A plea for a farewell to (semi-automatic) arms

“One can reach a point of humiliation where violence is the only outlet.” Arthur Koestler 1905-1983.
“It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them.” Dr Samuel Johnson 1709-1784
Those are two sides of the argument for gun control: that there are many people who are on the brink of committing violence and on the other that many people find shooting rifles and killing animals to be an interesting pastime … even fun.
It’s always been my belief that overcrowding, and all the negative factors associated with it – noise, aggression, paranoia, etc – push individuals over the edge and provoke violence. The American ecologist, John B Calhoun, did experiments with rodents in the last century and found that when all available space is taken and all social roles filled, competition and the stresses experienced by the individuals will result in a total breakdown in complex social behaviors. This ultimately leads to the death of all the rodents involved – in other words, overcrowding drives them crazy.
From personal experience, this time of year when the malls and parking spaces are filled, and traffic clogs the streets, I find myself occasionally screaming at my fellow drivers, and getting ready to give them the finger – which could get you killed in the US – until I realise I’m developing a severe case of road rage. Then I laugh at myself, and wave at my colleagues in the travelling rat race.
I remember coming back to my apartment in Manhattan, after a difficult day teaching in Harlem, and shouting an obscenity at a young well-dressed student who dared asked me for money, who immediately jumped a metre into the air and ran away. I laughed at the time, but it really wasn’t funny. At least I was aware of my hostility and tried to do something about it.
Such was not the case with Adam Lanza of Newtown, Connecticut; Martin Bryant, of Port Arthur, Tasmania; and Charles Whitman of Austin, Texas, all spree killers whose actions were prompted by mental instability. Lanza and Whitman died at the site of their massacres, but we know enough about their backgrounds to believe they were ready to snap at any time. Bryant is serving 35 life sentences for killing 35 people in Port Arthur in 1996. He had few friends, was socially isolated and he once told a social worker he’d like to go around shooting people. All three had access to semi-automatic weapons – Lanza, whose profile is still being studied since he killed himself last Friday, used his mother’s guns in the massacre, after he shot her to death.
These three men all exhibited violent anti-social behaviour, but could you stop them from killing so many people? Well, denying them access to guns would certainly help. John Howard’s ban on rapid-fire rifles and shotguns after the Port Arthur massacre was one of the proudest achievements of his time as Prime Minister. He said he didn’t want Australia to adopt the gun culture of America, and for the most part he has been successful (http://bit.ly/ZmFQTa)


Howard has said Barack Obama has the best chance of doing something about gun control as a newly re-elected president, but it’s now or never. The powerful lobby, the National Rifle Association, is going to hold a press conference tonight our time in which they will try to take over the debate, and repeat their first comments on the Newtown massacre – when they said they were “shocked, saddened and heartbroken” by the “horrific and senseless murders.” If the NRA wants to make a “meaningful contribution” to prevent the murders, they will back President Obama’s taskforce on gun control, including a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
And if they are really serious, they will also ask their four million members to support the ban, and spend a considerable amount of their $300 million in revenue on an advertising campaign, using the words of Barack Obama yesterday: “I am also betting that the majority, the vast majority, of responsible law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war.” (http://bit.ly/UUt7R6 )
And that takes me to the second quote at the top of this blog from Dr Johnson, who obviously wasn’t an aficionado of hunting. Neither am I, nor do I ever remember shooting a real gun or a rifle at anything, let alone a defenceless animal. If you remember my blog on the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan (http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-7m), he is a deer hunter, though he says he often uses a bow and arrow, so perhaps he will join the President’s ban on assault weapons as well. A number of members of Congress, including Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, have changed their stance on gun laws, and will support measures to ban assault weapons and ammunition clips.
As I said, I’m no fan of hunting, but it seems to me a responsible, law-abiding hunter would give an animal a decent chance of escape, and if they came home empty-handed from a safari or hunting expedition, they would say, “Well, at least I had fun, and the animal (insert your favourite here) gave me a good run for my money.” And if that money went to a memorial fund for the teachers and pupils of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, they would feel even better, and so would the rest of us.
How you could have anything but hatred for the Bushmaster AR-15 military-style rifle, one of the weapons used in the Newtown massacre, is beyond me. Adam Lanza might have been the killer (just in case the NRA uses that old saw: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”), but he would have murdered fewer six and seven-year-old children if his mother wasn’t able to buy a Bushmaster.
The final word goes to the American poet and librarian, Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911), in the hope that hunters all over the world, including those who keep quoting the outdated Second Amendment of the US Constitution, will say farewell to arms that are weapons of war:
The woods were made for the hunter of dreams,
The brooks for the fishers of song;
To the hunters who hunt for the gunless game
The streams and the woods belong.

2 thoughts on “A plea for a farewell to (semi-automatic) arms

  1. Jim and I just reread this piece. We are in the museum of St. anne’s church on Mackinaw Island. You were in our thoughts even before synchronicity brought this earlier post to my attention this a.m. Thank you for it. Together We travel what our friend calls the psychic highway. Pull over!

  2. Jim and I just reread this piece. We are in the museum of St. anne’s church on Mackinaw Island. You were in our thoughts even before synchronicity brought this earlier post to my attention this a.m. Thank you for it. Together We travel what our friend calls the psychic highway. Pull over!

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