The Gun Culture Part VI: Taking a Shot

More than 97 guns are owned per 100 people in the United States. Serbia is second with 58 per 100 and Yemen third with 55 per 100. Last year, 4.7 homicides per 100,000 people were committed using firearms, closely following countries like Niger, Yemen and Albania. You are 4-5 times more likely to get shot in the US than in any other developed country. Anyone arguing there is no problem with gun violence in this country has their head in the sand.

After five years of closely observing this aspect of our culture, events of the past month helped clarify some of my feelings around it. To begin with current events, several weeks ago the Deshutes Brewery was hosting their annual tap takeover at Eichardts and were sent an email they should show up “ARMED AND ON HIGH ALERT” because “A crowd might show up armed and do something nasty.” The Sheriff’s Department stationed a deputy out front and a large crowd of patrons showed up in defiance of the threat. It was the coziest dollar beer night I’ve been to.

Between that night and this week, I’ve run into more insensitivity about gun violence. A few days after the Deshutes/Eichardts threat I sat in the nicely renovated upstairs area of said establishment and watched an adult play peekaboo with a baby. I was shocked when the “peekaboo” changed into “Shots fired!” and I became so uncomfortable that I left, hearing the “Ohhh…. SHOTS FIRED!” blend into the otherwise warm murmur of my beloved pub. I’m not a parent and as such I abstain from criticizing people for how they treat children, but no matter how I tried, I could not fathom why anyone would say that to an infant.

One week later, my friend and I were quietly enjoying the sunset from the hood of my car off Bottle Bay Road as two pickups holding about 10 teenagers in full camo pulled up. Earlier, we’d passed them, and they had kindly waved at us.
“Did you see those girls?”, one of them whispered.
They aimed their homemade fake guns and rifles at us, laughing an pulling the triggers.
I was annoyed and even though I’m sure they were playing, I felt concerned and culturally confused. We ignored them, and after seven minutes of whispers, giggles and clicks they drove off. As I cast a disapproving look, a false black gun was pointed right at me, clicking incessantly, joined by a battle cry of “Die, die, die!”
I have lived in a lot of different cultures and opt for tolerance when I feel insecure interpreting behavior, but my friend acknowledged what I had felt — intimidation. She also helpfully pointed out, “One does not point guns at people, real or fake, at this time in the United States.”

I’m not even going to spend any words on the Sandpoint Festival gun lawsuit. If people truly do not see the logic in keeping an enclosed area with tight crowds, children and alcohol gun-free, I suggest they go get a brain transplant.


Stand Your Ground

I admit I thought about getting a gun last year. I found just the right one for me, and my friend would sell it to me for a good price. I’d been feeling vulnerable after a physical altercation in my home, and when, nine month later, a grizzly had indifferently considered stepping into my tent, I suddenly felt bear spray and a machete just didn’t cut it (pun intended). I had to be aware of my reasons and purposely pondered the responsibility of owning a firearm. I asked others why they had their guns and applied these reasons to myself. When I realized my desire was tied to fear and a need to feel stronger, I talked it over with some friends. They reinforced what I already knew; if you wish to feel confident in protecting yourself, there are many ways to do so that don’t involve firearms. It became clear that I wanted it because it was cool. A gadget to show off. A skill to add and a sure trip to paranoia. I finally decided the danger of having a deadly weapon around far outweighed the sense of security it would give me. What if I had been carrying a gun when those kids showed up with their fake rifles? What if I had combat-related trauma and appealed to the right to stand my ground? I could have shot all of them dead without legal consequence and that would be very sad.

The idea of standing your ground is ingrained in American society, especially west of the Mississippi. I have delved into US social and political history for many years and think I have a pretty good grip on the mentality of those who came out west. The hardships of the New World served as a filter to deliver a first wave of outcasts and adventurers from Europe. That group was narrowed down again to a concentration of self-sufficient, strong mavericks that moved with the frontier as the nation expanded westward in the 1800s. Life was rough, people unpredictable and the landscape unknown. Understanding this helps when friends tell me they feel completely justified to shoot someone invading their property. The possibility of being assaulted in your home exists everywhere, but an extreme sense of vulnerability is branded into the American people. I understand the danger was real in 1861, but we’ve come a long way since then and I’m unconvinced the same suspicion can be logically applied in 2020.

In 2013, the FBI reported 94 murders associated with burglaries, out of an estimated 3.7 million home invasions. If you feel confident you should shoot any stranger in your house, this means you believe that breaking and entering justifies the death penalty and that you are dealt the extreme privilege of carrying out such sentence. It may be my Christian upbringing, but I would rather suffer the assault than take a human life. I would rather die than kill someone. Sure, there are felons who run amok with the intent to leave a trail of violence and society is better off without them, but most intruders are people failed by the system — poor, mentally ill, unemployed — looking for easy money. Regardless of who comes into my home, I believe the only correct way to justice is for law enforcement to take evidence and bring them to trial. Some will get away and I accept that. It’s simply not my place to inflict gun violence on anyone.


What Triggers Me

Times are changing, but some people maintain the conviction they can casually drop death threats to innocent beer-drinkers. Clearly, the nitwit responsible for the threat to Eichardts is dissatisfied by the results of their intimidation. I was forwarded an email on January 30, titled “lawsuit with you against Sandpoint bar”, detailing alleged negligence of pub owner Jeff Nizzoli and encouraging people to bring suit for “emotional distress such as loss of sleep, night sweats, ulcers, headaches, nervous tics or other physical signs of distress” after being put at “undue risk … upon your learning after the fact that [there was] a threat of gun violence against you as a customer that evening.” I asked Jeff whether he’d received any lawsuits since the letter was circulated. True to form he responded, “No, but I did respond to the email. I may not have ulcers, but you bet I lost sleep that night!”

Not much later, someone handed me a fresh report from the Reader that Scott Rhodes is being fined $13 million by the Federal Communications Committee (FCC). Whether or not he is behind the Eichardts threat, it’s nice to see some justice served and people being held accountable for their jerkness, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that sensitivity around gun violence appears to be at a low.

So, I spent some time thinking about this. There really isn’t anything more calming than pondering gun violence while staring at my bedroom ceiling at 2am. Is it a lack of social awareness and sensitivity? Or maybe it’s morality and empathy? Whatever it is, if so many of us have been hurt by a behavioral pattern, it is prudent to address it. We have been working hard to get rid of racism since the 60’s, and more recently are tackling sexual violence with the #MeToo movement. But when will we gain the same insight around these offhand gun threats, for screaming “shots fired” into an infant’s face, for pretend-shooting strangers, gunning down that drunk neighbor who haplessly stumbles into the wrong house, and for the remarkable pigheadedness of wanting to allow firearms at a fenced-in festival? What does it take for a country to sway from ignorance to epiphany? I completely endorse the right to own a firearm, I just think it comes with the responsibility not to threated other people with it. Does it take tens of millions of deaths, like those incurred during slavery or WWII, before we see how wrong that is? Do we need to reach a 20% threshold, equal to the estimate of women raped in the US, before we start to see it as a problem? Isn’t it concerning enough that more than 572 thousand people died by firearm between 1999 and 2016? It won’t be long before all of us will know someone affected by gun violence. It’s not funny anymore.

I am very impressed with the ability of Americans to adjust their attitude in very little time. The rapidity of change on race and gender issues is astonishing. When I travel through Europe every June, I am baffled by the blatant sexism and racially insensitive customs. I think this is due to their culture being very old and ours comparatively new. I applaud this flexibility and think it is unique. This keeps me optimistic that change is inevitable, and we will see it happen. Hopefully it won’t take too much longer.



Categories: Being Dutch in the USA, North America, PhilosophyTags: , , , , ,

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