your family.  Those are the cold hard facts.   And while I recognize that many gun owners are fortunate enough to safely care for their weapons indoors, just what exactly is their prize for taking their weapons outdoors: the opportunity to fire away at an innocent animal?  Trust me when I confess that there is only once in my life when I have actively hoped for human beings to die in my presence, and that is when I went to Mexico and attended a bull fight at around the age of ten.   Traumatized, I watched in horror and rooted passionately for the bulls to kill their attackers.   Perhaps I was wrong to do so, but that image of grown men hurting and killing defenseless animals to the cheers of a crowd still feels in my heart to be the most disgusting thing I have ever witnessed.

My hatred of guns began in my childhood and has been with me ever since.  I remember disliking the sport of riflery at summer camp, and I was one of those boys who enjoyed playing just about every sport.  There was always something about a gun, any gun, that just put me off.  Sure, I recognized that we needed guns in the hands of our police and our military, but that didn’t require me to feel romantically about them.  I could acknowledge the existence of gun rights, and yet feel saddened by the thought of a gun.   You could say I’m pro-gun only in the same sense that I am pro-choice on abortion.   I no more like guns than I like abortions.  

On May 14, 2000, I was proud to join roughly 750,000 men and women at the Million Mom’s March in Washington, DC.  That November, however, we all watched Al Gore lose the closest election in recent memory, and I for one attributed that loss in part to his support of gun control.  I saw this nation as hopelessly pro-gun to the point where any “successful” effort to curb the availability of guns would be of minimal practical significance.  As a passionate gun-control advocate, I felt hopelessly out of step with my society. 

With the above thoughts and feelings in mind, I wrote about guns in both of my novels, which were published years after the Million Mom’s March but years before the recent tragedy in Newtown.  I will leave you now with a passage from one of those novels, Moses the Heretic.  In reading it, and reflecting on the statements above, just remember that if the Scarboroughs and the Manchins of the world who come from a gun culture are willing to speak out in favor of gun control, you can only imagine how gun-haters like me feel about the issue.  We have rights too – I’ll leave it to you to figure out what those rights may be.

 “I don’t oppose the right to bear arms any more than the right to bear legs.  Now I wouldn’t let people own assault weapons, and I’m big on laws that impose waiting periods or that keep guns away from ex-convicts or the mentally ill, but I wouldn’t prohibit most Americans from owning simple handguns or rifles.  You might as well try to ban alcohol.  Firearms are as embedded in our culture as cold beer.

“So yes, in some respects I side with the NRA.  And yet, I’m thoroughly alienated by their romance with guns.  In fact, I’m disgusted.  Why do so many Americans actually like guns?  What’s the joy in aiming a rifle at some defenseless animal, blasting the life out of its body, and putting its remains on your wall?  And why would you want one of those weapons lying around so that one of your children could find it and begin the romance for a whole new generation?  

“Frankly, one of the things I love most about Jewish culture is that so few of us hunt.”

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