If there's one thing you don't talk about in mixed company, it's gun control.
At least with the other hot-button issues of our day, the kind of stuff you learn not to talk about in etiquette school - war! abortion! religion! - you can squeak out a non-committal, moderate answer, and keep the cocktail party moving without anyone taking a swing at you. "I support the troops, not the war." "I believe that blablabla it's a tricky subject, anyways it depends on the pregnant woman's situation." "Religion's none of my business, hey to each their own right, anyways pass me those pretzels." It's the sort of apolitical, playing-your-cards-close-to-your-chest posturing you do at Thanksgiving, right when Aunt Liberal McGranola and Uncle Shouty McFoxNews look like they're about to start a spittle-flecked screaming match before they even pass you the mashed potatoes.
But gun control? Nah. We poisoned that well. No one can comfortably talk about gun control in mixed liberal-conservative company. That necessarily includes the United States Congress, where everyone's afraid to actually have a real conversation about gun control without resorting to vaguely moderate gestures and apathetic shrugs. It's as if the House of Representatives was a giant, awkward Thanksgiving dinner full of shitty in-laws, and everyone was just hoping that if they kept their heads down for long enough whenever guns came up, the conversation would just move on.
Let's look at the two opposing sides of the gun debate that have been clearly carved out for us:
- Over here, you've got gun control advocates - or, if you prefer, anti-American communists who hate liberty and don't even UNDERSTAND the CONSTITUTION, for fuck's sake.
- In the middle here, you've got a giant, gaping chasm from which no light or sound can escape.
- And about a hundred miles across that chasm, over here, you've got pro-gun advocates - or, if you prefer, REDNECK IDIOT BABY-KILLERS.
I want to try to do something impossible here. I'm going to create a grand, unifying theory that helps explain my own idea on guns and gun ownership.
Whenever something about guns is said, here's what I think:
What if we substituted "guns" for "bears"?
In each of the following examples, I will state a common argument about guns, except every time the word "gun" is used, I will substitute [bears]. If the argument makes sense, I figure that's the same way we should look at guns.
It's not a perfect analogy. You can't just enter any parallel into the guns-to-bears converter and make the analogy stick. For example, most handguns are not 600-pound hairy mammals that eat salmon. But, as an outsider with no skin in the gun-politics game, I figure it's an easy way to see if an argument holds water.
Let's start simple, substituting bears for guns in each case, and work up from there.
1) [Bears] are cool.
True. They are fucking cool. They're fascinating to learn about, plus it's also cool to enjoy them in person if you get the chance, or watch them fuck people up in movies.
2) There should be a place where you can enjoy [bears] in a safe way.
Absolutely. We can't just keep them locked away, only accessible to professionals trained to handle them. What if I want to check one out? I should be able to go down to the [zoo]*, and enjoy the raw, awesome power of one in person. But, y'know, with the proper protective barriers in place so that I don't die.
(*a shooting range/gun club, in this case)
3) [Bears] are dangerous, though. Owning a [pet bear] in your house will probably increase the odds that your family gets killed by it.
Probably, yeah. I mean, of course they can kill humans. That's what they're designed for. At the same time, let's not be too alarmist: just because you have one in your house doesn't mean that it's necessarily a danger to you or your family. With a lot of training on how to manage it safely, and assuming it's kept in a secure place in your house where your kids can't play with it (very important!), it's probably not a death wish just to own one.
Still, though. I wouldn't want one just sitting in MY basement, knowing that at any moment I can come home to an accident that results in my kid missing an arm.
4) But owning a [bear] is important to protect your household!
I can kinda see that argument. I mean, if I'm a burglar, and as I'm crawling in through your side window I hear that distinctive sound that it makes, I'm definitely shitting my pants. At the same time, though, how can it act as a crime deterrent if no one knows you've got one? What if the bad guy has his own [pet bear] that he brought along - well, then you'd be fucked.
Also: do you really think that in a high-panic situation like that, in the middle of the night, you'd turn into a fucking heroic [bear handler] out of nowhere, using your secret weapon to kill the intruder with ease, ending up on the cover of the [National Bear Association] newsletter as a family-saving hero? Real-life situations are a bit more complicated than just "well I bought this for protection, and NOW my family's protected".
I'm not saying that owning one WON'T protect you. I'm just saying, it's probably a bit overly-optimistic to think that the bad guy would be the one [mauled to death] in that situation, and not you.
5) I should have the right to bring my [bear] with me in public, for protection.
OK, you lost me. What the fuck are you talking about? In what situation is it appropriate to bring a [bear] into a Wal-Mart, or an amusement park, or a church? Best case scenario, no one ends up [mauled]. That's the BEST case.
There's no fucking way that some hero [bear owner] is just going to foil an Al-Qaeda plot down at the local Palookaville IHOP because thankfully he remembered to bring his [pet bear] with him to save the day. I mean, how fucking crazy are we that we think we're SAFER at Six Flags surrounded by a bunch of dipshits who are legally allowed to bring one of these killing machines into the park?
6) The only way to stop a bad guy with a [bear] is a good guy with a [bear].
Huh? That makes no sense. If I see a guy sauntering down the sidewalk at night and right by his hip he's got a shiny new [brown bear tied to a leash], how'm I supposed to know if he's a good or bad guy? Do we just give [bears] to everyone and let them kill each other until we figure out who the bad guys were? It sounds like a good way to get a bunch of people [mauled to death].
7) [Bears] don't [maul] people. People [maul] people.
Hell fucking no. It's hard to [maul] someone without a [bear] to do it.
8) I own a [bear] - but a safe one, and I use it for recreation and hunting.
Sounds cool to me. I mean, there are bears and then there are bears. If you've got something like a [250-pound American Black Bear], and you live in the country, and you use it to keep coyotes away and hunt deer and stuff - that's cool, and I kind of want to come out in a field with you and see your [bear] in action. I don't think the government should take it away if you can prove you own a [bear] responsibly in safe conditions - it's not like just owning one is inherently evil.
Here we get into a bit of a slippery slope argument, but let's apply some common sense - if you live in the city, do you really need something in the range of a [ferocious, man-killing 1,500-pound male Kodiak bear] sitting in your den? What the fuck purpose does that serve, unless you're just planning on taking it on a spree and killing a dozen people? We need to stop acting like all [bear control] laws apply to the same category of owners.
9) OH, so you're gonna outlaw [bears]? Well [DOGS] can kill people too, you wanna ban them too??
No, you fucking idiot. [Bears] are specifically-designed to be killing machines - just look at them. Even though you can pull up some stat that seems to prove that something as harmless as a [dog] can kill a lot of people too, you can't honestly tell me that you'd be equally afraid of [a guy walking his chocolate lab] as you would [a guy with a growling, pacing grizzly bear in a cage on his driveway.] You're creating a false equivalency.
10) I have a RIGHT to bear [bears], goddamnit. IT'S WHAT OUR FOUNDING FATHERS CLEARLY WANTED FOR US. THOMAS JEFFERSON OWNED BEARS, WHY CAN'T I?
Christ. Yes, Thomas Jefferson was a bear-owner, but that was a long goddamn time ago. He also owned slaves. He's your go-to example for reasonable, contemporary ideas on what's OK to own and not own in the year 2014?
Just because there's historical precedent for something, even if it's tied to the Founding Fathers, doesn't mean that it's still applicable in modern times. Thomas Jefferson is long gone - he doesn't understand life in the year 2014, and if he did, he'd probably say "holy shit guys, it was different back then when I said it was cool to own [bears], I don't think random dipshits should be owning today's high-powered [bears] in urban settings, since that's probably just going to lead to a bunch of nutjobs [siccing their bloodthirsty pet grizzly bears on innocent people, because... fucking BEARS, man. BEARS.]"