observations and opinion
Bang-Bang, You’re Stupid Watching coverage of the Charleston, South Carolina church massacre, I have more than once been filled with rage. My fury has not been particularly focused on the alleged (admitted) killer – he’s a monster but anger at him feels like getting mad at my neighbour’s dog. I blame my neighbour for the dog.
No, what gets me mad most quickly, are the brutally innane mouthings of the TV talkers. I call them talkers because honestly, referring to them as “journalists” or “reporters” would be a dereliction of language and a deep insult to real reporters (like kids in Grade 8 who write a classroom newspaper). These are not journalists. They are, at best, well-groomed reality show contestants. They are masters at the fine art of saying, and doing, nothing.
The TV talkers operate on a form of script, a loop of soft-minded notions and rounded words which are meant to spark emotional reactions in those watching. Because they are doing something called “the news” it is their obligation to dress these activities up in serious clothing: to have men in suits speak soberly into studio cameras, offering their “expertise” and “analysis” of the situation.
The situation in Charleston actually requires very little expertise or analysis to understand. In fact, the audio diarhea oozing out our TVs and computers this week is manufactured not to illuminate the plain truth, but to obscure it. For some TV talkers this is a deliberate program of obfuscation (Fox News much?) but mostly, it is unintentional. And that’s actually worse, the fact that most TV talkers don’t know that their work and their effect is to bury the truth, because it is easier to be a liar if you believe what you are saying.
The “lie” I refer to here is essentially anything anyone says about Charleston which doesn’t say this: every place in the world has people who are evil or just crazy, but only a few of those places makes it easy for them to get handguns. All the noise and palaver about “race” and “hate” and “mental illness”– even the debate about whether this was terrorism or not (it was terrorism, of course) – all of that drowns the simple truth: Charleston is about guns.
Okay, Charleston is about other things. It is most certainly about race, insofar as the admitted killer is said to have targeted black people “taking over” his country (which will be news to the black people). Yes, this young bastard had an ideological purpose. That ideological purpose most likely took root because his brain was soft, twisted and hollow. So the case is also about being a little crazy, or having bad parents, or being unpopular in school, etcetera, etcetera.
All of which is interesting and worthy of some thought, but none of which goes to the essential truth: the young bastard had a hand gun, probably more than one, and lots of bullets. And he had a gun and bullets because he lives in a land which has decided that a crazy fucking nutball’s right to bear arms is more sacred than everyone else’s right not to be threatened by a crazy fucking nutball bearing arms. THAT is the truth about Charleston.
I do not own a gun. I have never held a gun. I have never fired a gun. It has been my good fortune not to require a steel penis substitute in order to feel like a man. That is not to say that a gun, even a handgun, is not a necessary tool in some circumstances. We would not send women or men into battle without them. Most likely we cannot guard banks without them. Aside from hunting animals, the main utility of a gun, of course, is that it deters other people from doing things. It deters bank robbers and enemy soldiers.
Occasionally, the gun’s other utility is to stop people from doing things – by emitting a metal projectile into the body of the other person, disabling them from doing whatever they were doing. The gun only becomes necessary, of course, when other means of deterrence or intervention are unlikely to succeed. If a taser will bring down an enemy speedily without blowing a hole through their flesh, the taser is to be preferred. So too teargas, a billy club or even a good old punch in the jaw.
Those other means of deterrence and intervention are less effective, unfortunately, when the bad guy is carrying a gun. If the bad guy can kill you with a flick of his finger, you need equivalent or better means of stopping him. So like I say, people in a few select professions may have use of a gun. But nobody else needs a gun. Nobody. Not a doctor, a nurse, certainly not a pastor or sculptor or dogcatcher. Not a web designer, or a retired civil servant, not an animal dentist. Not an old lady reading her Bible in church, either. And not you.
What business – and by that I mean business – do you have carrying a gun? Now, if you’ve turned your society into an armed camp where every half-wit loser like Dylann Roof can buy (or be given!) a deadly firearm, inevitably other people start to think, “gee, maybe I need a gun.” Deterrence and intervention, and all that.
You will be hearing this on certain media outlets, of course: that the Charleston massacre happened because there aren’t enough guns. In the same way that the Newtown school massacre happened because tiny tots don’t have Glocks strapped to their hips. “Pass out the pistols” as Archie Bunker once said, and you won’t have any more hijackings.
If the right people had guns, which means of course everyone who isn’t crazy or a criminal (one of the crazy people may be sitting next to you in the coffee shop but you just don’t know it yet) – if the right people had guns, that would deter the bad people. Sure it would, and the way we know that to be true, is the fact that every single time a “bad person” has used a gun, he has carefully checked beforehand to see if his victims are armed.
Uh…not, as they say.Not, because the truth is, knowing someone else has (or may have) a gun never seems to deter anyone from doing much of anything they’ve set their twisted minds to doing.
These feel like dark days for America. Dark days not just because these gun massacres seem so frequent, but because Americans seem so inured to it all. Americans just don’t seem to give a good goddamn that the law is crazy, that they’ve let the law become crazy. Americans don’t seem to care much that crazy people don’t have to break the law to get a gun – they just have to OBEY it, to get a gun, to go kill people with.
These are dark days in America because on the subject of guns, in particular, the quality of public discourse is beneath stupid. It is criminally, wantonly, depravedly indifferent to the lives of the American people.
And by “lives” I don’t just mean keeping one’s life, but how a person lives her or his life. Every time a person has to walk through a metal detector to do anything – anything – they are reminded not that they are safe, but that they are NOT safe. They are one person’s bad mood and itchy trigger finger away from being shredded, to having their child or grandmother die in a pool of blood and horror. And they are reminded that their “pursuit of happiness” is secondary, subordinated, to someone else’s right to bear arms. And that, you know, is the real craziness of it all.
But who is saying that? When we listen to the TV talkers bleating on about the causes and the drama and the courage and heroes – when the TV Talker in Chief mopes and moans about his inability to charm Congress into doing something about this public health risk – who reminds people that their lives don’t really matter all that much? Nobody.
President Obama has mumbled a few of the right things, but these days his voice is like the sound of fingers scratching from the inside of a coffin. I was glad to read the President’s comments to U.S. Mayors today, that the issue is that America is “awash” in guns. He’s right. But the way he has to delicately dance around “law abiding gun owners”, blah-blah-blah, is in fact part of the madness. The madness of mass legal gun ownership. Because that is the problem.
The problem is not law abiding or non-law abiding gun owners. The problem is not that Dylann Roof is crazy – lots of people are crazy (indeed, if he had never done this, if he had resisted the urge and maybe tomorrow met a girl or boy and fallen in love, maybe he would have stayed quietly crazy for the rest of his life, the way most people do.) The problem is that guns are legal, easy to get and way too good at what they do (firing bullets into people).
And the other problem is that almost nobody will speak the truth. Because after all the blah-blah-blah from the TV talkers about Charleston, there is only one question that we need to ask today, and tomorrow, and forever: why is it more important that Dylann Roof be free to carry a gun, than that his neighbours be able to live without worrying whether someone like Dylann roof is carrying a gun? Why?
I think the answer is so depressing, nobody even asks the question. I think the answer is, that most people just don’t care. Did the supermarket I shop at get shot-up by an angry customer? Gee, I’m glad I was at work. Did some depressed college student kill himself with his dad’s gun? Isn’t that sad? Did yet another group of strangers get murdered at their church? That’s awful! Oh well. Pray for the victims. Blah-blah-blah.