Sunday, July 22, 2012

Where Was Batman When They Really Needed Him?

The shooting at Aurora raises again the question of how these atrocities occur. Defenders of “gun rights,” granted they say, by the U.S. Constitution, are quick to tell us that guns don’t kill, that it is only people who kill.

But we who believe that America has gone crazy for guns and violence are not stupid. We know that guns don’t kill – without aid from humans in the form of either calculated malice or inexcusable carelessness.

But it seems that even a modicum of thoughtfulness would lead one to see that guns (and other killing machines) have as their primary purpose for existence, the taking of life, either human or that of animals we wish to prey upon. No doubt most gun owners never use their guns to take a human life – thank God for that. They either use them for legal “game hunting” (an interesting phrase) or for target practice.

For several months now, any time the issue of “gun rights” is raised, the local NBC affiliate here has been using a set of clips showing a man shooting at a target. After he fires off several rounds the picture switches to show the target he has been shooting at. It is the outline of a human form and the shooter has managed to put most or all of his bullets in its head. I’m sure he is proud of his marksmanship. If however, mere accuracy in shooting were his goal, a small bulls-eye target would serve just as well and would not be as suggestive of mayhem committed against a fellow human being.

Guns are not, in and of themselves, killers, but in almost every setting in which we see them used they are the instruments of killing – in movies, video games, and news reports of crime and war scenes. Most human beings, in ordinary circumstances are not likely to take up guns and murder those around them. But we are not always in “ordinary circumstances” and some among us are never in “ordinary circumstances’; some live constantly in a paranoid world, or a drug-induced world, or a mental illness clouded world that suggests to them that they are justified in using whatever force they can to control their fears or obey the “voices” in their head.

In most of the states in our Union we have decided to allow “law abiding citizens” of “sound mind” to strap weapons on their person (if they keep them concealed) and carry them into almost every venue including – in some localities – legislative halls and court-rooms. We have passed laws making it very difficult to prosecute anyone who has used their weapon against another human being if they can show even slight evidence that they were simply “standing their ground” against an aggressor, or “defending their “castle” against an intruder. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have applied for the right to “bear arms” under these new laws.

We have reverted to the “wild west” era of our history; descended to level of vigilante law that exists in the nations of the world where we send our young men and women (and our guns) to teach them how to live better.

I know few people who advocate outlawing ownership of guns capable of defending one’s own household and property. I know of few who would restrict the right of responsible adults to own and use guns appropriate for hunting “game” animals. I certainly do not oppose such uses of guns. And though it sends a chill up my spine to think of it, I can even tolerate the idea of specialized, military-type guns being used – by ordinary citizens, in controlled situations – for target shooting, using human silhouettes as targets if that must be. There seems to be deep need in some people’s psyche to exercise such powers. (Witness the popularity of the “paintball” war games engaged in as recreation by gatherings as benign as church youth groups.)

We cannot blame guns for the violence done with them. They did not create themselves and they do not spew death on their own. But we could decide, as a society, to take steps to make it illegal, with significant consequences, to obtain any gun without a license, and especially so for those weapons capable of creating massive carnage in a few seconds of time.  We could put reasonable restrictions upon their ownership and use.

It seems strange that a society that can restrict the sale of strong narcotic medicines, even to the point of requiring a signature to have the prescription filled, that can regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol, and even tobacco, that can require the registration of automobile ownership, that invests millions of dollars per year to stop Iran and North Korea from getting the “ultimate assault weapon”, could understand the need to put restraints upon the weapons that are turning portions of our cities, every day, into killing fields; that generate on too regular a basis the kinds of mass killings that occurred in Aurora.

But even more important than the restricting of weapons of certain destruction, we need, as a society, to ask ourselves why we take such delight in violence and carnage, in our movies, our video games, and our nightly news. From the gruesome campfire story to the written page; from the written page to visual media; from black and white to living-dying color; from two dimensions to three; from the virtual world of the screen to the horrific reality of flesh and blood, we have worn a path of sorry episodes that belie our claims to humanity.

Either we, as a race, are better than this, or we are lost; doomed to follow the bloody ways portrayed in all our doomsday movies. And, with no super-heroes to save us.

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