Smoking Gun

Until the 1990’s in America, smoking was an accepted social vice. My grandparents smoked. My parents smoked. Their friends smoked. My siblings and most of my friends smoked. Despite the habit being smelly, unattractive, and unhealthy, no amount of federally mandated warning labels discouraged people from lighting up.

Change came suddenly in the form of a social movement ignited by the media’s unveiling of ways tobacco companies lured in and poisoned the population for their own financial gain. As Americans, we might fight for the right to poison ourselves, but conspiring to make us look the fool? Turning us into patsies for profit? That blow to the ego demands retribution. Like a tidal wave, the momentum of popular opinion crashed effortlessly through previously insurmountable obstacles.

Almost overnight smoking was out. The backlash was so complete that venues in all 50 states banned smoking. Anyone unable to overcome the addiction has been ushered to a “designated smoking area” as the rest of us walk by and shake our heads. There is a big difference between being told what to do (government regulation) and finding out someone has been secretly screwing you over for years. Both scenarios invoke a “put up your dukes” mentality. We won’t stand for it, and true gun reform in America will need to come to light in the same way.

I don’t consider the right “to bear arms” in the constitution as intended for individual ownership. It is manipulative marketing, not unlike Joe Cool of Camel cigarettes convincing people to smoke. At the time the constitution was written, guns were kept in local armories and used only against large scale enemy attacks. Individuals riddling fellow citizens with bullets was unheard of and would certainly confound our forefathers. The article by Jill Lepore appearing in the New Yorker on April 19, 2012 entitled, “The Birth of the Modern Gun Debate” explained how the NRA evolved from a group of hunting and sport enthusiasts to the behemoth political lobbying effort that insists members would rather die than give up their guns.

Still, nations such as Britain and Australia have overcome their dependence on personal firearms. I have faith that America can, too. No one wants the government to infringe upon their freedom. The threat of legislation to control arms is a gift to the pro-gun lobby. With the media as their accomplice, gun enthusiasts push the button on the primordial fear response to bolster gun sales. But what if the issue of gun rights was reframed? What if it turns out the NRA is perpetuating a conspiracy? What if their real motivation is to encourage undesirable in the population to kill themselves off with all those guns? Far fetched, perhaps, but surely there is a conceivable angle to turn gun ownership into a stigma. Ideas once in fashion eventually fall away like the ash from a burning cigarette. We just need a perspective shift on guns.

 

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Walk a Mile with a Six Shooter and a Towel

Do swimming and firearms have anything in common?  They seem as far flung as any two things can be, but people are passionate about both. I  figuratively took a walk through each activity, to gain  some perspective on a larger issue. 

I love to be in the water. I prefer the ocean or even a lake to a chlorinated swimming pool, but in winter, I’ll take what I can get. Sometimes I swim with friends, but more often I’m on my own. I jump in, submerge my body in the cool water, and breath a deep sigh of relaxation.  Sometimes I swim strokes for exercise, but more often I float and enjoy the experience. In the water, the worries of the day float away. I have a few moments of peace, or if I’m with friends, some time to socialize.

I know plenty of people who don’t swim. Many don’t like the water because it is too cold. Others fear dangerous tides or sea creatures lurking below. Some people simply don’t like to get wet though they bathe (I hope). The point is, I know not everyone feels the same way about the water that I do.

On the other hand, I’m not a gun person. I don’t hunt, I don’t believe firearms are a good idea for self protection, and I translate the 2nd amendment to allow for assembling a militia only. I do not believe the founding fathers ever intended for individual Americans to possess military style assault rifles. Still, I have friends who strongly believe in guns and the right to gun ownership. For them, holding a gun in their arms, sighting their target, and pulling the trigger gives them a sense of well being that I have never understood, but maybe it is similar to the feeling of floating along with the tide in the ocean?  

After the shooting in Newtown and the subsequent gun control debate, I was baffled by the opposition to proposed restrictions on military style assault rifles and large count ammunition clips. It may seem a silly, but in order to put myself in the shoes of pro-gun Americans, I used swimming as my metaphor. I think it is important to walk a mile in the another pair of shoes to see the whole picture. Of course, Statistics comparing drowning versus gunshot deaths are not even in the same league. On average 6,000 people die from drowning in the US annually compared to 30,000 people who die from gunshot wounds, but as a non-gun person this was the best I could do to try to relate to what the pro-gun people where rallying against.

Imagine if the government decided that in an attempt to save 6,000 lives every year from accidental drowning, an individual’s right to swim was to be restricted? Swimming would only be allowed in public pools or designated swimming areas monitored by trained life guards. Swimming areas would only be open during certain hours. Ridiculous, right? Why should I have to give up swimming when I want to and how I want to just because some careless people drown? It’s not my fault. I learned to swim as a child. I know my limits. I am not going to drown. Why should I have to suffer the consequences of new rules?

As a society advances, it becomes more complex requiring more rules, and less freedom. Technical advancements and societal complexities break down mores that bind a simpler society. Mere understanding of right and wrong can no longer be relied on to direct human actions. Sacrifice must be endured for the greater good; even if it seems unfair, it is the price each of us needs to pay for everyone to be able to live together in relative peace.

Understanding this broader view, I reconsidered the question:

Would I be willing to limit my exposure to an activity that I enjoy safely and proficiently in order to save the lives of other who may not?

Only being allowed to swim at certain times of the day and in designated areas monitored by a lifeguard  feels restrictive and unfair, but I would accept this small sacrifice for a greater good. I know new laws won’t stop rule breakers who choose to skinny dip at midnight unsupervised, and laws won’t stop illegal weapon exchanges, but that doesn’t mean these laws shouldn’t exist. Laws are a civilized society’s way of saying, “I can handle (this responsibility), but I’m willing to giving up some individual freedom because I’m not so sure about that guy over there.”

Sometimes looking up from the pool of water and admiring the vastness of the ocean can help broaden understanding. Big issues affect more than just ourselves or the people in our house, on our street, and in our town. Opening yourself up to the many sides of issues that affect everyone makes it is harder to stick to your guns. Be well informed, and gain perspective because no one can know if the will need a towel based on a single drop of water.