“A gun is the jaws of an idea.” These words came to me as I was wrestling to develop my personal ethics about war. I was trying to connect a shooter’s intention to a bullet hitting someone. It’s rudimentary, but we work within our frameworks as we develop our maturing ideas. This idea about ideology and gun came to me during The Gulf War, when I was in Texas and almost of draft age.
I thought “What is going on when a person shoots and a person is shot?” The idea I was working with was “I am a soldier fighting for Cause X and by shooting my weapon, I moving Cause X forward.” The gun’s bullet violently materializes an idea, cause, and goal. A fired bullet is used to accomplish a goal that is physically removed from the actor, i.e., there is an amount of space between the shooter and the person shot. A human’s sharpest biological weapon is the teeth and the teeth require immediate proximity for use. The gun expands that distance. So, in my logic, guns were very, very powerful jaws with teeth of amazing range.
And in the decades since I came up with that idea, our country has become awash not only in guns, but also in a selfish devolution of critical thinking skills. Guns are a wonderfully efficient and effective way of getting one’s ideas across. “I have a desired goal. I feel ineffective in accomplishing that goal. I want to accomplish my goal and have a substantial aesthetic experience of accomplishment and effectiveness.” A gun serves as that panacea, silencing irrevocably the pesky victim’s potential to complain and resist. A gun provides the simplistic means to destroy the opportunity for listening, reflection, reconciliation. A gun conveniently obscures all other options. And as guns become more accessible and capable of killing so many people so quickly, those other options increasingly fall away from sight.
The luxury of a loaded gun is the power it provides such that critical thinking becomes secondary. Once a gun is fired, the idea is in the air, spinning toward its target without regret. It moves too quickly for reflection. What’s done is done. The gun is not a substitute for critical thinking, but a fetish employed against it. It is an idol of force. The idol of the gun is one that rivals that of the idol of Scripture, though they have often been found in each hand of the True Believer. And these idols are everywhere, now.
Guns provide fast, effective, irreversible solutions – solutions that critical thinking does not find. As we have exchanged constructive dialogue for sloganeering, we have also exchanged words for shells. And in this exchange, we exchange our humanity for inhuman and inhumane privation. And the exchanges increase our fears, fears of our weapons being taken away and fears of weapons being used against us. But it is fear that confuses and destroys critical thinking.
Maybe that was a luxury of the Cold War, that nuclear dance of detente and deterrence, because out of fear we chose to not rush into a nuclear war, merely to have our fingers on the trigger. And we thought and thought and thought about it until we just couldn’t live with the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction anymore and the SALT treaties were born. And instead, our ideas were exchanged through firefights in Afghanistan and thereabout, causing new unforeseen problems.
But this is in our own country. This isn’t some bugbear of international conflict invading our city streets. These are our own citizens, often white and male, who kill en masse. The aesthetic attraction of guns seduce that problems can be resolved and put to rest. They are idols said to promise untold, transcendent solutions. Idolatry is the manifestation of our selfish desire for power, for the power to justify our will as force.
O guns, you Moloch, devourer of youth and future! You can kill classrooms full of children from elementary schools through high schools and college students. You can cleanse the workplace, especially during holiday festivities. You can kill wives and parents and daughters and sons. You can kill police and women awaiting health care. You can kill moviegoers in a packed theatre. You can kill a Bible study in a Black church. You destroy so much, creating so much handwringing and sorrow and lamentation. How much relief guns must bring to shooters, their political and personal and social frustrations dissipating shot after shot. And to those who believe that a benevolent God seeks such unfettered access to these weapons, the potential for that relief from delusions of tyranny must be truly an answer to prayer.
And there is a tyranny that is alive and well. It is the tyrannical idea that problems can best and most effectively be silenced through gunfire. And until we as a culture and as individuals stop and critically think about our actions and until we as a culture and as individuals dare to slow and remove such ready access to this idolatrous weaponry, we will continue to accept and endorse, without too much critical thought, the literally daily carnage of mass shootings. And in the meantime we will tweet ersatz prayers among ourselves like they are a plague of doves.