This morning I happened to think about a  movie I saw a long time ago. The title, director, and names of the actors have vanished. I just remember that it was set in a French colony in Africa.

The main character is a passive kind of guy who gets bullied. Someone, maybe at his job, bullies him, and he’s fed up. He asks a friend what he should do. The friend replies, “Kill him,””  never thinking that the man will.
But the man does. And gets away with it!

Somewhere he’s acquired a pistol, and having stepped onto that road, he travels further down it. He has a wife and a mistress, and both bully him. He gives both pistols, and arranges for them to have a confrontation. One kills the other, or possibly both kill each other–I no longer remember all the details.

Things go from bad to worse, though there’s a lot missing from my memory.  At one point relatives of the first man he killed come to the town to inquire about it. The main character gives them a sort of mystical mish-mash which is actually a confession without coming out and actually saying he did it. The relatives don’t know what to make of this, and leave.

The last scene is the man with his pistol watching a group of black children playing. He aims, but they move too fast, and he doesn’t fire, but aims again. The movie ends there.

The most implausible part is that he gets away with the first killing, I think. The atmosphere of the movie becomes more surreal, but not illogical. We’re not talking about responsible gun owners here, but about people who get seduced or hypnotized by guns and their power. Are not people who have been bullied (or feel they have been) not likely to misuse power if they get their hands on it? A gun is a powerful object, both literally and figuratively. Psychology calls them phallic, and what is a man to take more personally than his penis? Judging from the mottos of gun lovers, men can take their guns just as personally.

I’ve never been a gun owner, but I’ve owned cars, and I think car owners can get just as involved with their cars as gun owners with their guns. No one wants to have their car taken away any more than anyone wants their gun taken away. It’s MINE.

But I suspect that responsible gun owners feel differently about their guns than the other kind do. I would guess they look on their guns as a tool, enjoy using them for target shooting or hunting, and want the training to successfully resist criminals who would assault them or their families. I think the other kind of gun owner adores the powerful feelings associated with guns, and would be quite willing to misuse a gun to get those feelings.

You could call that crazy, but it depends on how you define crazy. If you mean totally out of touch with reality, not necessarily. If you mean someone consumed with rage and insecurity, someone who feels inferior (rightly or wrongly), that may be a closer fit.

When the gunman opened up in a crowded theater in Colorado, some said that if a few people had been carrying guns, they could have stopped him. Experts disagreed. They said that it takes a lot of training to be able to respond effectively to that kind of situation, that it would have taken either an expert or lucky shot to stop the shooter, since he was wearing body armor, and that ordinary untrained people carrying guns and not being able to clearly see where the shots were coming from would be likely to shoot the wrong person or draw fire on themselves without accomplishing anything positive. Like any other dangerous piece of equipment, one needs to be well-trained to be able to use a gun efficiently and effectively.

That’s if you’re being attacked. And if a woman is being attacked, without a lot of training she’s likely to have any gun she may have taken away from her by her assailant (most likely to be a man) because men are physically stronger than women generally.

Of course, if you’re the attacker, the odds change greatly in your favor, especially if you don’t look like an attacker, or have the advantage of surprise in another way. It’s the same advantage that offenses in team sports have: they know what they’re going to do. Unless the defensive team is very experienced, they probably don’t. Sometimes, even if they do know, they can’t stop the attack.

So let me just say something that a lot of gun apologists will disagree with: there are way too many guns. There are so many that responsible gun owners may well be a minority. Irresponsible car owners are little better, even if they mean less harm. Powerful tools in the wrong hands equal undesirable outcomes. And we do not lack for irresponsible hands.

We also don’t have a lack of irresponsible leaders who will point unhappy people (for whatever reason) in a nasty direction, and then deny they did anything of the sort. Democracy can be a pretty nasty business in which emotions get personal and intense. Things can cross the line in political democracy, but it’s also a situation where people can fight without actual violence. That may be part of what makes it better than dictatorship or other forms of totalitarian government, in which the individual is nothing, so that when the government shows weakness it can expect no mercy. Put guns into a volatile country with a lot of unhappy people (reasons don’t matter in this instance), and there will be more violence than there would have been otherwise. Not that totally removing guns would totally end violence. Guns simply make it easier and less personal to be violent than knives, for instance. You also have less of an advantage if your opponent too  has a knife.

Proponents of guns seem to think that if everyone had a gun and knew how to use it people would be a lot more polite. Maybe there’s some truth to that, but I doubt it. My guess is that having a gun and willingness to use it would bring out your aggressive side, and guns can be very mistake-prone when used by inexpert hands. Driveby shootings are probably pretty thrilling–if you’re the one doing the driving. If you’re on the receiving end, or if it’s your significant other, friend or child, that’s a very different picture.

Of course you can go out for vengeance, and keep the cycle going, which some people would see as being part of the solution. I would not. Consider the man, who died recently, who had been one of the violent resisters of integration in the South of the 1960s. After a number of years he began to feel that what he had done was wrong, and went to someone prominent in the Civil Rights movement to apologize. He’d had a change of heart. To step outside the destructive spiral we’re in, we ALL need a change of heart, gun owners and non-gun owners alike. Otherwise we’ll keep seeing tragedies like Newtown, where even children are targeted, and little reaction but, “Take their guns”/”Don’t take our guns”. Two sides of the same coin, neither of which understands the other.


4 thoughts on “Guns

  1. I own several firearms. Three are antiques (two of which they do not make ammo for). One is a goose gun (10 gauge single shot). One a 12 gauge pump (for birds) a 270 for deer and antelope, a 300 H&H mag., for moose and elk, and a 44 mag for in close protection should i walk up on a peccorie, or bear (griz. when i was in Montana).
    The only reason for an assault rifle or a magazine of more then 10 rounds is to hunt people. There is no reason for a citizen to own armor piercing bullets.
    A background check should be done on all gun sales. I had no problem in negotiating the purchase of the 44, and having to go through someone with a federal firearms license. That was in the mid 70’s and in Montana.

    • Dear Steve,

      I don’t own any firearms, but don’t object to someone like you owning them responsibly. I tried to make clear at the end of the piece that I don’t think gun people and anti-gun people understand each other very well. It’s a question of when freedom becomes license. Hunting people, unless you’re doing it for law enforcement, is license. I can understand people feeling they need a gun for self-defense, but I hope they’re trained well enough that they won’t shoot people they don’t intend to. I supppose I could go on and on about this, but it just seems strange to me that emotions get so heated about the whole question. Humans can get pretty weird.

      Glad your operation seems to have turned out well so far, and hope progress continues in the right direction.
      Best wishes,

      • I joined the NRA in 1968, and became a life member in 1970. I did it for the hunter safety programs, and hunting information. I taught safety programs for youth in the late 70’s. Then they got taken over by the radicals. i keep my membership just to make them spend money on me. Their magazine and literture are land fill material.

      • Dear Steve,

        Similarly, I don’t have any objection to people (NRA or others) teaching gun safety and having hunters as a constituency. It just seemed pretty weird to me that the immediate response to Newtown by some people was, Don’t take our guns away. That seems pretty paranoid at best. Surely they could have found a better way to respond to the gravity of the situation. Killing children seems to demand a more constructive response. But I guess at least some kinds of radicals are able to see nobody’s view but their own.

        Best wishes,

        Allen Starbuck

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