Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

School Shooting in Newtown: Why Guns Are Not The Answer

More terrifying than the crazed lone gunman is a gang of vigilante gun-owners.

Imagine you are a squid. You hear rumors of an imminent attack by a loosely constructed cell of predatory sperm whales.  You’re scared. What’s the best thing to do? You excrete a whole lot of ink, thereby blinding your foe. Of course, you can’t see too well yourself, but that seems more like a benefit than a disadvantage given the circumstances. You’re entirely enveloped in the products of your own fear. It is based on your mollusk brain’s perception of a threat. You yourself are only one creature and the enemy is out there in the vast, unknowable ocean.

The point is that it’s not tough to get a living creature to respond to fear.

It’s a reflex: scare the American people, you get arguments for more guns.

Scaring people into giving you power is the provenance of bullies. I contend that the NRA is a bully. An organization, but a bully nevertheless. 

I have problems with bullies. For one thing, bullies don’t like humor. They trade on punishment and restrictions and take everyone’s lunch money. They can’t appreciate the subtleties of wit because they can’t permit themselves to see the world as multifaceted or other human beings as multidimensional. 

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You’re either with the bully or you’re against him. There is no room for any slippage between the real and the ideal. They are jocular, but not witty. There is occasional playfulness, such as when they joke around or give each other punches on the arm (and hope nothing escalates from there..

The genius behind the NRA campaign for more guns is that they aren’t wouldn’t even be bothered by this argument: "I'm a bully, but I'm a bully on your side.”  What bullies really want is not justice; what they want is for everybody else to keep quiet so that they themselves can sleep peacefully at night.

We should not become accustomed to a world where the pattern of wielding power—especially fire-power-- has authenticated and legitimized their possession of it. How can a citizen resist chronic anxiety when everywhere around her are those suggesting that she has everything to fear, including fear itself?

Of course no one person constructs a climate of dire foreboding all on his or her own, especially when tragedy and violence are as easy to pinpoint as targets on a map. Scary stuff happens; we have indeed seen a glimpse of the worst of times.

To talk about school shootings, such as the one in Newtown, Connecticut, is to talk about something that shouldn’t even have a name. The very fact that “school shooting” has entered our vocabulary should leave a taste of horror in our mouths when we pronounce the words. The very phrase “school shooting” should not make sense; it is our collective tragedy that it does. The loss of life we experience as a nation every time something like this happens is more deafening than the sound of a gunshot.

But to withstand the daily whittling away of a collective sense of security--deliberately and expertly wielded by policy-makers and politicos who feed off the tragedy in order to make us even more afraid--this is almost too much to ask of anyone. 

And yet we have to resist the fear; we have to overcome it. We have to have more courage. The only thing more terrifying than the crazed lone gunman is a large number of fearful, trembling, unready, and unprepared gun-owners driven half-mad by a desire for vengeance and a misplaced sense of vigilance.

I have to fight my instant and deep fear reflex even though part of me cries out for instant and fierce revenge. Because that is what we want for the next generation—it’s why we send our kids to school and why we trust our lives to the community.  We want a life as free from fear as humanly possible  

I've been made so angered and saddened by today’s tragedy that I have no alternative but to start squirting ink. But I am not reaching for a gun.

 

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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