Kill Tech

I don’t write about political topics in this space because I don’t think I have much to add to the discussion that isn’t already being better written by others.  I’m making an exception because I think this topic is as much historical-cultural as it is political. I’m also writing because the event was so awful, and it depresses me.  I’m thinking and writing because I need to try and make sense of things that seem senseless.  I’m upset by the news of the murders in Tucson.

When I was a boy, it was ordinary to play war (WWII or Civil), pirates, cowboys and Indians, and cops and robbers.  Toy guns in the appropriate style were preferred for each game.  Between ages 3-7 I had toy revolvers and rifles, Derringers, Flintlocks, Colt 45s (squirt, caps & darts), a snub-nosed 38 (with shoulder holster) and a miniature submachine gun or two.  From 8-10 I went through a short period with toy “spy” weapons like a radio that turned into a rifle and concealed shirtsleeve and belt buckle weapons.  Then I had BB guns, and real guns.

This country was established as a result of an armed revolution.  That’s part of why there’s a built-in pro-gun bias in American law.  And political assassinations by mentally unstable individuals aren’t new.  A man convinced that God had told him to do it killed President Garfield in 1881.  But when I was a boy, I had no understanding of insanity.  I thought that good guys used guns to kill bad guys.

I was in middle school when President Kennedy was murdered.  All through my pre-teens it seemed to escalate.  There were more political assassinations, and also a rise in street crime by gangs.  I began to feel there was a growing number of fanatics intent on murder and always, ALWAYS with guns.  Guns you could get by mail.  Cheap handguns.  Concealable.  Not enough range for hunting.  Only good for killing people.

Killing technology, like all technology, is invented in a moral vacuum.  The people who think up improvements in firing automation and extended-capacity magazines are just trying to make a machine work better and faster.  I can’t accept that they understand people of unsound mind use their work to kill innocents.  There’s the cliché, “Guns don’t kill people.”  This sort of denial exists because the truth is too uncomfortable to face.

If the shooter in Tucson had the same kind of weapon available to the killer of Robert Kennedy, there would be one or two victims.  But a Glock 9mm pistol with a 33-round clip is fast, fast, fast.  Six killed, 13 wounded, and it took less than a minute.  We had a law from 1994-2004 that limited the capacity of magazines to 10 bullets.  It would have been pretty hard to shoot 19 people with 10 bullets.

Arizona is one of three states where anyone of majority age and a clean record may buy AND CONCEAL a loaded handgun.  No permit required.  The Tucson shooter was considered too “dangerous” to remain in his college, and too unstable for military service, but in Arizona no convictions means no restrictions on gun buying.

Those who advocate minimal restrictions on gun ownership are saying and writing that the Tucson murders occurred because various people and institutions failed in their duty to compel Loughner into psychological evaluation.  However, the number of qualified doctors is limited and treatment is expensive.  The mental health care delivery system in the U.S. is no better than the rest of the health care system.  It’s available for those who have enough money or insurance, and limited for those who don’t.

I’ve written before about the human inability to stop improving whatever we invent.  The technology to be used for killing, whether on a large-scale or individual, just gets better and better.  I suppose it’s possible that our laws could eventually be improved enough to protect innocent people from gunfire, but good law is more difficult to manufacture than better guns.

The most famous shootout of the Wild West, the gunfight near the O.K. Corral, took place in Tombstone, back when Arizona was still a territory.  Because there were nine very experienced shooters involved, the same amount of gunfire occurred as in the Tucson parking lot, in about the same amount of time.  Three were killed.  Three were wounded.


Filed under Emotions, Ethics and Morality, Technology

10 responses to “Kill Tech

  1. Pie

    That Tuscon shooting was horrible and shocking. It seems that at least once a year or every 18 months we hear of a mass shooting in your country. This may be one of the few where the person who did it didn’t get a chance to kill themselves and can therefore be brought to justice. Congresswoman Giffords is doing well, considering the early reports of her death and the nature of her injuries, but there’s no doubt that road to recovery is going to be very, very long.

    Your reminiscing about your childhood with toy guns made me think about my own feelings about them. I loved them when I was a child and this continued into adulthood until ten years ago, when the first stirrings of what has become regular gun crime in some parts of the UK became apparent. Last year, in two areas of my country that would’ve been seen as quiet places where nothing much happens, one man went on what appeared to be a random rampage after shooting two people he knew, one of which was his brother, then killed himself. Another shot at the ex girlfriend, killed her new lover and blinded a policeman before he went on the run for a week, which ended in his suicide.

    We’re nowhere near where you are with gun crime, mainly because we don’t have the right to bear arms, but what we do have is more than enough for me. You should be able to have vigorous discourse, or pull someone up on their behaviour without wondering if you are going to get a bullet in your head, either right there and then, or in some future encounter. People who say it’s not guns that kill people are beyond stupid (and I’m being kind here). A gun is possibly the only thing, other than cigarettes, that kills people when used exactly as intended.

    • Like every country, this one has a dark side that its citizens dislike facing. I’m not exempt, but I want to keep changing myself whether or not the nation changes. It has put me further and further out-of-sync with my “times”, but I do feel I’m living with more authenticity.

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Pie.

  2. “Good law is harder to manufacture than better handguns.” Pow! You have that gift of getting right to “the gizzard of the thing.” I almost dreaded reading this when I realized what it was about, not sure why, but then I was carried right through it. Nicely done. I loved gun culture, too, when I was a kid, and the world for me was similarly black and white with regard to good and bad guys. The fact that I’m now pretty much a pacifist and abhor the gun-toting mentality confuses me — what made me change? Should I forbid my kids to play with toy guns for fear that they will love them too well? I guess I worry that my own change of attitude goes against the odds, that by rights I should be an NRA member but that something just went horribly right along the way. On the other hand, what you forbid holds attraction. Some of Mara’s Playmobil pirates have little muskets and small pistolas. We at first secreted these away, but they ended up back “in play” and it bugs me how interesting they are to her. My approach right now is to keep the dialog open. Once when one of her pirates shot one of my pirates I made my other Playmobil characters hold a funeral and we talked about why they were all sad.

  3. Hi Mike,
    A very thoughtful piece that really goes to a core issue and problem ~ why we making technology to kill more effectively. You are a deep thinker and I always appreciate reading your articles.

    One point struck me is the idea you had as a child “that good guys used guns to kill bad guys.” I don’t know why this struck me in particular. These days there’s so much violence in the media that it must be difficult for children to make that distinction anymore. Not that I think we should kill “bad guys” necessarily but it seems like a shift in thinking over time.

    • Explaining the whole process of how I went from gun owner to pacifist proved too complex, but you were very astute to have intuited it, Sandra. And I agree with you. Just because there are people doing evil things whose actions should be opposed doesn’t mean we have the right to kill them. For one thing, we can’t kill them all. If we did, would there be anyone left? We’ve all done evil. Which leads back to your fine previous post about forgiveness…

  4. I believe if someone wants a gun for protection or a rifle for hunting they should be allowed as long as they are of sound mind and not felons. I honestly don’t know how the AZ shooting could’ve been prevented since the fellow had never been committed. I bet his family was too scared of him to do much.

    Mind you, we don’t have a gun. I’m afraid of those things about more than I’m afraid of criminals. My grandfather had one and the night of his visitation, my grandmother gave it to her nephew b/c she was scared of those things and knew he would like to have it. My grandpa always told us it was unloaded b/c my grandmother would have gone full coniption if she knew t was loaded. Heck, he may have forgot it was loaded, but I bet it was b/c of grandma.
    Back in the 30s or 40s my grandfather would do a bit of truck driving and there were places it was probably a good idea to keep a gun with you. My grandpa himself was a gentle sort of person and i think he ate a squirrel or 2 back in the day, but he wasn’t shoot it if it moves sort of guy. In fact, one time I remember my grandma telling me aabout one time they thought they had a rat around the garage and he put out some poison. He was very sad when it turned out to be a squirrel -when the depression was over, he no doubt lost any hankering for them and liked them like just about everyone.
    Great! I just wrote a memoir.

    As much as I loathe Sarah Palin’s politics, I think she probably had little influence on Laughner. He had become fixated with Giffords back in 2007.
    No doub there are wingnuts out there who would be influenced, but not this guy. His youtube is filled with nutty rants that dont make sense.

    Anyway, think I said it all now.

  5. Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to give something back and aid others like you helped me.

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