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Is it time? Can we just say it outright? Let’s try it:
Guns are, socially and ethically, devastating. Worthless. They add nothing of positive, intrinsic value to a culture, a people, a country. They only diminish, destroy, display an awesome sense of malformed ego and disastrously warped humanity.
Too much? Too far? Not really. I’m sure you already sense that all those cartoonish action movies, thuggish hip-hop songs, clunky old westerns, ultra-violent video games and the racks of high-caliber weaponry over at Cabela sporting goods and the local gun show – all of which we’ve been led to believe are so essential to our national identity – none of them offer anything of deep worth to the culture; no authentic masculinity, no real patriotism, no genuine power or strength or class. Heart, soul or integrity? Don’t be absurd.
It’s all a vulgar illusion, Hollywood glitter-bombing, manufactured mythology in service of shameless capitalism and a false, bloody American ideology that’s never served us well and only made us the ugly, violence-drunk stepchild of the civilized world. Don’t you already know? Here is the truth: Guns are pain. Guns are impotence masquerading as virility, shame masquerading as valor, the devil disguised as an outrageously misinterpreted chunk of the Constitution that was never meant to suffer what the fat lords of the gun lobbies have made it suffer.
Do you wish to speak of false gods? Things virulently anti-Christian? The antithesis of everything a peaceful, advanced country is ideally supposed to be founded on? Because guns are all that and more. Jesus would be disgusted.
Perhaps you think guns and the current cluster of feeble laws on the books are generally fine, and it’s the mental health industry that needs the help? Perhaps you think Sandy Hook, Aurora, Colorado, Virginia Tech, et al could be better prevented by improved treatment for the mentally ill?
Maybe. But a culture of gun fanaticism feeds insanity. Put the other way: insanity loves guns. They are interlinked and inextricable. Too-easy access to guns is a huge part of the problem, but even bigger is the gun fetishism so brutally interwoven into our society and popular culture, from childhood on up, that provides the hateful lie that guns aren’t just macho and all-American, they’re downright required for ensuring your sadism is remembered forever.
Sandy Hook isn’t just about mental illness. It’s about mental illness shot through with endless images of ultra-violence and 300 million guns currently in American hands. It’s about insanity allowed to multiply its destructive powers by a factor of 61 mass murders in the past 30 years. It’s about gun-loving survivalist mothers of mentally ill kids stockpiling weapons for herself, teaching her kids to shoot, preparing for society’s collapse, all surely fed by right-wing fearmongers and idiots.
Do not misunderstand. I’m well acquainted with the sporting thrill. I know the supposed nobility and beauty to be found in ethical and honest hunting (which I believe still exists, despite the canned hunts and the repulsive Texas exotic game preserves). I know the outright fun to be had shooting beautifully made, powerful weaponry at paper targets, clay pigeons, bottles and beer cans out in the woods. I get it.
Do you know what else is fun? Piloting tanks into buildings. Shooting meth. Driving my car 150 MPH through busy streets, drunk. Throwing bowling balls off of skyscrapers and watching them demolish parked cars 300 feet below. Smashing windows with metal bats. Joining a Venezuelan rebel militia.
This does not mean we should indulge in them, or that they deserve a prized place in society. This does not mean the tiny adrenaline rush afforded by gun sports is worth the overall cost, or is in some way unique or precious, and therefore must be defended by men so terrified of losing their thin hold on masculinity that they must strap firearms to their giant bellies to go to Wal-Mart, just in case the terrorists want to steal their ‘97 Corolla.
Shall we ask the NRA and the gun lobby to prove it? If they have any evidence that guns are the slightest bit helpful or necessary to human development, progress, industry, spiritual development, love, family? Has any culture in the history of the civilized world ever evolved toward more munitions and antipathy, and flourished, healthy, calm and full of love?
Of course not. There is no single argument for guns that holds up, that makes any sense whatsoever, that cannot easily be disproven by fact, ancient spiritual wisdom, or common sense.
Guns do not protect more than they destroy. They do not save more lives than they kill. They do not safeguard more families than they devastate. They do not add security more than they add fear, suspicion, antagonism and hate. As has been pointed out again and again: Guns, by their very existence, insist on their own use. And their use is, singularly and without reservation, death.
So let us fantasize. Let us leave the talk of “reasonable” gun control legislation that no one really believes will come to pass to the wan politicos and scowling talking heads, and bequeath only a floating hypothetical question to the right-wing senators, NRA members and gun lobbyists right now whining about all the anger and sadness being aimed at them by a mournful nation: If one of those kids at Sandy Hook Elementary had been your kid, would you change your mind? Your heart? Your worldview?
Let us instead propose a pure and wild fantasy that has little chance of existing in our lifetime, but is all sorts of beautiful to imagine nonetheless. It goes like this:
All guns in the United States are banned outright tomorrow. Through some marvel of cultural apocalypse and social cataclysm, a new law passes and suddenly all civilian-owned firearms are forbidden forevermore. Can you imagine? Do you know what would happen next?
Nothing. Nothing would happen, save for huge torrents of panic and gun hoarding (particularly in the petrified, undereducated South), spurts of violence, a massive surge in black market sales, an insane scramble to arm up because surely the liberal zombies are coming.
There are, after all, 300 million registered guns in America, and countless more unregistered. There are stockpiles a mile high, warehouses and bunkers and shops full of death. The culture is so saturated with gun porn, it would be many years before it eased. Bottom line: An outright gun ban would have no notable effect on gun violence whatsoever, and might even serve to briefly exacerbate crime.
But then, a surefire miracle. As manufacturing halted, as the black markets slowly dried up, as availability diminished, as advertising vanished, as the virus of easy-access weaponry began to pass through the national bloodstream, why, the entire culture would shift, whole and true.
It would be nothing short of astonishing. In a short generation or two, guns and the bleak fantasy they invoke would devolve into a strange and sickly memory, a dark folklore, like looking back on the Red Scare or cigarette ads or slavery.
Gun deaths would plummet. Shooting sprees would nearly vanish. The national mood would brighten. In just a few short decades – a blink of an eye, in the long view – guns would all but disappear from the national consciousness.
And then? A weird sense of disbelief, a warped nostalgia: Was that really us? Did we really fetishize deadly weaponry so appallingly, so disastrously? Were some horribly lost Americans actually calling for teachers to carry guns into elementary schools? How many kids had to die before we finally woke up? What the hell took us so long?
Mark’s column appears every Wednesday on SFGate.
The San Francisco Chronicle