A gun feels good in your hand: The weight, the balance, the way it distills complex marvels of engineering and physics into such a simple, focused function.
Why do you think they call it a firearm? It is a truly alchemic invention that literally allows “fire” to issue forth from your “arm.” That kind of potential power — so lacking elsewhere in the confusion, uncertainty and humiliation of everyday life — is at the root of our nation’s love of guns.
My father was a U.S. Navy officer, stationed overseas, and as a young teenager I was a member of my school’s army cadet force, where we spent many happy hours cleaning, loading and firing a huge array of automatic and semi-automatic weaponry. I wouldn’t clean up my room — but I would clean a gun. I didn’t want to shoot people, just “shoot stuff up.”
Perhaps this fascination could have become lifelong. In my case, it ended the day I met my first girlfriend — so make of that what you will, Professor Freud. Yet my modest experience with guns suggests to me that a major reason people own them is not to feel safe, or to hunt down their dinner, but to feel a little more powerful in a world that is good at making us feel powerless.
A recent op/ed piece in Noozhawk stated that trying to ban guns would create a fiasco, just like Prohibition. I thought this a revealing statement, because like alcohol, guns are addictive, and if your own relationship with the focus of your addiction is not controlled, it brings misery to both the addict and those around them.
I believe it is not the guns we are addicted to, but rather the way they make the user feel. This addiction has spiraled out of control, aided by: the liberal media, or the National Rifle Association, or the gun manufacturers, or video games or illegal drugs — you can pick your bugbear to point the blame at from anywhere across the political or social spectrum.
If people feel safer with a handgun in their dresser, then they should absolutely have the right to do that. (Personally, I wouldn’t feel safe if I was in someone’s house if they did have a gun, but I guess that is just me.) The real issue is owning assault rifles or semi-automatic weapons with large-capacity magazines that go way beyond the requirements of protecting your loved ones or your flat screen.
I thought we didn’t like weapons of mass destruction in America. I thought we didn’t like terrorism either. We have spent a lot of time and money rooting these things out overseas. But, as we have discovered closer to home in Newtown, Conn., an assault weapon in the hands of a sick person is a weapon of mass destruction that allows acts of terror to occur with numbing frequency.
We can’t legislate against people’s mental state. Most of us at some point in our life will experience a moment of crisis or breakdown, where we feel truly desperate. If there is a semi-automatic weapon sitting in our closet, then that could get dragged into our crisis. We have seen how people can fall prey to the temptation of having their suicidal urge turn murderous, so that their pain can be amplified many times over until the whole world knows about it.
Yes, “people kill people, guns don’t kill people,” yet many of us have a defective safety catch inside us that can temporarily flick from “safe” to “fire” without us ever comprehending why. For these reasons, we need to focus on the simpler part of the equation — the weapons themselves.
Relative to others, America is a young country. Firearms were a vital tool in the beginning of our history. Not any longer. Yet we are reluctant to leave these symbolic tools behind, even though we have grown out of them.
Our country is coming out of a troubled adolescence, and we are discovering our place in the world. We are not as all-powerful as we fantasized during that adolescence, but nevertheless as we move into painful, compromised adulthood, we have an incredible capacity to transform both this country and the entire world into a better place. To succeed, we may have to give up a little bit of freedom (owning weapons that belong in a military armory, not at home) in exchange for freedom from the tyranny of the bullet.
Maybe it is too much for us to go cold turkey on our gun addiction, but we could moderate our habit.
— Erik Talkin is CEO of a Santa Barbara County nonprofit organization, and lives with his wife and children on the Eastside of Santa Barbara.