Get Off My Chest! #4: We Swear That We Don't Have A Gun (Or A History Of Mental Illness)

San Franciscan Diane Karagienakos and Seattleite Paul Pearson are the consummate online friends. They have never met in person blew the mystique and finally met in person last November. If not for their mutual connection to exactly two people, they might not have ever known of each other’s existence. But they instant-message each other with a rapport like they’ve been doing this internet thing for a hundred years.

In their fourth, possibly most vital conversation so far, D&P weigh in on the gun control debate, and try like hell to make it into a more comprehensive, well-rounded parley than one normally finds in the current media climate. This discussion contains one (1) Lewis Carroll reference. 


Diane: Let's roll. Let's just dive in: What do you think the problem is and how would you fix it, given the power to do so?

Paul: Well, the prevailing conservative sentiment that the problem doesn't just have to do with guns is correct. I mean, it's a LOT of the problem... a whole hell of a lot of the problem... but I agree with the notion that mental health has something to do with it. And one aspect of mental health that I think needs to be addressed is why certain people have so much affection for their guns.

Other aspects of the problem? Well, fear. Our nation's genetic code, as it were, placing a certain nobility on violence. Lack of education. The instant gratification culture. It's lots of things.

But mainly guns.

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Diane: I'm gonna agree and disagree with you there. Agree guns are a whole hell of a lot of the problem. Agree instant gratification. Agree mental health. But I think the main problem, The Big One, is our society/culture of disconnection. Other cultures have violent games/movies, and guns, and, I assume, members of its society with mental health issues.

What America seems to lack are things that counter these things. A sense of belonging. Pride of place. Strong ties to extended family, community. I work in a restaurant and every night, families sit around tables of very expensive meals, and no one talks. All of them are elsewhere on their devices. I swear I believe it's all tied in. I'm not saying outlaw devices, not at all. But I am saying that as tribal people, we're on a path of self-induced isolation. It's not good, and gun violence is evidence of the worst of it.

And it's pissing me off that no one is talking about this. Guns, mental health care system, NRA, Second Amendment. Everyone's pointing fingers at these things, but no one's willing to say we, America, are the problem. Come together, people!


Paul: Well, I see that disconnection as a problem with everything that ails America at this point. We were already on our way to becoming an isolationist country, the breakdown of the tribal instinct that you mention only reinforces that. As someone raising kids with a lot of technology around the house, that alarms me as well. I’m leery of my family turning out like the one in The Ice Storm.

I wonder if we are irretrievably broken in our ability to discuss these matters like grown adults. I was thinking about this in relation to the news media the other day. Since they are driving discussion of this issue, they don't take the time to discuss the intangible problems. They don't like to attach a higher meaning to these things, like you just did. And yeah, it's as much of a problem as any other problem in this mess. Still, the mathematical part of me, which is living in a very remote part of my subconscious in an unfurnished railroad apartment, also believes: You know, people really don't need high-capacity magazines.

Diane: Absofuckinglutely. I have yet to hear a half-decent argument in favor of them. A conservative lawyer I know posted on Facebook:
It's the middle of the night and you're in bed on the second floor of your house in a semi-rural neighborhood. Your spouse is next to you and your kids are in their rooms down the hall. There have been several burglaries in the area recently, including one where the homeowner was stabbed and the perps got away... again. You hear the sound of breaking glass downstairs and then hushed voices. Quietly, you wake your spouse and call 911 and are told that help is on the way. You decide to wait quietly until you hear footsteps on the stairs. With nothing to fight with, you scream out, "I called the police and they are on their way!" Your door bursts open and two meth-amped assailants charge in waving flashlights and knives, demanding money and valuables and threatening bodily harm "because you called the fucking cops." You try to give them money, but they are not satisfied so they stab you and your spouse repeatedly and as you fall to the ground the perps leave the room saying they are going to "Kill your fucking kids." 5 minutes later, the police arrive to find the bodies of you, your wife, and your kids stabbed to death.

Or...

Thankfully, you have a legally registered pistol with a magazine that complies with the new law limiting it to seven rounds. You still call the cops and decide to wait it out, but you get your pistol ready. When you hear the footsteps and shout out the warning, the assailants burst in so you open fire. It is dark in the room and they are moving, so only two of your seven bullets are hits and they drop the first perp. The second one is still coming at you with his knife, enraged. 5 minutes later, the police arrive to find the bodies of you, your wife, and your kids stabbed to death. The perp you shot is gone.

Or...

Your pistol has a 15-round magazine. Only two of the first seven rounds hit the first assailant, dropping him and giving you a clear shot at perp #2. Terrified, you are firing wildly, but 3 of the next 5 shots find their mark. The perps are not dead, nor even mortally wounded, but they are injured and down, and you still have 3 rounds in your weapon. You keep the perps covered until the police arrive 5 minutes later.

And THAT is ONE reason why law-abiding citizens should be allowed to have medium-capacity (10 to 15 rounds) magazines.
How idiotic is that as an argument, if those are the only 3 possible outcomes? What the fuck are you doing shooting any kind of gun in your home where there are children in the dark? If you have time to strap on your big bad gun, how about just grabbing a flashlight or one of those flashlight helmets? Or best yet night-vision goggles (which I would think if you’re enough of a firearm freak, you would automatically own) and actually take aim. But then if you were actually taking aim, you'd only need 1, maybe 2 bullets -- and what fun would that be?

Paul: And how many times has Scenario #3 actually happened? You can't predicate law on a short story. Not to cheapen the subject, but I could make a reasonable argument about not walking in fields with potholes in it, because in one scenario I heard about, a little girl fell down a hole into a room where she took oral steroids and ended up in a tea party with a grinning cat and a sociopathic queen. So don't walk in fields, kids.

What lawmakers need to consider is the reality of the situation. And given all that's happened, you have to weigh if all these mass murders would have been possible without quick access to high-powered weaponry. That has to be discussed.

Diane: Okay, thank you for making me laugh out loud with your frightful scenario. It comes back to your point about some people's odd affection for their guns. I honestly don't think most gun owners and NRA members think we need the medium-to-high capacity mags. But it's that squeaky, well-funded wheel that keeps this from being a meaningful and forward-moving discussion. I wish the NRA would just branch off and become its own political party, stay out of other party's pocketbooks.

And I agree with Louis Michael Seidman's New York Times article about the constitution: that it derails any intelligent approach to problems of today. Camille Paglia did a great interview with Interview after Columbine, where she had a great approach to what's wrong with schools and society today (circa 1998 or 1999). Her solution: Blow it up. Start over.

Same with the Constitution: Great preamble and ideas overall, but we must look at today's modern problems through the lens of today. I don't want to necessarily blow it up, but we need to be open to other ideas in this day and age. Camille talks about some of the same things here.


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Paul: The responsible gun owners far outnumber the wack-jobs, and I agree with you. I think rank-and-file NRA members are more in support of some logical restrictions than Wayne LaPierre would have you believe. But we can't hear them. Their leaders have already proven themselves to be out of touch and comprehensively tone-deaf. It has to be frustrating for them.

As far as love of guns goes -- I understand it as a hobby that could prove to be beneficial in some manner. I know some women in Olympia who have started their own gun club, and they're extremely attentive to responsibility and safety. But in general I don't quite get the displaced passion some people have for inanimate objects. And it's hard to tell when enthusiasm ebbs into devotion, which ebbs into worship. I have to watch for that myself.

That also leads me to think about why gun ownership in America is so closely tied into being a Christian. Right now it feels like a lot of people who proclaim themselves to be Christian are worshipping their guns instead of their God. Jesus Christ equals Rambo to them. Actually, to be blunt about it, from the way they're talking, Rambo means more to them than Jesus Christ. They're taking time out from talking about how much the Prince Of Peace means to them, so they can talk about how absolutely vital it is that we have high-capacity magazines. I don't get it. I refuse to get it. It is nonsensical by definition.

The Constitution was written without the framers knowing anything about the future. They didn't know what things would be happening two centuries later. They'd probably be horrified that we don't value fine American craftsmanship and buy a lot of our furniture from Swedes. I don't consider it a holy document, although I'm nuts about that First Amendment.

Diane: Seems it's never the gun wack-jobs who amass carnage before ultimately committing suicide. When did that even get on our radar as an option, a solution or reaction to an unhappy life of even phase of life? Are we just such a nation of pussies now that getting fired, or rejected from school or a person we desire, or a series of these setbacks makes us not only want to check out, but to take innocent people with us? Whatever happened to “success is the best revenge”? Are Americans losing hope for achieving success? Are the expectations of The American Dream too great, too unrealistic? It's like when you get sober or give up smoking or lose weight: You think it's going to change your life so dramatically for the better. But it doesn't. It changes it for the better, but it's a far, far way from happily ever after.

Meanwhile, we have dumb-ass Snooki's and Kardashians making it look like fame and success, the American "Happily Ever After,” are that easy. And if those tools can be rich and famous and happy, what the fuck's wrong with me that I'm broke, unemployed, and can't find a date? We are a nation of fucked up signals for kids, that's all I'm sayin'.


Paul: It's that instant gratification thing again. There are very few overnight successes, and if there happens to be one, the speed of culture usually cuts that success off or just forgets about it. Every noble success takes time. Even that Gangham Style guy's been working for the last 9 years.

Right now? I think we've been in a downward spiral of hope for a couple of years. All of our expectations have been tempered. A lot of people feel the American dream's out of reach. Surely I've felt that way from time to time in the past. But then again, I wasn't doing what I know I need to do to be successful. That's another story.

But yeah, I think that fatalism exists, certainly. And it trumps patience and hard work, for a lot of people. That has to stop. I think more than anything we've accepted anger as a food group. Some people have. It's part of their daily diet.

I saw two of the Kardashians on Letterman last night. It was, believe it or not, the first time I was ever exposed to the Kardashian family for more than 30 seconds. I keep thinking the subset of people who are famous because “they’re famous” is about to go away, and it never does. They have a right to be happy. Certainly don't wish them harm. But I wonder why a national of millions has glommed onto them.

Diane: It's our culture of snark. We love looking at people's lives and habits and making fun of them, while they laugh all the way to the bank.

I have a confession to make: I've watched Ice Loves Coco a couple of times now. And... I sort of love it. For proving me wrong in my own prejudice about certain people, based on how they look. I mean, she looks like a blow-up doll, but she seems really sweet. And Ice, we can think him a hothead thug, but he's so calming and grounding a presence for her, and they clearly love each other so much. I can't believe I'm even saying this! But... they give me hope! I don't watch to laugh at them at all.


Paul: Ice Loves Coco is the only reality show I would even think of watching! They're a genuinely loving couple, it's not an exploitative relationship. I have always been an Ice-T fan and knew he had that side to him. They are not caricatured reality show stars. Ice wouldn’t ever agree to do a show like that.

Diane: Okay, Ice for President! Seriously, Obama needs to get some high profile people behind him on some of this stuff. Ice. Republicans who favor sanity in gun legislation. The NRA members whose sane voices are being drown out by the zealots. This business of guns has got to stop being another Democrat vs. Republican topic, or else you know it's not going anywhere.

Paul: I have hope -- a wafer-thin, ungraspable hope that I can't back up with anything resembling an informed argument -- that eventually some sort of rationality will emerge and we'll agree to logical laws in terms of background checks, and not selling guns to felons or crazy people. I don't have any way to back up that stance, but I look at how Alex Jones appeared on that Piers Morgan segment the other week. I don't get it. He knew he was on camera, right? He knew that looking like a nutjob would detract from his argument, right?

I just searched for the phrase "when belief becomes insanity," and found this quote about religion: "I think it becomes insanity when it requires you to believe things which are in direct conflict with empirical reality. i.e., if your religion requires that you believe the earth is flat, and you do, even though all evidence is to the contrary, then you've lost it." I think that typifies the rabid anti-gun-control types to a T. The empirical truth doesn't line up with their preferred worldview, so they just reject the empirical truth. Problem exacerbated.

Diane: Well, you've about as much hope as I have. How hard is it to apply the same requirements for purchase at gun shows as exist for retail outlets? Like someone stated regarding the purchase/transfer of cars, and all associated responsibilities/liabilities. Let's just try those two things in terms of guns: background checks for all purchases, and out with the mid-high capacity mags. Let's try and see how it goes.

As for mental health: Lord, there's a label for everything these days. I think that's meant to keep the docs and the pharmacies in business, I truly do. So much of what "ails" us psychologically is part of the human condition. America has a bad, bad case of First World Problems. And we have lots of pills for that. Some (schizophrenics, for example) are truly ill. But it seems the people who are involved in these shootings, they're never on that end of the spectrum, are they? They're usually "outcasts" or "loners," most of which don't gun down 6-year-olds. They need role models and trusting relationships and a stronger support system than most of us have. Not necessarily pills.


Paul: There are, as you point out, some people who truly need medication, there's no way around it. But it's no substitute for values. Speaking from personal experience, I think sometimes people get on those medications because other people want them to. They're not fitting into someone else's preferred character. I was on Celexa for a while for no other reason than the person I was living with didn't like the fact that I didn't always come home from work in an exuberant mood. Amusing side note: She wasn't that sane to begin with herself. You can't pill yourself into stability. I would use that as the utmost last resort with my children.

Diane: I worked at the medical unit at the embassy in London, sort of the primary care physician's office for the diplomats of Europe and western Africa. And let me tell you, Ritalin was doled out to kids like fluoride tabs. "He's fidgety in school, doesn't focus." Ritalin for you! I mean, little boys aren't naturally designed to sit still in school, are they? Camille Paglia talks about this, only she's talking about hormone-addled teenagers.

I commend you on not jumping on the medicate-your-babies bandwagon. That's where it starts: teach your kids to work through difficult situations, or teach them to pop a pill to do the work for you. Another primarily American cultural feature that is hurting us. Pills get you through tough times, since we are lacking those other things that prop people up in other cultures. This whole mindset is part of that Bigger Picture problem.


Paul: Really, all I want right now is for both sides to be reasonable and discuss it like it's a real, tangible problem, because it is. Whatever comes out of it will take time, I realize that. But everything's got to be on the table and up for review. And it would certainly help if people stopped making up "facts" like "baseball bats kill more people than guns." Research. Do your research folks.

Diane: I want both sides to be reasonable and discuss, without the shadow of the NRA and special interest groups clouding things. Do you think that's possible, Mr. Pearson?

Paul: Sure, it's possible. This is America, anything's possible. We just have to get over the requirement that it be sponsored. And maybe we should have more of these discussions in living rooms and coffee shops, not just on TV.

Diane: And definitely not just on Facebook!

Paul: Yes! Let's move this to Reddit!

Diane: And that's a wrap!
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