Friday, May 18, 2007
Automatics for the People
The moment I learned that Jerry Falwell had slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of whatever, I chuckled quietly and returned to my work-out (given that I was at the gym at the time); a couple of moments after I learned of the entirely timely death of Jerry Falwell, I wondered to myself what would become of those poor souls sure to suffer most in the wake of such a staggering loss.
I'm speaking of course of the media, which for more than three decades had been complicit in elevating Falwell from Otherwise-Run-of-the-Mill-Sociopath to Influential-Spokesperson-Whose-Opinion-Deserves-Consideration.
What would the 24-hour cable channels do now that they'd lost their go-to zealot? Where would they find another voice so sure to hand them a ratings bonanza on a silver-platter by consistently spouting inflammatory nonsense? Who else could provide the perfect caricaturish counterbalance to equally extremist viewpoints from the opposite side of the political and religious spectrum? Would anyone else look as hilariously perfect inside a two-box graphic opposite Al Sharpton?
If you have a working television and an IQ above that of a ferret, you know that I'm not exaggerating one bit about the media's seemingly incurable obsession with allowing only the most fanatical agitators to speak for the masses when it comes time to debate so-called "controversial" issues on the airwaves. I've sat in focus group after focus group -- listened to letter after e-mail after telephone message -- which attempted to convince those in control of our nation's various news departments that Falwell, Robertson, Sharpton, Jackson and their rotten ilk don't speak for a majority of Americans.
Such pleas were always paid the requisite level of self-reflective lip service; you've been able to see for yourself how much effect they had when it came time to once again book a guest to expound on the morality/immorality of gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, adding nipples to mannequins and so on.
The fact is, whether a topic is being legitimately and rationally debated matters little; what matters is that batshit-crazy makes for great TV.
As someone who draws a paycheck from a major network and spends almost every other waking moment cultivating a career as a writer and author, I sometimes find myself in the unenviable position of being torn between my loyalties to each facet of my life. Regular readers of this little experiment of mine can probably correctly surmise by now that my loathe for what television news has generally become, combined with my passion for writing, typically makes it a pretty easy call on those rare occasions when the two sides conflict: in spite of the shot of adrenaline that the news business can sometimes offer, I find writing to be an infinitely more worthwhile and noble endeavour.
Which is why it pissed me off to no end to find that some news organizations had begun moving the ridiculous extremist debate that they'd popularized on television to a new forum: the written-word domain of the internet.
In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, CNN.com featured two online columns written by two guest contributors with opposing viewpoints. The topic was gun control.
Taken at face value, the idea of such a point/counterpoint -- particularly considering the gravity of the subject and the tragedy which had spawned its discussion -- seemed admirable. Unfortunately, it was who they had enlisted to pen these polemics that left me shaking my head in equal parts bewilderment and disgust.
Taking the stance in favor of gun control: former editorial page editor for the L.A. Times, current UCLA professor and freakishly nerdy liberal archetype Tom Plate.
Taking the anti-gun control stance: Ted Nugent.
Needless to say, it was the kind of debate guaranteed to convince absolutely no one on the opposite side of either argument. On the contrary, each contestant stood as such a laughable stereotype -- no doubt confirming the other side's worst fears and shallowest preconceptions -- that it was likely from the beginning that the entire effort would only serve to further polarize the two camps in the debate.
So what the hell was the point?
Well, as was surely expected, it was entertaining.
Plate pontificated eloquently and uber-articulately -- peppering his prose with plenty of Scrabble triple-score words -- that the second amendment should be overturned and that Americans should completely lay down both their arms and their right to bear them.
Nugent sounded like the guy who wrote Wango Tango -- blasting away at the liberal pussies who want to trample on your "God-given right to keep and bear arms" and arguing that what America needs is more guns, not fewer.
It was great theater -- and it accomplished absolutely nothing.
Like all those who had complained for so long that a battle between zealots left 99% of America without a voice, I found myself infuriated that such an important subject -- one worthy of serious discussion -- had been sacrificed on the altar of pop-culture burlesque. The searing aftermath of a human catastrophe of such magnitude wasn't the time for arrogant chest-thumping and gutless preaching to the already converted.
In other words, regardless of the part I play in the news media itself -- I found myself within that huge percentage who felt like its myriad views weren't being properly represented.
A little background: I've always had a fascination with and an appreciation for guns.
I have no doubt that this stems from the fact that I was raised around weapons; they were a regular feature of life in my house for most of my formative years. My father is a former Navy SEAL and was a commander with the Miami-Dade P.D. during a good portion of my childhood; he was armed upwards of 18 hours out of each day. I never found this to be all that disconcerting -- on the contrary, I remember thinking that it was pretty damn cool at the time.
I also remember my father going out of his way to make me understand that there was nothing "cool" about it.
From day one, he taught me the right and wrong way to handle a gun. He taught me an awesome amount of respect for its power and for the responsibility that goes with even holding one in your hand. After handing me his HK Compact .45, he made me check to make sure it wasn't loaded, even if I had just watched him do the same. He demanded that I always keep it pointed at the ground, and never at another human being -- even if I knew beyond a doubt that it had been emptied and therefore rendered ostensibly harmless. He taught me how to shoot, and shoot well; how to aim and fire with confidence rather than fear. He made sure I understood that the use of force is never something to be taken lightly -- but that if by some chance it ever became absolutely necessary, to defend myself or someone I love, I had to act without hesitation and be willing to kill.
I had to detach.
I never had a problem with this -- which admittedly worrried him on occasion.
I bring all of this up, because I think it needs to be understood that I see both sides of the gun control issue. I'm no extremist in either direction, which I hope qualifies me to offer an opinion that can be seen as at least somewhat valid by either side of the debate.
In spite of my familiarity with guns, my respect for them, and my belief in the good they can do in the proper hands, I'd gladly make every single one of them vanish from the face of the planet if I could. I realize, however, that this is impossible -- and that if even one such weapon exists, many more must also.
Make no mistake though, the escalation does have to end somewhere.
Last night, in the town of Annandale, Virginia, hundreds of people -- many toting exposed dual sidearms, as if expecting to encounter a wild west gunfight -- converged on a tiny county government building. What drew them in droves were two chances: one was the chance to win a brand new pistol and rifle; the other was the chance to send New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and gun control advocates like him a defiant message.
Recently, Bloomberg filed a series of federal lawsuits against out-of-state weapons dealers, claiming that the shops allow the illegal sale of guns which are then used to commit crimes in New York City. Six of the targeted dealers are in Virginia.
And so, supposedly as a form of protest, a gun-rights group calling itself the Virginia Citizens Defense League held a "Bloomberg Gun Giveaway." Its members raffled off a Para-ordnance handgun and a "Varmint Stalker" rifle (and no, I'm not making that up) and showed off a cake adorned with an unflattering picture of Bloomberg.
They laughed, they ridiculed their supposed oppressors, they showed off their guns -- they had a hell of a time.
Meanwhile, outside, a small group gathered to protest the giveaway -- among those standing quietly, the parents of several of the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting.
When asked about the vigil going on right outside the door, the president of the Virginia Citizen's Defense League, Philip Van Cleave, said that he sympathizes with the grieving families, but -- and here's the argument you could've seen coming a mile away -- that their loved ones might still be alive if more people had been armed that day.
To call the entire thing obscene would be an insult to obscenity, and I have no doubt that the use of such impotent language would only serve to reinforce this group's belief that anyone who disagrees with it is a leftist wimp.
So let me use a few words the members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League might better understand: if ever there existed a bunch of people who need to be disarmed as quickly as possible, it's these fucking idiots. Anyone whose judgment is so lousy that he would throw a party and gleefully thumb his nose in the face of families recently devastated by gun violence can't be trusted with a deadly weapon. If the mere feelings of another human being are of no consequence to these dolts, I find it impossible to believe that the human life they have the potential to take will be of much more value.
These aren't gun enthusiasts -- these are gun worshippers. That's the problem, because as my father taught me so long ago -- there should be no such thing.
It's one thing to recognize a weapon as a necessity, a means to and end, even an instrument of sport -- of enjoyment; it's another thing entirely to believe it to be a large part of your identity -- your very manhood.
Anyone who thinks this way shouldn't be allowed to own a gun.
The members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League -- a laughably muscular name for a group that's made up largely of overweight rednecks -- taunt Mike Bloomberg, telling him to mind his own business and worry about New York; this proves that they're too myopic to be able to understand that in this day and age, an event in Virginia has the ability to affect change in New York City -- proving that they don't understand the potentially catastrophic consequences of their own actions.
Proving that they should in no way be in a position to take a life in the blink of an eye.
They claim that the world would be a safer place if more people were armed to the teeth -- and that the Virginia Tech massacre could have been avoided if more of the students had been able to shoot back. Yet, I have no doubt that if those heavily armed students had been schooled in the use of firearms by the misguided idiots of the V.C.D.L., there would've been accidental deaths long before that awful morning.
They shouldn't have guns, and they damn sure shouldn't be allowed to inflict their stupidity and lack of respect for the power at their fingertips on others.
Each person who crowded into that building last night wasn't there to stand up for his rights -- he wasn't there to secure his ability to hunt or shoot for sport, or for the necessity of self-defense; he was there because, to him, his gun is sacrosanct -- the knowledge of his ability to kill imperative in maintaining a sense of authority -- of power.
He's a zealot -- unwilling to concede or compromise.
And once again, as my father taught me, he's the last person who should be carrying a gun.