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There are no silver bullets...yet
Lock and load for your latest spin Down the Pipes, the weekly blogletter from your bud. If you’re new here, you may find the vast majority of posts sit behind a paywall, though you’ll occasionally get a freebie (like this one) if you behave. If you’re a friend of mine IRL go ahead and subscribe for a free account and I’ll comp your access as soon as I recognize your email address, or if you’re not a friend of mine IRL but want in for free anyway, just reply to one of my emails and I’ll move you from the stranger column to the friend column right quick (j/k it could take days, be patient but I always like new friends).
Programming note: No blogging from me next week, wrapping up the long awaited podcast that you’ll get to hear in May.
This is not the first time I’ve drafted this post.
In the last year that I’ve been blogging here, I’ve tried to write about guns and mass shootings almost once a month. The results have been mostly fruitless, though this post about an American Civil War Redux from last May holds up and hits a lot of these points. I’m sorry to have to repeat myself, but until the problem goes away I’m going to feel compelled to keep raising it.
It’s one of those topics that feels impossible to tackle, like handing an 11 year old a copy of Dune. Sure, maybe they can read the words, but what are the chances they actually get anywhere with it?
The thoughts and prayers are vacant. They’ve been vacant for as long as we’ve been thinking and praying, topics I’ve already covered extensively. Hand wringing about the lack of action it is just as tired as we are from living through it. What could I possibly say here to actually affect change? Probably nothing.
And yet. It feels impossible to ignore. The elephant in the room that continually and repeatedly sucks all the air and focus out of every moment, which I guess is where that phrase comes from. I’ve never been in a normal sized room with an actual elephant in it, but I imagine it would be terrifying and confusing at the same time.
I’ve said this before and will probably say it again, but Columbine was the first time I found myself confronting the idea that kids in trenchcoats could unleash terror and death on their own classmates…kids just like me. I was 11, nearly 12. Old enough to know what was happening, but too young to grasp the implications.
24 years later, it still feels just as terrifying and confusing (if not moreso). In 1999 it felt like a freak occurrence, but in 2023 it feels du jour. How the everloving hell did we get here? And more importantly, is it even possible to get out?
The answer to that question, as is often the case, is yes and no. Yes, in that we know exactly how to fix it, no in that we seem unwilling as a society to do so. But why?
The only thing I can possibly come up with is that guns have become the ultimate arbiter of truth in a world of truthlessness. A person with a gun does not need to accept or even consider my reality; their ability to end my narrative with the flick of their index finger means that I am always going to be ill-suited to argue with them about anything. A parking dispute, a break up, a snide remark…we live in a world where the only time shootings even register for us now is when they’re “mass” and “senseless,” but a jumbo jet worth of people are shot every day.
Many by accident, some out of rage, lots out of depression, and too many out of desperation, but regardless of the reason, the only thing these victims have in common is that they are almost always shot by a person who thought they needed a gun to solve their problems. A clumsy insecurity hack encoded into our Constitution.
And that, my friends, is why I think we are so damn stuck. Ever since Charlton Heston promised that his cold, dead hands would be the only path to disarming him, Americans have found ourselves in an deadly debate with insecure men who would sooner kill than consider a world where they can’t.
Now look, I’m actually pretty good with a gun myself. Meet me at a skeet or trap course and I am fairly confident I can outshoot you. Guns are nifty devices in these settings, I fully understand their novelty. I also appreciate that I have neighbors here in the wilderness of the Catskills who rely on their gun to feed their family and protect their livestock. It’s not how I’d ever choose to live, but I get their tradition and generally respect their choices.
But there’s a certain kind of feeling that you get holding a loaded gun for the first time, a wild sense of power that makes you feel both invincible and fragile at the same time. They’re heavy, but considering the enormous kinetic energy you can unleash with the simplest of twitches, they feel shockingly light. Most people will flinch the first time they pull the trigger, so by the time you open your eyes you’re left only with the results. A plume of metallic smelling smoke, the recoil that you were warned about but couldn’t possibly anticipate the magnitude of, and the target you were pointing at either unscathed or neatly punctured.
It feels like a magic wand of death. For my next trick, watch as I explode an orange clay disc whizzing through the air using nothing but hand-eye coordination. Knowing and seeing what a gun can do to a solid object makes you keenly aware of what would happen if that same gun found itself pointed at the jelly of a human being.
This should generally evoke a sense of respect, fear, and awe. Like most magic technology in this world, it can be used for good or evil, but increasingly we find ourselves in a country of black hats who have access to guns that sporting and hunting shooters would never consider. My neighbors and I have no need for hollow point bullets and bump stocks, that’s quite literally overkill for the responsible gun handler.
The regulatory frameworks to allow these devices to be manufactured and sold has always been craven, and for years we allowed our politicians to perform a kind of real life trolley problem on us…it wasn’t that they voted in the affirmative to allow AR-15s to be sold openly, they just let the ban on them expire.
And why were they so fearful of renewing a law that was popular with the majority of Americans? For all the reasons I just outlined…going up against the people who are armed to the teeth is a recipe for being outgunned. Assassination is a real fear for every political and public figure. Why put yourself in the crosshairs? It doesn’t help that the political rhetoric in our country has found success in stoking the most basest fears about government overreach and violent crime. Protecting your family and country is something we can all generally agree on, but when we’re repeatedly told that these institutions are in the figurative crosshairs of the other side, picking up a gun can seem like an urgent and necessary response.
Too many men in this country are emotionally underdeveloped and deeply insecure about a whole host of things, and a gun gives them the unwarranted confidence they otherwise lack. It’s dick enhancement to the extreme, and I’m not talking about the phallic meaning of the word dick.
If you’ve never been on the other end of a threat against your life, consider yourself lucky. After Columbine, a few of the more brooding kids in my middle school started wearing trench coats and making their own hit lists. As a class officer, it was rumored I was on them. I never confirmed that I don’t think, but the school responded by banning trench coats, the exact kind of half measure that only serves to make you forget the ever looming threat sitting across the room from you.
It wasn’t the last time I’d feel my existence threatened by someone who outgunned me because of their own insecurity. In 2013, Gawker published a publicly available list of handgun owners in NYC. Within hours we received a bomb threat to our voicemail, and one of my business side co-workers received a chilling phone call. I was traveling on business at the time, but I’ll never forget trying to arrange NYPD escorts for our employees from a Cabana Suite at the Cosmopolitan. Mind you, the list we published was already available to any member of the public willing to ask for it, and anyone who registers a gun in NY State knows that their name will go into a public register. That’s just part of the deal of being a responsible gun owner.
If merely publicizing that register encourages the kookiest people on it to threaten life and limb of an entire company, just imagine what these people would do if we actually suggested meaningful legislation to further restrict their access and use of firearms. While 95% of the people on that list probably didn’t even know we had publicized it and 4.9% didn’t care enough to say anything, the .1% who spoke up were enough to scare us into considering if we needed to arm ourselves.
A debate ensued among the executive team, some of us were pro-armed guards while others argued that bringing armed security to our fairly accessible office would only invite more trouble. We ultimately hired a guy with a walkie talkie to sit in our lobby for a period of time, an optical illusion of security meant to quell those on staff who did not sign up to work for a place that could get them killed.
Almost 2 years later to the day, the Charlie Hebdo offices were attacked, and we briefly considered bringing security back to our office. Je suis Charlie? Non. Nous sommes Charlie? Oui.
We always had brave and fearless reporters at GMG, some of whom I’m sure would be willing die for a story that needed to be told. But when inconvenient truth is threatened with violence from an insecure source, most among us are too cowardly to act against our own sense of self preservation (this is especially true for politicians, who often value self preservation over just about everything else).
The second amendment has a chilling effect on the first, and quite clearly creates a conflict between ideas and violence. If yelling fire in a crowded theater isn’t Constitutionally protected speech, in what world is waving a gun at reporters or politicians okay?
The second amendment, as written, is fairly prescriptive of what it was meant to enable. The first four words say it all: “A well regulated militia.” Citizen militias can be scary concepts in the abstract, but if properly regulated you could compel regular training and licensing, armories that require safe keeping of warlike arms, and membership qualifications that keep guns out of the hands of “lone ranger” types intent on subjecting their twisted will on innocent lives.
There are a million things we could be doing differently to support the spirit of the 2nd amendment without the needless bloodshed. Smart guns exist…they require the owner’s palm print to shoot and could potentially be jammed over the air in public spaces like schools and churches. Buy back programs are popular, imagine a world where the government valued each $1,000 gun as a $5,000 trade-in? Or a world where citizens are incentivized to flag friends and family members who we think would be needlessly dangerous if armed? Make background checks mandatory, raise the minimum purchase age, and force someone to prove safe ownership with a lesser bolt action rifle before selling them something more deadly.
We could limit the amount and type of ammunition available on the open market…let well regulated militias stockpile in well regulated armories if you must, but give individuals a finite and constricted amount of bullets that they need explain what they’re doing with before they get access to more. Nobody needs hundreds or thousands of rounds of hollow point or armor piercing bullets, but right now there are few laws limiting the quantity or type that can be purchased. Guns themselves may not kill people, but high caliber bullets certainly do.
The solutions are clear and countless, but there’s no silver bullet to solving this problem. We need mass action, general strikes, and most importantly, valiant leaders who are willing to put their own lives at risk to protect ours. These people exist, and we as citizens need to support, protect, and elevate them at all costs.
And what to do with the insecure cowards who insist on keeping personal armories and protecting their right to impose their ill-will on us through force?
Let’s offer to pay for their therapy and help them work on those insecurities, so we won’t have to pay with innocent lives when they ultimately and inevitably break.
Even huge dicks with small members deserve a chance to feel secure without a gun.
Until next time.