Recoil: A Sane Reaction to Guns

01/12/2011 03:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011


I'm going to say what a blogger can and a politician can't. Guns suck. Guns are bad. I hate guns.

A national gun control strategy is the only hope to stave off our prodigious level of gun violence, but advocating such a policy is more politically dangerous than pushing for cuts in Social Security. That's because a startling majority of Americans like guns. They think guns are good. They would rather kill someone who was trying to break into their house then part with some replaceable property. In fact, I would posit that many Americans would consider such an opportunity to use a gun a highlight of their life.

The divide between fantasy and reality is mind-boggling. The fantasy is that a woman pulls a gun on a potential rapist; the reality is that she is killed by a stalking ex-boyfriend. The fantasy is that Clint Eastwood cleans the neighborhood of gangs -- the reality is that young men of color are killing each other at genocidal rates. We have the highest rate of gun ownership and incarceration in the world -- yet compared to France or Germany our gun homicide rate is sky high. These are murders overwhelmingly committed by someone known by the victim. The idea that millions of Americans are protecting themselves against violent crime by strangers is a delusion, a macho fantasy, a farce.

Suicide by gun is far more common and "successful" here than anywhere else. I have always had an aversion to guns, but this particular fact was brought home rather graphically when my brother shot himself in the chest in his car two years ago, dying instantly. He'd never owned or shot a gun before. He had mental health issues his whole life, and had spun out over his perception that a retinal detachment constituted unbearable suffering. The police officer who dealt with the aftermath asked my sisters and I if we wanted the gun back since it was his property.

At that moment it struck me that there were people who would have said yes, who would have accepted it just as we accepted his car back. I don't get it. I don't get that so many of my fellow Americans relish the idea of having and using a weapon designed to maim or kill another human being. They are so attached to the notion of gun ownership that someone like Jared Loughner can purchase several 30-round magazines and pass a background check with flying colors.

It's absurd to reassure the gun-owners that we're not out to take their arms. It is an impossibility to remove even a fraction of the 270 million guns from circulation. We will keep having massacres on a regular basis in this country. You win.

But enough apology on our side. I think the American obsession with weaponry is deeply pathological. My aversion to violence is the sane, healthy reaction. Their love of it is the mark of a weak, insecure and fearful mindset that views force as a preferred expression of power. It causes death, mayhem and grief.

It is time we call the American attachment to guns what it is: a cancer on the soul of the country.