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.

 

Walk a Mile with a Six Shooter and a Towel

*Originally written in 2013. Updated for COVID19

Do swimming and firearms have anything in common?  They seem as far flung as any two things can be, but the commonality is the passion people have around each. 

For me, it’s swimming. I love to be in the ocean, or a lake, but I’ll even accept a chlorinated swimming pool in winter. Sometimes I swim with friends, but more often I’m on my own, submerging my body in the cool water, and breathing in relaxation. I swim strokes for exercise, but more often I just float and enjoy the experience. In the water, the worries of the day seem far away. 

Of course, 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 lurking sea creatures. Some people simply don’t like to get wet. The point is, it is okay to not feel a kinship with the water.  

I’m not a gun person. I don’t hunt. I don’t believe firearms are a good plan for self protection. I translate the 2nd amendment only as a law to allow assembling a militia because I do not believe the founding fathers ever intended individual Americans to possess military style assault rifles. But there are plenty of Americans who believe in guns and their right to own them. Holding a gun, sighting the target, and pulling the trigger must give them a sense of well being similar to my enjoyment of being in the ocean.  

On average 6,000 people drown in the US annually compared to 30,000 people who die from gunshot wounds.

Obviously, statistics comparing drowning versus gunshot deaths are not even in the same league, but I believe it is important to walk a mile in the other pair of shoes to see the big picture. So, here we go:

Let’s imagine in an attempt to save the lives of the 6,000 annual drowning victims, the government has decided to impose swimming restrictions on everyone. Swimming would only be allowed in public pools or designated swimming areas monitored by trained life guards during certain hours, and before being allowed in the water, a swimming test was required. Ridiculous, right? Why should I have to give up swimming wherever and whenever I want just because some careless people drown? I learned to swim as a child, and I know my limits. I’m not going to drown. 

As a society advances, it becomes more complex, and requires more rules and less freedom. Technical advancements break down mores that bind a simpler society. The mere understanding of right and wrong can no longer be relied on to direct human actions. The result is that sacrifices must be endured for the greater good; even if it seems unfair, that is the price each of us needs to pay for everyone 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 in order to save the lives of other who may not do it safely?

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. New laws won’t stop rule breakers who choose to skinny dip unsupervised at midnight, 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 give up some individual freedom because I’m not so sure about that guy over there.”

Look up from the pool of water and admire the vastness of the ocean because the really big issues affect more than just the people in our house, or the neighbors on our street. The REALLY BIG issues, like gun violence, affect everyone. Please stay well informed and consider what is best for society beyond personal wants and needs.

No one ever knows if he will need a towel based on a single drop of water.

Since I originally wrote this the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and a debate has raged over wearing masks, socially distancing and local lock downs. Some Americans accepted the need to make sacrifices for the greater good in order to save lives, but a shockingly large portion of the American population fought against all safety measures. As of today, nearly 600,000 Americans have died of the virus. The infection is being spread in the United States largely by people refusing to take the simple steps to protect themselves and others. Wearing a mask and staying socially distanced from friends and family is a sacrifice, but it seems like a pretty small one in exchange for saving lives.

I stand by my original conclusion from this blog post written in 2013: Stay informed. Gain a broad perspective. Respect others. And please #wearamask