This is not an essay about the right to bear arms, mental health, terrorism, or whether the Republicans, the Democrats, or anyone else is to blame for the seemingly unstoppable slaughter tumbling through the schools of America. I don’t see much of a point in writing that essay, because not only am I not going to convince anyone of anything, I don’t have a legal solution in mind, and, more importantly, all of the policy-based writing I’ve seen reads like it’s trying to treat a symptom rather than get at the root cause.
So the real question to ask is: why do so many people in the United States feel a need to own guns?
Ask a simple question, find a simple answer – people who want guns are scared of something.
I’m not mocking fear. I know its power. I know my own rage, which rises up, nearly unmanageably, when my son does something that makes me afraid. He steps out into traffic without looking, he chews on a power cable, he shows me the bad parts of myself that I fear he’s inherited – I become afraid, and that fear makes me angry. That’s what human beingss do when we’re scared – we become irrational and infuriated.
And that’s what we are doing, as a country. We’re afraid, and we’re angry.
I believe that the root of this fear lies in the guilt we rightfully feel over the crimes of our ancestors. This nation was founded on the displacement and destruction of millions of Native American lives; the land on which we build our homes and cities is a graveyard that we filled with their bodies. We then created our wealth and social structure on the backs of slaves. Slavery was legalized in the colonies in 1640, before there even was a United States. And when, after 225 years of slavery, emancipation came, we spent another 100 years repressing and killing those whom the law had freed. Our whole country stumbles under the burden of our history, and we are all just waiting for the other shoe to drop. So, of course, we’re scared.
It doesn’t take a master empath to imagine the anger of African and Native Americans over the way this country has treated their people. The fact is, the white majority is scared of the vengeance that our great-grandparents earned, should justice ever to be served.
Why are the “Injuns” angry in the movies? Because they should be. Because Manifest Destiny destroyed their lives, their homes, their families, and their planet.
Why are African Americans angry? Because they should be. Because they have endured 375 years of mistreatment. Even since the end of slavery and Jim Crow, African Amercian lives have been plagued with police violence, discrimination, lousy schools, underserved neighborhoods, financial abuse, and every other inequity you can imagine.
So now – thinking about all of this – step back. Imagine you are a citizen who has inherited all of the privileges that come with being white. Imagine looking around, and actually perceiving all of the injustices that got you where you are. Then consider the fact that all Americans were all raised on a mythology of violence as a path to redemption. Because we have been – from 18th century novels about Daniel Boone to the Avengers movie everyone saw last summer, the solution we have been taught is that justice is the offshoot of violence.
With all of this in mind, ask yourself: If I had inherited all of “their” suffering, what would I feel?
Yup. I’d feel it too. I’d feel angry. Ready for revenge – for a violent, bloody justice.
Does you get where I’m going here, Caucasian readers? The notion that one of the minorities we repressed as a country is going to rise up? It seems inevitable.
And, of course, it’s not just the children of Europe who know fear – African Americans, who have had to fight for everything they have, are also filled with fear – fear of the lynchings, the police, the injustices, the grinding poverty that is the bastard stepchild of 225 years of slavery. Semitic Americans (“Arabs”) must be afraid, having witnessed the hate crimes perpetrated on so many victims with “dusky” complexions since 2001. Latinos must feel it – typified as lazy, thieving, even raping murderers. I could go minority by minority – but my point? Everyone in our country has a reason to be scared.
And what do scared people do? Whatever they can to protect themselves.
This is the root of the NRA’s power. They know that you’re afraid, whatever your color, whatever your heritage. Most certainly, if you are a straight white man in America, you know, in your heart of hearts, that you have been the beneficiary of unfair treatment, from the moment you were born. And you should fear the justice your ancestors earned.
Gun rights activists play on our fears like Pablo Casals played the cello. They make sure we know that, if we want to keep all of these unearned privileges, we’d best be ready to defend them with our lives. And if people outside the world of privilege want to banish their fears? They’d best strap up to protect what little they have, and be ready to fight in order to crack the door to everything they deserve.
Who is killing strangers in colleges and elementary schools? People who are so scared they’ve gone crazy.
Who is fighting for the right to have guns at all times? People who are both deeply sane, and rationally scared. People who have looked into the abyss of our history, and seen the truth of our crimes. If you look at the violence that’s been done by this country over the last 500 years, you’d have to be pretty deluded to doubt a strong justification for putting every single one of us to the axe and starting fresh.
And, until we face our guilt, until we bring it out into the open, own it, talk with the people we’ve hurt or the people who have hurt us in a non-politicized, non-polarized way? We’re going to keep being scared of each other. The hypocrisy that underpins us, dooms us to lives of fear. And, as anyone who has ever cracked a book on psychology knows, fear breeds anger. Anger breeds violence. And some time this week, I know I’ll read about another slaughter of innocents. My heart will break, my soul will shudder, and I will, once again, know the helplessness of hope that comes with my dreams of a cure for a country driven by fear.