In “Get Shorty,” Gene Hackman asks John Travolta’s wise-guy persona, Chili Palmer, whether he’s packing heat. Chili’s reply is quick, and in character.
‘Not really,” he says.
Not really. The line is pointed in its brevity, accuracy and ambiguity. Not so the debate over guns today. Most conservatives favor them, but not all. Cops want more controls, but not all cops. Women, now in decision-making roles in record numbers, largely advocate alternatives to the brute force that has defined the American Male and policing since long before GI Joe.
Although I lean to the center left on most things, I consider the right to own a gun settled law. And I don’t talk about it much. But every once in a while a school gets shot up, a madman inflicts unspeakable horror; and the circular firing squad ensues. Also, I am familiar with guns, not afraid of them unless pointed in my direction, and as a result, I’ve had smart and sensible people on both sides of the Armed-America debate quiz me about polticially incongruent views.
I try not to engage. For what if, instead of ultra-conservative Sarah Palin talking about “second amendment remedies” for the nation’s ills, it were a liberal like Dr. Cornel West, or even a pair of powerful neoliberals like, say Hilllary Clinton, or POTUS? Congress would roar, and the markets would shake. While those Democrats know better than Sarah to even wink at armed revolution, their critics rarely return the favor.
I don’t think we need all these guns. But like my libertarian friends and outdoor types, I ain’t about to bring a knife to a gun fight. Protecting home and family and the innocent isn’t something to bargain away to public policy and pipe dreams.
It’s a classic, L-shaped rhetorical ambush. Framed in like the abortion debate, this gun fight always consists largely of two sides shooting blanks over God and Country, when the real issue is violence.
Violence. That’s what has us in the croff-fire and in the cross hairs; and bleeding innocent blood in the crosswalks of 21st Century America.
I often chat about such issues with a friend my age, a work-from-home mom who lives on the sea in Denmark. In many ways, she has become a sort of de toqueville for understanding my own country. But on this issue she’s at a total loss, and, well, basically terrified to ever raise her family in a place like ours. This saddens me on a deeper level.
“This land was won by the gun,” I told her once, pointing out that the Blackhawk Wars, fought for the right to occupy my part of the “New World” happened only 150 years ago. I have visited monuments to the final pitched battles and it’s not uncommon, still, for artifacts from the ‘Indian Wars’ to turn up now and again. Thousands of years of living on these hills and wading in our rivers and it took an explosion in lethal technology — the rifle — to wipe them all out so fast. Without a doubt, guns don’t kill people, people do — and white Europeans killed just about every native person they could see when they got here, and had the nerve to call it the new world.
We can’t rewrite history, but we surely can learn from it — like former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who, shortly before his death, copped to being a “war criminal” for, among other things, signing off on the firebombing of Tokyo, which killed 100,000 men, women and children in one night.
His soul-searching question: What makes it legal if you win and a war crime if you don’t?
The noise from voices and guns, amplified by technology, is now streaming through the cultural ether in waves of instant communication and cracks of fear – even as firearm and ammuition sales skyrocket, ironically I suppose, from the constant reporting on this new ‘fear of fear. ‘
Contributing to the imperative to get this right, as a result of two wars, an entire generation of young men —and many women —have been trained to kill and use a gun for country. They return home now in waves having served bravely and unselfishly — broken but unbowed — to a nation opening fire on each other.
“Rollin out in Philly it’s the new Iraq,” raps Meek Mill, in his single, “Tupac Back.”
In the neighborhood in which I live, gunfire can be heard on any given night and it’s generally considered reliable information that every other pedestrian — and many drivers — are packing some kind of heat or weapon in the immediate vicinity. The cops, unwilling to be outgunned, are also acquiring the weapons and technology of the paramilitary, just as the Mexican drug Cartels have done with savage results along the border.
I have handled many guns but have fired only a few — shotguns, a Smith and Wesson .38 special, a .357 Magnum, a Glock 19, and a .45 semi-automatic. (Most of my shooting, perhaps hundreds of rounds, is recalled in an earlier column about the 22 bolt-action long rifle issued to us in High School Gym Class). Yet I don’t fetishize these experiences, nor do I regret them. Pistol packin’ Texans scare me, but it’s also not lost on me that Chicago’s murder rate soars even as it has on its books some of the toughest urban gun ordinances in the nation. I don’t EVER want to have to shoot someone.
But I never forget that my life and liberty are protected largely by those willing to do just that. And as long as gunfire fills the night in much of urban America, and desperation thickens amid prolonged unemployment, I am not ready to cede an armed citizenry to the unknowns of a disarmed electorate.
Right now, it seems, the wrong people have too many guns, and believe they have nothing to lose in using them on their enemies and even innocents.