Thursday, April 19, 2007

A gun story

When I was a freshmen or sophmore in highschool I knew this guy named Tim.* Tim was one of those kids that everyone has in their highschool; you know: the guy who got picked on and made fun of, but you could never quite tell why. He seemed nice enough, was polite, friendly ... had a normal appearance ... Yet for some reason there was something about him that made people not like him. They'd be mean to him in person and talk bad about him when he wasn't around. He was always the but of jokes.

I never understood why everyone was mean to Tim. I didn't consider him a friend, but I didn't see anything wrong with him or feel any need to torment or be mean to him. I recall on one occasion a group of us went to the movies and he ended up going along too. He was a cousin of someone or something like that, which is why or how he ended up there, and I remember everyone else being dissappointed that they had to bear his presence at the movies.

I also recall thinking how odd that was. It's a movie, you're going to sit there watching it. How could someone sitting a few seats away from you be something to be upset over? Unless the person smelled bad or talked or made noise or moved around a lot during the film.

Tim did none of those things.

So Tim was that guy. The guy that got picked on his whole life but probably never quite understood why. As far as I could tell, there was no reason why.

About a year after that movie incident Tim and one of his friends - his best friend, if I recall correctly - got into an argument over something, I don't know what about. Tim was really mad at his friend and wanted to demonstrate how angry he was. So he went into his house (the argument was taking place in front of his house) and got a gun. I don't know if the gun was his or a parents or whatever - the bottom line was that there was a gun in the house and Tim knew it.

So Tim gets the gun and comes back outside to show his friend (probably his best friend) just how angry he is. He starts waving the gun at his friend. Points the gun at his friend to demonstrate that he is so angry at him that he is considering killing him. Tim did this to scare his friend, but did not intend to actually shoot him (or so he said later.) Then for a literal split-second Tim's friend must have realized how angry Tim was, because by accident or on purpose the gun fired and a bullet shot out and traveled the 4 to 5 feet that separated Tim and his friend and lodged itself somewhere in his body.

Tim's friend died from that gunshot wound.

Tim would later say that he felt horrible. That he did not intend to kill his friend. That he got caught up in the moment.

I believed him then and I believe it now. But Tim still had to go to jail, because Tim ended a human life. It took the universe around 14 billion years to arrange the molecules of hydrogen, carbon, phosphorous, nitrogen, oxygen, and other elements in a pattern that comprised the being that was Tim's friend. It took Tim and that gun and that bullet less than a second to turn that human being back into a "whisp of undifferentiated nothingness."**

I don't know what became of Tim. But I expect that where ever he is he still regrets having felt the need to wave a gun at his friend in order to demonstrate his anger. He probably still wonders how he could have done something so horrible.

Part of me thinks that in that moment, Tim stopped seeing his friend and instead saw every person in his life that had ever picked on him or made fun of him, and he waved that gun at "them" to show them that he wasn't going to take it anymore. And maybe part of his brain wanted to pull that trigger to kill those phantoms. Maybe not. Who knows?

I don't mean to make any sort of statement with this story other than what the reader can take from it. But I will say that when remembering this story I do have in mind the pundits and figures within the conservative movement who have been saying over the past few days that the tragedy that occurred at Virginia Tech occurred because the students were not carrying concealed weapons and that they were not carrying concealed weapons because we live in a wussified (i.e. "liberal") society.

This sort of thinking is what is so frustrating to me. Yes, if some student had a gun she or he might have stopped the killer. That is true. But one might also consider what might happen when you have a college campus full of armed students. I mean, seriously, have any of these pundits ever been on a college campus lately? And at night?

Now, I don't have very well developed opinions about gun control. I'm for the right to own a gun and I'm for gun control regulation and that's about it. I do think on balance that our society has drifted too far in the direction of gun rights zealotry (especially in connection to the proto-fascist anti-tax/dominionist/militia movements) for reasons that are addressed in this post (scroll down to the last green section). I also think that we need to have a discussion as a society about the nature of the second amendment, which is why I've had my eye on A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America.

I will say something about guns and that is this: I don't like them. A gun is a device designed to deal death. It can be used in such a way that it doesn't deal death, but even so it's still a blunt force tool. I respect guns and respect that they are sometimes a necessary evil, but all the same, I do not like them. What I would like to see happen is we get to the point that technology will render guns obsolete, where police and/or citizens can use devices that employ non-lethal force to stop or prevent someone from doing harm.

Update: I see that Media Matters has a column up documenting the buzz I alluded to from the conservative movement. I also had in mind this comment from National Review's John Derbyshire. I did not want to go to much into this subject because I'm still suffering from what I would describe as a perpetual low-grade anxiety that makes it difficult for me to focus my thoughts long enough to put together a post (and the attempt itself tends to trigger a feedback loop of increased anxiety,) but I will say that I find this macho "I woulda done X" bullshit to be a troubling sign, for reasons that I hope to start addressing once I get back on my feet.

In short, however, I will say that I find it troubling because it seems to be symptomatic of a growing cult of masculinity that has developed within the conservative movement. Yesterday, I dashed off this comment in response to Glenn Greenwald's blog entry about John Edwards being smeared by the noise machine as a fancy-pants for getting a hair cut and going to a spa. I wrote:

Coulter expressed what the conservative movement believes about its eternal enemy, the "Liberal". Liberals a sissies, faggots, girly-men, half-men, wusses, pussies, etc. Real men are movement conservative. Which means that real men are manly because they are in favor of every U.S. citizen carrying a gun and doling out justice like Clint Eastwood in one of his spaghetti westerns. Real men are also manly because they want other people to go fight and die in endless permanent wars that they themselves will not fight in. And real men are in favor of the Leader torturing brown-skinned stinking raghead terrorists, cause god damn torture is about as manly as it gets.

You see the same cult of masculinity going on around the VaTech shooting. The buzz is that if the students carried guns that shooting wouldn't happen, and the only reason those students don't carry guns is because we've been wussified by liberals.

In fantasy movement conservative world, we'd all be carrying death machines in our pockets and that would make us all safer. This indicative of what is the animating spirit of the movement: it's inability to think over an issue in a manner that is more than a millimeter deep where all answers to any and all issues can be derived [instantly] from ideology.
That's about all I can say for now without slipping into a panic attack. But I will (hopefully) return to this subject in the future. As an aside, I'm assuming the four to five readers that are still around are already well aware that Mr. Greenwald has moved his blog over to Salon (link) and has been doing excellent work there, but if you're not already reading it I'd highly recommend it. And since I lack the capacity at the moment to cover the cult of masculinity in the depth I'd like to, I'll go ahead and link to this post by Glenn where he addresses the cult of contrived masculinity. And Orcinus has been covering the authoritarian creep of movement conservatism for years now. I've got around 8 months of reading and notes built up on this subject and once I get my brain chemistry in order I should be able to start organizing this material and commenting on it.

* This is an arbitrary name to protect this individual's identity.
** That quote is taken from a Kurt Vonnegut novel that I'm re-reading in memory of Kurt's passage. I'll being writing something about it in a few days or so.

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