Happiness is a Warm Gun

John Lennon wrote the song in 1968; twelve years later he was murdered. His killer was a man, a young man armed with a crazed fantasy and a warm gun.

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You’d be a little creeped out upon finding that your Uncle Joe or the neighbor two houses down had a penchant for child pornography, wouldn’t you?  You’d know, or at least suspect, what was on his mind if you caught his eyes lingering for more than a second on your kid.  Even if it was your heretofore favorite and “harmless” Uncle Joe, you’d be forever fearful and distrusting; you’d know he had dangerous proclivities, and your child would never be left alone in his presence.

What if instead of a child fetish, you learned your neighbor (or Uncle Joe) had a fascination for guns?  It’s not so scary or repugnant, right?  Actually, you’d have already known because Joe or your neighbor would likely have shared the fascination long ago.  It’s socially acceptable after all; you might walk away with a bit of angst, but it would dissipate and you’d probably not dwell on it for long.

What if instead of guns, your neighbor collected knives: suppose he had a prototype of every slicing and stabbing tool invented by man; examples of every weapon or instrument used to cut or mutilate the human body.  Would that creep you out a little more?  Why?  Both collectors are fascinated with killing instruments.  Guns are clearly the more dangerous and lethal, so shouldn’t you feel more jitters with that collector?

We imagine what they’re imagining, and it disturbs us.  We see a warped and dangerous mind in the child pornographer, and feel revulsion.  We’d have a similar reaction towards the neighbor’s knife fetish, but the response would probably be less visceral; we’d likely file our discomfort under “kinky” or “weird” rather than placing it in the “oh my god” folder.  With the gun collector, we hardly experience angst at all; maybe just a funny feeling to be filed under “odd”. The pornography collector is a pervert.  The gun collector is an enthusiast.  Funny about the nomenclature; isn’t it?  We’ve come to give the gun enthusiast a pass; we’ve stopped imagining what he’s imagining.

In nearly every American strip mall, there seems to be a martial arts studio.  People sign up for a lot of reasons: exercise, self-protection, goal achievement, ego-enhancement, parental or peer pressure, camaraderie, etc.  Hardly anyone does so for the ostensible purpose of doing violence.  It’s there though; maiming the human body is imagined and practiced; it’s at the core of what it’s about.  You don’t learn how to physically incapacitate another human being without visualizing the techniques involved, and practicing them.  Fantasized scenarios come with developed skills.  If you’re of a healthy mind, the fantasies are socially acceptable: standing up to the bully, protecting the vulnerable, preventing an assault, etc.  You’ve learned the skills and you fantasize their use.  You might even attempt to actualize a fantasy; placing yourself in a situation where the art can “justifiably” be drawn upon.  Gun enthusiasm is like that too; it involves fantasizing violence: deadly violence upon a human being.

When we contemplate the purchase of an automobile, we fantasize.  We pick the car or truck whose image and function best fits our purpose and fantasy.  We do the same with a gun.  If we purchase a .22 caliber rifle, our fantasy might involve killing a small game animal; if it’s a .30-06, it might be about killing a deer; if it’s an AK-47, our fantasy includes the killing of a human being.  Guns are for killing; when we buy them, that’s what we imagine doing with them.   Specific guns are manufactured to kill specific things.  When we purchase a gun specifically designed to kill a human being, we specifically fantasize the killing a human being.  To suggest otherwise is pretense or naiveté: it’s whistling past the graveyard.

Fantasy is the first step made towards a desired outcome.  Before you buy an assault rifle, you’ve already fantasized its function.  You’ve imagined killing a human being and are now purchasing the requisite tool; you’ve taken the first two steps towards making it happen.  If you’re somewhat stable, the fantasy may be for justifiable or even heroic purpose: killing the bad guy that’s really gone crazy, holding off the Russians, or maybe protecting the real America from the other America.  To whatever purpose, you’ve imagined killing.  You have in hand the special tool designed to make it happen.  You’re getting warm.

It should be apparent by now that we pose danger.  We have a tendency to express violent and controlling behavior; it likely dwells in the male genome.  We’re not all certifiable; most of us have been quite calm and rational through the better part of our lives.  It is observable in the statistics though; the murders, the rapes, the assaults – pick any type of violence; it’s almost all of male origin.  Our half of the American population murders nearly 15,000 people a year; the stats of other violent crimes are equally telling.  It’s true that most of us will enjoy a lifetime free of displaying the most egregious forms of violence; but the susceptibility is there.  What’s so clear in statistics isn’t always so apparent or even detectable in daily lives.  The inclination can easily go unnoticed, except perhaps in retrospect.  A common refrain is: “He kept to himself”, “I never saw it coming”, “I can’t believe it”, “I’m still trying to wrap my head around it”, etc.  Unfortunately, it often takes an overt act of violence to reveal a prior covert threat.

That’s why it’s laughable when the enthusiast says “It’s not a gun issue; it’s a mental health issue!”  The second part is true, but likely includes the enthusiast.  There really is a mental health issue, but it encompasses a large group: human males.  It’s all of us; it’s in our genes!  If addressing mental health is the path to ending gun violence, we need to monitor about 160 million males in the United States.  Were the idea adequate or practical, an obvious start would entail a close examination of those who fantasize killing with the purchase of weapons.  They’ve purposely taken the first real steps towards gun violence; isn’t that a dangerous sign of mental instability?  Effective monitoring of any meaningful breadth is not seriously being proposed and would actually be resisted as invasive by its present advocates.  Proponents of the “mental health issue” as the solution to gun violence are gun enthusiasts, gun merchants, or beholding politicians making pretence of concerned action.  The obvious problem is avoided: males prone to violent fantasies and the proliferation of guns.

It’s not complicated.  In mathematical form, it’s something like this: (x) guns + (y) males = (z) deaths.  There’s only two ways to decrease (z): reduce the number and type of guns (x), or reduce the number of males (y).  Anything else is avoidance and window dressing.  Personally, I’d opt for reducing (x).  It’s the less disruptive option (at least for males), and has actually been shown to work (ex. Australia).

Vern Loomis lives in the Detroit area and occasionally likes to comment on news and events that interest him in whatever capacity available. Read other articles by Vern.