One of the truisms of communicating is that how something is said can be more important that what is said.
One of the problems with our national conversation about guns is that we refuse to have it.
We treat guns as a thoroughly dysfunctional family might talk about a family scandal; we just don’t – and the guilt, and denial, and dread, and powerlessness hover like an undying spirit of shame and anguish.
The children sense it – or are victims of it, but it is the adults who sway in its viral grip. What are children to make of a world where the adults, who we, and they, know are here to protect them, violate that sacred oath and live instead a life of cowardice and paralysis?
One of the many ironies is that many of the families, and our own culture, have deep roots of religion with a focus on dominion – of nature – and by extension – our own passions and rages.
But it is obvious from almost any day’s headlines that our stewardship of the natural world has been as fruitful as our dominion over our own deepest human impulses.
The Founding Fathers of our nation were well aware of these horrifying aspects of human nature, individual and institutional within each citizen – and leader.
I teach English and writing. I am no Constitutional scholar, but I study and work with the power of words, and I look at our Constitution as a framework of words that defines, expresses and reaches for literally the most civil, open and accessible system of government and responsible citizenry.
To say that we have not reached that pinnacle any time in our nation’s history is obvious. But we, perhaps like no other culture, deliberately framed who we intend to be.
One rarely noted aspect of language that I have been focusing on lately is the introductory phrase. These are the phrases that set up or frame a statement. These short phrases define and set the parameters around what might be a complex concept.
Our second Constitutional Amendment which proclaims our ‘right’ to bear arms is short, but holds two of these introductory phrases.
Here is the entire Second Amendment: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
One can see the source of the many confusions immediately; both introductory phrases are (conveniently?) dropped out of almost every conversation regarding gun rights.
The focus of the Second Amendment is the training and equipping of state militias – and these militias – and the weapons they use, are to be ‘well-regulated’. Why is ‘well-regulated’ so difficult to understand?
Many of those who say they want to ‘get back to the Constitution’ either deliberately, or out of ignorance, violate both the original intent and the plain meaning of this amendment.
To ask if our nation is ‘more secure’ due to our current interpretation and application of this amendment is to lurch into absurdity.
But our inability to correctly interpret (let alone apply) is not limited to this amendment, or even this document.
Various denominations – and historical eras – have battled, sometimes literally, over interpretations of the Bible for centuries.
We do, however, need to be particularly careful as we read, interpret and apply our laws.
One reasonable question to ask is ‘What is the purpose of any given law?” As a responsible, informed and competent citizen, what are my rights and responsibilities?
When it comes to guns, or, actually any tool, what is the basic level of skill and competence required?
What is the purpose of any tool?
The purpose of a drill is to drill holes. And every drill comes with detailed instructions detailing its safe and proper use. The intended purpose of most guns (besides those explicitly meant for hunting) is to kill people. For some, the sales pitch dwells on the gun’s ‘efficiency’. And if you have been to a firing range recently (as I have) you have probably noticed that many targets are human shaped.
I grew up in a hunting family. My father took me hunting every year. He never spoke of the ‘right’ to use guns; but he spoke constantly of the inherent responsibility of any weapon.
My father was a veteran of World War II; in fact I still have his sharpshooter medallion.
He was not a man of slogans. The term “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people” would have struck him as an absurdity. Soldiers are trained, equipped and deployed to use guns; to kill people.
Have you noticed that when the term “Guns don’t kill people…” comes up, people either agree or disagree, but either way, thinking stops.
“Guns don’t kill people”?
Why else were they designed? Why else would people buy them? Would we send our soldiers into battle without them?
Again, as an English instructor, I emphasize that the inherent weakness of an argument is how quickly it falls apart when you lean on it. “Guns don’t kill people…” dwindles into incoherence almost immediately.
Here are a few examples. If I substitute another noun for ‘guns’ the absurdity becomes immediately apparent.
Instead of “Guns don’t kill people. ..”, what if we said “Cars don’t kill people. ..”? Or “Bananas don’t kill people…”?
Presumably those statements are true, but do they hold any meaning? The same could be said of any inanimate object. But we forget, perhaps deliberately, that guns are designed to kill.
Cars and bananas have other purposes than killing.
But “Guns don’t kill people…” is not the only logical absurdity that informs and defines our public policies regarding weapons.
The ‘hair of the dog’ healing philosophy always emerges in times of gun related violence. This is an ancient belief system where the solution to a problem is more of the problem. It was originally used to ‘cure’ hangovers. The idea was that drinking the substance that caused the hangover can also ‘cure’ it.
The inherent absurdity is immediately obvious. But this philosophy prevails. I see it in urban planning where the solution to traffic congestion is to build more highways and add more cars.
In the same ‘dog that bit you’ philosophy, there are those who say that the solution to gun violence is MORE guns.
It’s not that I disagree with this position; I find it incoherent and delusional.
Is this premise true in any other area of life?
This is the logic of the addict who decides that it is not the drug’s use or effects that constitute the problem; it is the LACK of drugs.
When we base our public policy, not on personal responsibility, or public safety or even common sense, but on the delusional ravings of drug addict logic, we have abandoned any basic human moral compass bearings.
How dare we, by our silence and inaction, put our stamp of approval on yet another unleashing of mankind’s technologically enhanced self-destructive impulse?
The ‘cold, dead hands’ that will lie in front of us will not be of those who are ‘defending our rights’ but of our own children.
God help us.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.