Essays on Technology and Culture

The Anger and The Gun

76 school shootings since Newtown.

Every time something like that happens, I think: “That could have been me holding the gun.” Why? I already wrote about that. Easier to say why not. One was that I didn’t have access to a gun. The other reason is that I was able to escape the toxic environment that was driving me to either suicidal or homicidal despair. Many kids lack that option. In the deepest pit of my darkest years, I didn’t know I had the option, and so The Anger grew.

The Anger is in all of us. The Anger manifests itself differently in each person, to different degrees. The Anger can be eased, it can be released safely, but it never goes away. You have to be taught how to deal with The Anger, but few people ever learn on their own. Fewer still know how to teach it. Instead, we try to sublimate The Anger, hide it, pretend it doesn’t exist. But it doesn’t go away. Without a way to acknowledge The Anger, to release it in a safe way, The Anger explodes, increasingly in a hail of gunfire.

Put a gun in someone’s hand, and say “go nuts.” Some point it at other people. Some point it at themselves. Some put it down and walk away. The Anger doesn’t dictate what a person does with a gun, but it influences that decision. If we don’t know how to deal with The Anger, it will be the loudest voice in our head, demanding we pull the trigger, that we hurt something to make it go away.

We need to deal with The Anger before we deal with The Gun.

But we also have to deal with The Gun. Those who say The Gun is the solution are a victim of The Anger. You can see when you ask them to put The Gun down. Somewhere along the line, there was a cultural shift, and The Gun went from being an object of respect, to an object that confers respect. A gun is a deadly weapon, and you show respect for it by treating it as such. You lock it up, keep it maintained, and secure. You learn to use it properly—not just how to shoot, but where, and when. Strapping an AR-15 to your chest to get a burrito is the opposite of respect. It turns The Gun into a status symbol, an object of fashion.

Gun ownership is about being a “gun owner,” and not what that gun is for. When you can fulfill the educational requirements of a concealed carry permit “can now be taken in minutes at a gun show, revolving-door style”, that’s proof enough of what owning a gun means. It’s a lifestyle choice, and given all the thought that we put into what phone we carry, or what brand of soda we drink. When you combine this with The Anger in all of us, it’s a dangerous cocktail.

A culture that straps an AR-15 to their chest to buy a burrito is not one that’s going to think about whether it’s right to shoot first. Gun makers know if they market a gun as a lifestyle choice, it will sell better than if they market it as a dangerous weapon that requires more of its owner than the price of ammunition. But, The Anger knows what The Gun is for, and The Anger will make us reach for it and spill blood.

But The Gun is as ingrained into American life as The Anger is ingrained in all of our psyches. When we say that perhaps it should be harder to get a gun, and that it might prevent future tragedies, gun owners hear: “I want to take away part of who you are,” and react accordingly. The Anger is there, and it lives for moments like these. The Anger grows every time we are spurned, denied, hurt, and abused. The Anger feeds on fear.

And The Anger knows that The Gun is an easy way to unleash itself, to devastating effect.

I want to be clear that I’m not anti-gun. As an ex-Boy Scout, I’ve been around guns, albeit usually .22 caliber rifles. I have relatives in law enforcement, who own guns, and treat them with the respect they deserve. Their guns are under lock and key, kept unloaded, and secure. They’re not carried unless they are needed. I do not own a gun, nor do I have any desire to, despite living in cities all my life and having experienced:

I’ve had cause to want something to protect my life and property with. I still don’t own a gun. Yet, I understand that there’s perfectly valid reasons to own one. The lifestyle of being a gun owner does not appeal to me. Why? I can’t say. Maybe, it’s because I know The Anger is within me, that it’s spilled out in dangerous ways before, and will again. The last thing I need is a gun when that happens. I respect The Gun, and I respect The Anger.

When we talk about how to solve the problem of gun violence in America, be it school shooters, seemingly random mass shootings, or gang violence on inner city street corners, the conversation hits an impasse. The culture of The Gun doesn’t want to give up their guns, and the other side can’t find a way to address the topic without putting The Gun first. We can’t solve the problem without addressing The Anger, too. Until the culture shifts, and we talk about the “why” we have this violence, instead of the “how,” we will be in this predicament—not just because the “how” will always be the same thing as the proposed solution, The Anger manifested yet again.