The War

All my growing-up years, guns were in movies and (I imagined) in the hands of people less interesting and educated than me.  I had no idea why anyone would want or need a gun.

I moved to the city eleven years ago.  I remember hearing someone got shot in the parking lot of the drugstore where I usually shop, the parking lot right by where I often have dinner with friends.  Most of those shootings were personal, like most shootings in the city are personal.  It’s possible to get in the way, but most of the time, people in the city who shoot at you have a reason.  I find that comforting.

The difference between my city living (moved here by choice) and my students’ city living is that I estimate half of them have lost a friend of family member to gun violence.  Half.  Half of the sixteen-year-olds I teach have gone to funerals where the deceased was shot to death.  I still find that hard to believe.  I haven’t lost anyone.  Except a student.

I have friends who have guns and go hunting.  I understand the desire to participate in the old “Lion King” circle of life, hunting and killing and eating, but I don’t understand why you would actually do that when not killing works just fine.  I asked to hold my friend’s shotgun once.  It was heavy.

Two of my students were shot.  One killed, one paralyzed.  That was maybe four years ago.  Guns were real to me then.  If guns were harder to get, things might be different.

Rumor has it that my students who were absent this week got caught with a gun.  Two of my solid students– one a joker, one a quiet guy.  Smart enough kids, active in sports, rarely in trouble.  They’re in jail.  Maybe they sold drugs, maybe they robbed someone, maybe not.  I don’t know.

I am always so numb with exhaustion by this point in the school year that I feel very little.  After I learned my students were in jail, which I tried to muster up some energy to process, I heard about the Connecticut stuff. How many gun incidents could I get upset about in one day?

I read recently that the less privileged you are, the more likely you are to limit your violence to your own community.  Is lack of power so depressing that people  don’t have the energy to turn their anger outward?  It amazes me that with wealthy suburbs accessible all around, when people in the impoverished parts of the city get angry, they use their guns on each other.  Even when we’ve had riots, poor people started where they were and destroyed that.

Of course, I don’t wish they’d take their guns to my parents’ neighborhood.  But it amazes me that poverty brainwashes people that they turn their anger on themselves, time and again, with guns, with drugs.  Capitalism is good at doing that, I guess, convincing people that if you don’t have money, you are an embarrassment.

What I do wish is that the anger in poor communities could be channeled into demanding jobs and services and better schools and health care and parks and policing and grocery stores with the same sense of entitlement shown by people who grew up with money, who know no one is ever going to call them “entitled.”  “Entitled” is a word for people you look down on.

It makes sense to me that white men are more likely to be alienated.  For many years in our culture, they were barely allowed to have emotions at all.

During the last few years, public schools have cut back on mental health services, and this is an outrageously irresponsible move.  If kids don’t get mental health care at school, small problems easily erupt into bigger ones.  I think anyone who shoots another person is mentally ill, by definition, but that’s just me.

And, yes, guns should be more reasonably regulated: buying and selling records and insurance required, plus federal background checks for everyone, at every point of sale.

Americans love violence, they love shooting each other, they love guns.  Europeans took hundreds of years to lose their lust for killing each other.  They went at it large-scale for generations, until World War II finally kicked them down so hard they quit for a breather.  Although we aren’t close to that point, it isn’t the wild west around here, either.  We have grown a little.

After more gun violence, we go back to our own trenches, to teach how to tend anger.  To keep being polite.  And like people throughout history, with irrational optimism, we pray for peace.

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