Big Scary Looking Gun

The front page of the Star Tribune today features a huge fish-eye photo of a scary-looking gun.  The accompanying story, “Fearing tougher laws, Twin Cities buyers seek permits to carry guns,” explains that in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre and other horrific crimes, more people are seeking permits to carry a concealed weapon.

Without rehashing the same arguments on both sides, I want to talk about a new question:

What are we afraid of?

How do we frame a discussion about firearms in the wake of a horrible tragedy?  Far too many of us seek to lash out in our sadness, horror, and anger at the events.  We look to the other side and attack, attack, attack, trying to find some meaning in this thing we simply cannot understand. Others, like those in the Strib story, seek added physical protection by applying for a gun permit.  Most of us hug kids and loved ones and take comfort in each other. Each of us deal with it in our own way.

I’ll tell you what we’re not afraid of.  We’re not afraid of doing paperwork when it comes to buying a gun.  We’re not afraid of waiting in line, answering questions, or taking a class to get a permit to purchase and a permit to carry a handgun.  We’re not afraid that the next guy in line to legally purchase a gun is going to use it to rob us in the parking lot.

Cute Little Pink Gun

We’re not scared of the guns, despite the media’s efforts to make them look scary.  They make pink guns now, matching fashion accessories that fit right in your purse, ladies.  The cute little pink ones will make you just as dead as the scary ones, but don’t tell the Strib photo editor…

What we are afraid of is the people who are not doing the paperwork, not waiting in the lines, and not taking the classes.  We’re afraid of the crazy. We’re afraid of the criminal, the desperate junkie, the lunatic loner.  We’re afraid of the man with a truckload of fertilizer, and the punk in the alley. We are afraid of the next monster who is right now watching the 24X7 media coverage of the Sandy Hook tragedy and the funerals of little boys and girls and plotting his own horror. We fear what we do not understand.

People who seek a firearm as personal protection are not the problem. No amount of paperwork and bureaucracy is going to protect us and our loved one from the horrific, unpredictable, and truly evil nature of our fellow man.

That’s what we are afraid of.  We’re afraid that despite all of our careful preparations, something terrible will happen anyway.  And there is no way to legislate that fear away.

What can we do about it?

There is a lot we can do, and there are people trying to do it.  Not all of it is good, and most of it is effort for effort’s sake.

One thing we could do, but we won’t, is to get the media to stop glorifying the shooter.  We will hear his name for ever and far more frequently than any of his victims. He is infamous or famous, but regardless, that next monster is already watching and learning every detail about he-whose-name-I-will-not-publish-here.  We could turn off our TV and stop caring about the criminal, and focus instead on the victims and their families.  The media spreads and multiplies the horror of what happened in that school to all of us, and the monster wins.

We could stop looking for an explanation or an excuse for the killer.  We could satisfy ourselves with knowing he is dead and can’t hurt anyone else. We should agree as a society that we don’t need to know every minute detail about his life and death that the media can dig up. If you gaze long enough into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you – Friedrich Nietzsche


We could make a real effort to understand and treat mental illness. If you cannot accept that evil exists in the world, the only other possible explanation for this horror is a disease of the mind or the soul. We certainly treat people with mental illness far better than we ever have, but do we understand? I say no.  Our treatments mostly consist of pills that change the chemistry of the brain.  We try to treat symptoms, but still have little understanding of what causes the disease. If there was money in psychiatric treatment like there is money in pill-development, we would have a much deeper understanding of the issues within a generation.

In a practical sense, we could enforce some laws that we already have.  For example, it is a crime to lie on a gun permit application.  If police find that you are a felon or a drug user, or have been treated for mental illness, and you bought a gun, they should prosecute that.  I doubt anyone even cross-checks such things.  It is a crime to buy a gun and sell/give it to someone who cannot legally own one – just like buying beer or cigarettes for a minor. Is there a way to better police this? We should find one.

I don’t think that another technical bill banning this or that kind of gun, or this or that kind of accessory is going to help. A 10 round magazine would not have stopped he-whose-name-I-will-not-publish-here, or that other guy in the movie theater, the guy in the clock tower in 1966, or the monster before that who blew up a school back in ’27.

I have heard suggestions about limiting the amount of ammunition one could buy in a day/month/week/year. I think there is not a practical limit that will prevent these mass murders.  25 bullets is not enough for an enjoyable trip to the range, but is plenty for a murderer.

To both sides who are politicizing gun-ownership and gun-control because something bad happened: shut up a minute. Can we at least get through the funerals and maybe get the children back to school before we start with the politics?

To the rest of us: hug your kids, tell your parents and your friends you love them, and do everything you can to make sure they are safe from the monsters.

Hug Your Kids