Picture Yourself Holding and Firing a Gun

We've all seen so many on-screen gun deaths, we don't even really think about guns.

The last thing I want to do here is type up a column on the tragedy in Aurora on Friday. I know nothing of James Egan Holmes’s mind, and there’s been enough uninformed, politically slanted punditry on the topic already. And I’m ever loathe to wade into the troll-bait that is a discussion of gun laws, but given where my brain goes every time there’s a senseless gun-related tragedy, there’s probably no avoiding that.

Studies show that by this point in our lives we’ve all seen a fuckzillion on-screen gun deaths, whether they be of the gritty Reservoir Dogs shot-in-the-gut-and-slowly-bleeding-out variety or the “pew-pew-pewStar Wars laser gun flavor. We’ve seen them so many times, we don’t even think about guns.

But that’s the problem. Have you ever really thought about a gun? I don’t mean have you looked at one, or thought about what it would be like to have one. And I’m not talking in that trembling, schoolmarmy “we’re all so desensitized to violence!” kinda way.

What I mean is:


Right now.

Think about a gun.

Think about what it does.

Okay, now let’s think about cavemen.

Imagine a million or however many years ago when our Neanderthal forebears were out on the hunt in search of wooly mammoths. They were armed with spears or bows and arrows or whatever, and they sought to lodge those crude projectiles into the beasts they were hunting (or into rival caveman posses) hoping to, say, tear a vital muscle, rip a tendon, puncture an artery, or, if they were especially accurate, pop one right into the heart, stopping the beast dead. That is mankind’s legacy with weapons: To lodge a projectile into a target to render it immobile or kill it dead by piercing its flesh, impeding the function if its internal machinery and/or causing a sudden fatal loss of blood. On a mechanical level, it’s a nasty, messy business.

Okay, back to guns. That is exactly what guns do, only more efficiently, effectively and more impersonally. Anyone who purchases a gun, whether for self defense or for more offensive reasons, does so with the intent that they will or might fire a projectile—perhaps one made of soft metal or designed in such a way as to mushroom or otherwise expand inside the body of its target to rip, tear and otherwise obliterate maximum tissue—into a human or animal target with the intention of killing it or injuring it to the point where it can or could be killed via more brutal, hands-on means. And that’s the problem. It’s not so much that we’ve become desensitized to violence; it’s that we’ve lost touch with what guns actually do. The self-defense/right-to-bear-arms rhetoric obfuscates the truth that even the most high-tech munitions are, when it comes down to it, brutish, primitive flesh obliterators, and connections to an unevolved, unenlightened past.

And here’s where it will get ugly. (And for the sake of this argument, let’s just ignore hunting because, really, hunting is little more than an expensive hobby for most hunters.) What it comes down to is this: Those in favor of gun control believe that we are better than our animal nature, that we can rise above. Those who oppose gun control believe that humans are not as evolved as we think we are, and that as long as there are guns there’ll be a need to defend oneself from those who would use them against us.

And I get both sides. Glass half full vs. glass half empty. Idealism vs. pessimism. Better angels vs. animal instinct.

What I don’t get is how anyone can think about what a gun does to a human body and advocate for more of them. We have the power to make guns, and we have the power to control them. No, we can’t ensure that there will be no guns, but we can make it a lot harder to obtain one. And no, we can’t guarantee that lunatics won’t get their hands on one.

But how anyone, in the wake of Friday’s tragedy, can think that the solution is more guns, more shooting, more lethal projectiles is beyond me. And if we are still ruled by the deep, dark unevolved recesses of our caveman brains, how could anyone come to any conclusion that we ought to enable those vestiges of a more primitive self by doing anything other than minimizing the number of guns in circulation, period?

We all need to think more about what guns do when we think about what we should do with guns.