Addicts give excuses. Constantly.
They rationalize and let themselves off the hook as a means of coping with objectively harmful behavior. They split hairs and insist that no broader conclusion can be drawn from their most recent specific episode. Some throw up their hands and declare that the status quo is the best possible outcome. Some blame anyone and anything they can to avoid taking actual, personal responsibility for the problem.
In the wake of the last week or so, this pattern of refusal to accept any responsibility for ongoing, repetitive harm might sound familiar.
That’s because it happens to be the exact same cognitive pattern of “gun rights” advocates, a.k.a. “the gun lobby,” a.k.a. “The National Association of Men With Micro-penises.”
A destructive, sickening episode happens, and the litany of excuses begins. Some excuses tell us why this episode is unique and not worthy of scrutiny. Like when an alcoholic has been doing a good job of curbing their drinking, but falls off the wagon on Super Bowl Sunday. We can all see the larger pattern, but the addict wants to believe it was just a one-off caused by the Falcons blowing a 25-point lead.
Some tell us why the individual who committed the act was defective in a statistically abnormal fashion. This isn’t a gun problem, it’s a mental health problem. Like if you take cocaine away, I’ll just start abusing modeling glue, so there’s no need to tell me not to do “drugs.” It’s my underlying psyche that’s at issue. Oh, and just like guns/mental health, I have zero intent to do anything at all about this problem, but I hope that telling you I’m aware of a deeper problem will get you off my ass about the obvious one.
Others take a different tack, excusing the act as an unavoidable “price of freedom” we incur. What do you want, Susan? A relationship where you tell me what I can and can’t do, or a relationship where we’re both free adults who occasionally make mistakes? Sure, I’ll make literally all of them, but when you average it out between us, it’s not that many mistakes per capita.
Many will tell you the act’s horror makes now a terrible time to discuss it…an excuse built on the hope that intervening events will derail us from ever talking about it. The car crash and DUI are too fresh and raw in my mind right now to rationally discuss them. Also, they’ll be too raw three weeks from now, if you want to get out your Google calendar and just preemptively make a note of that. With any luck, a hurricane will blow through or a war will start, and we’ll avoid talking about this uncomfortable topic ad infinitum. Fingers crossed, and pre-emptive thoughts and prayers for those affected.
People can’t begin true recovery until they recognize they have a problem. No amount of nagging, complaining, shaming, or threatening will effect lasting change in another person.
There is, however, a school of thought that says that in the absence of complete abstinence from illicit behavior, harm reduction is a worthwhile goal.
I’ve heard it explained this way: sometimes, an addict who isn’t ready to come to terms with the full destructiveness of their behavior can nonetheless find ways to “do better.” A heroin addict can participate in a needle exchange program, for example. I wrote a “heroine” addict at first, and then realized that would be someone addicted to Wonder Woman or Michelle Obama instead of poppy derivatives. I’m not sure how to reduce the harm from that addiction. Maybe you could stop subjecting yourself to the company of heroic women, but that sounds like a cure that’s much worse than the disease.
The right is not ready to come to terms with the destructive nature of unfettered access to firearms. And while our knee-jerk reaction is to judge them for it, judging them just pushes them farther into their obstinacy. “YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME! YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD!” says the rebellious stepson longing for parental love and discipline in the afterschool special playing in my head. Judging someone for their behaviors is a surefire way to get the door slammed in your face so hard that the family portrait falls off of the wall and the glass cracks. #symbolism
They’re giving us every excuse in the book because they know that “everything’s fine” is a blatantly untenable position. They’re blaming us for politicizing the issue because they really, REALLY don’t want to talk about the issue, namely for fear of where an honest conversation will lead.
There are ways we as a society can reduce the harm of our citizenry’s fetish for guns, even if the Republicans are unwilling to admit they have a serious problem.
We can limit ammunition sales and report to the ATF when people buy more than a certain amount in a given time. You can keep hunting and shooting at the range, no problem. But if you’re stockpiling ammo, the rest of society deserves to know that in order to preserve our rights.
We can expand background checks to deny people with a history of domestic violence access to guns. Assuming you’re not a spouse-beater, you can get a gun! But if you gaze admiringly at the posters of Ray Rice and Chris Brown on your wall, you can “protect your home” the old fashioned way: call the police. The rest of society—especially any present or future romantic partners of yours—deserves to know that your violence is going to be limited in scope.
We can limit the number of weapons you can own at any one time and require universal registration of all firearms. You can still own a deer rifle, a shotgun for dove hunting, and a pistol for protection. But if you are amassing an arsenal to defend your compound or vindicate your fallen heroes of the 1930’s and 40’s, the rest of society wants to protect ourselves and our law enforcement officers by limiting what harm you can inflict.
We can require training classes, licenses, and insurance, just like we do for cars. If you prove that you can’t intellectually, physically, or economically handle the burden of driving a car, the rest of society doesn’t let you drive. It should be no different for firearms. It should be stricter for firearms, quite frankly, given that the only purpose of a firearm is to kill.
We can extend liability for gun violence to the manufacturers. Force them to protect their own supply chains. Force them to enforce the waiting periods, background checks, and licensing requirements. Let market forces affect pricing for guns: the manufacturers who avoid liability by keeping their products out of bad guys’ hands will have less premiums to roll into their pricing. The market will reward the most responsible manufacturers. #capitalism
There are literally thousands of ways to reduce the potential for and harm of gun violence. Some of them are broad and restrictive, and some are more targeted. No pun intended.
But here’s my advice to my friends on the right:
If you’re not willing to recognize that your behavior is extremely harmful, recognize that you will not always be in power. Recognize that the left will take over again.
Understand that, like the family of an addict, we wish you’d just come to the damn conclusion yourself. You’re a bunch of morons, but you’re our morons and we love you. We wish you’d let Las Vegas be your rock bottom—how it’s not, we really don’t understand. But if you’re not at rock bottom yet, fine. We hope you’ll at least talk with us and find sensible ways to reduce everyone’s harm from your habits.
Make no mistake: if you won’t do even that, you should prepare yourself for the inevitable backlash that will come the second you lose power. Society doesn’t have to put up with your crazy addiction. And when we finally give up on trying to appease you and your habits, we’ll be moving on without your input. We’ll change the laws to our comfort level, which will likely be far beyond yours.
And we’ll do it all because we love you (and ourselves, and our children) so much.
Don’t call our bluff.