Yet, Few of Them Are as Civilized

by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – A few days ago, after the supermarket shooting in Boulder had become the topic du jour, I engaged in an exchange with a Facebook “friend.” Here it is, [sic]-free:

Friend: We have to answer the Y How can we id the people before they go off! I don’t have the answers, but am willing to engage in the discussion.

Me: Are you willing to include in this discussion the possibility of banning the ownership of weapons designed primarily to kill people?

Friend: Probably not even though I persnally Feel that all firearms are in existence to kill animals. PEOPLE are animals, and some are worse than animals. It’s not the weapon, it’s the user of the weapon.

Me: Exactly what I expected. You could have just said no. So no discussion.

That exchange, unfortunately, is pretty much identical to those occurring all over the United States at the present time. Very few of them are as civilized as that one. And none – at least that I’ve read about – has resulted in any compromises or concrete legislative action to somehow diminish the United States’ grim toll in the number of civilian deaths from firearms. Yeats’ line, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” seems increasingly to have become our national motto.

Pete Buttigieg, a rising politician with a conspicuous gift for coherence, remarked during the debates for the Democratic nomination, “If more guns made us safer, we’d be the safest nation on earth – but it doesn’t work that way.” Yet when I mention him, I often get, “He’s just young and innocent. How can he possibly know much?” Then, when I Google the list of older – and presumably less innocent – United States senators who enjoy the financial support of the NRA, it’s hard for me to credit, considering their consistent legislative inertia, what comes out of their mouths.

One pundit has remarked that purchasing a weapon should be as hassle-free as buying a car. It’s a brilliant idea. Each gun-purchaser would need to show a license that, like his driver’s license, would show proof of skill and passage of a written exam, and list physical restrictions. Each sale would be registered and the title affirmed by the state. Renewal of license, and inspection of each weapon would be required at intervals. And most important would be required liability insurance.

Everybody has an opinion about the causes and cures for our national pandemic of violence. I take a look at who’s shooting people, and come up with a profile: male, white, aggrieved, suggestible, deaf to nuance, contemptuous of “liberals,” threatened by imminent loss of majority status. Has access, for about $1,000, to a weapon designed primarily to intimidate, maim, or kill as many human beings as possible in as short a period of time as possible. He goes to a shooting range where, instead of firing at circular targets and scoring his results, he blasts silhouettes of human figures that often face him threateningly. He feels empowered. He feels dangerous. He’s both.

All of us who engage with social media chat with those most congenial to us; so does he. And in that milieu, he exchanges feelings with like-minded denizens of the Internet. He reads their rants about the rising tide of other-colored people and absorbs their misogyny. The foundations of white society, the way he’s always known it, are being threatened. He owns a “fantasy weapon,” one that often causes its owner to believe he is the answer to problems caused by people less deserving of life than he. Kyle Rittenhouse, the Kenosha shooter, believed he was serving justice by carrying a fantasy weapon into the chaos of a Black Lives Matter protest.

Of course, it can be any or all these things: mental illness, family prejudice, addiction to drugs or violent websites, white supremacy propaganda, xenophobia. But the common factor is the weapon – that sleek, black tool of war, adapted for civilian recreation, that makes a confused, fearful man feel like somebody important. Which, sadly, he often turns out to be.