Sunday, July 8, 2007

Armed Conflict

I have a long and conflicted history with firearms. Mostly, I try not to think about it. Sometimes, it even works.

A while back, Barry Eisler did a couple of excellent posts on the sticky issue of guns in our societies. Barry is one scary-smart individual. No surprise his posts were so thought-provoking. I meant to blog a bit on the subject but never quite got around to it.

Then Marcus Sakey opened that can of worms again. Also a great post, by the way.

I totally agree with Marcus's thought. Holding a gun is cool. Firing it, even better. Problem comes from being at the other end of the barrel.

I was afraid a lot as a kid. We all were. It was like a mass mental illness, so many of us so isolated by our own fear of each other.

Growing up, the temptation to carry a gun was always there. Small calibre weapons with don't-ask histories were dirt cheap. And nobody much wanted to fuck with the kids who carried them.

But for me, back then, guns were a sucker bet. Carrying a gun meant arrest. It meant those gladiator schools they called juvenile halls, or worse. Using it might have led to the words 'tried as an adult.' I wasn't willing to gamble the possiblity of a future so that I could feel safe.

I was able to move to New Zealand because I had a college degree and no arrest record. Neither would've been the case if I'd taken up the gun then.

Later in life, as a tattooist, I found myself working around cash and lowlifes. Some nights, it was the law of the jungle in the studio. When I started carrying my .38, I quit having to throw people down flights of stairs. I was grateful for my gun, and I hated it, at the same time.

Sarah Paretsky, in her comment on Marcus's post, thought that carrying a gun might make people look for a chance to use it. I can only say that was never the case with me. I resented the way the gun took away the middle ground in a conflict. I couldn't risk a fistfight with a gun on my hip, couldn't risk anything that might lead to one. I was grateful for the trouble it kept me out of. I hated the fact that my only option was to kill.

One night a young girl, a street kid without much sense, tried to rob me at knifepoint. It was the first and only time I pointed my weapon at another human being. She left without my money, but I hated us both for creating that situation.

Now, I live in New Zealand. As Barry says about his time in Japan, there's no temptation to own or carry a gun here.

Nobody carries guns here, not even the cops. The higher class of criminal have them, of course, but pistols are like hens' teeth around here. With mandatory gun safes for firearm owners, there's no flood of illegal weapons from home burglaries. It feels safer.

The big question is, if I returned to the US, would I want to carry again?

That, I don't know...


Charles Gramlich said...

I grew up on a farm and we always had guns, partly for hunting, partly to protect our animals from predators, such as coyotes, weasels, etc. I learned how to use them early and I sometimes carry one even today when I'm going on a long trip. I enjoy shooting and go to the range periodically but I've never had to pull a gun in defense, and I hope I would never pull one in anger.

Good, thoughtful post.

cs harris said...

I remember once back in the Seventies when I was visiting Scotland, a woman I was staying with told me I must be very brave, living in America with all that violence. I laughed. But then, twenty-five years later when I was living in Australia and contemplating moving back to the States, I was worried about the violence, afraid of my girls getting caught in a school shooting or some such thing. Then I remembered laughing at that Scottish woman, and I realized that when we live in the midst of violence we get used to it and take it for granted--like the American women I knew who had lived through the Lebanese civil war. If you live in a violent society you become a part of it, you don't see it as some weird aberration, but the way life simply "is." It's when you get outside and look back that you realize how warped the life was. They recently had two people shot to death TWO BLOCKS from my house--two different incidents (Katrina-ruined houses now inhabited by squatters). Am I scared? Nah. I've been here to long.

Steve Malley said...

Hi Charles, and thanks. I'd like to believe that pulling a gun in anger is mostly for the underdeveloped-prefontal-lobe-types who can't really see that far into the future. Can't imagine you in that category...

And you're so right, CS. In Isreal, it was the most normal thing imagineable for teenagers to walk around with assualt weapons. Supermarket, movie theater, pub: Everyone (but me) under twenty-five is armed.

I even got used to seeing school children on field trips with sharpshooters watching over them. It was just, the way life simply 'was'...

HemlockMan said...

I still live in this madhouse of a nation and I can tell you that I freaking hate guns. I hate them. My job puts me on the streets all day long and when I first started it was in really rough neighborhoods. I got caught in crossfire on three different occasions and I almost got shot once (a bullet went right past my left thigh and went into the ground in front of me--yeah, it came from a few feet behind me and I was not the target; I'd have been collateral damage).

I don't want a gun and won't have one. Adding to the pile does no one any good.