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Monday, December 17, 2012

[1568] bombs and bullets and bullets and bullets

"Pardon me, sir, but I was made to believe there
would be pipe bombs."
As you probably know, if you read my blog regularly or know me at all, I spent the summer in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The first time I ever went, people were worried about me. Two weeks before, someone had attempted to blow up the country's parliament. The concern was understandable, but I was confident. Northern Ireland in 2008 was not Northern Ireland of the late 20th century. Two years in a row I visited, and two years in a row, I came home safe.

This year was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Even with my high confidence in Northern Ireland, it occurred to me that, if anyone wanted to make a statement, this would be a good time to do it. I was staying in an apartment in City Centre. It struck me as marginally precarious, but not enough so to prevent me from doing it. At the end of the day, the Belfast I knew was not one I could bring myself to be afraid of.

While there, I talked to young people about what it's like living in post-Troubles Northern Ireland, under the stigma of a war-torn country. My friend Linda told me she has a hard time convincing her uni friends from England to come visit her. They think they're going to get blown up, like every day people are just roaming the streets looking for someone to bomb or shoot or stab. That was the atmosphere I was warned of as I embarked upon my first excursions to Northern Ireland.

Last Thursday, my school, Cal State Fullerton, was on lockdown for seven hours while a SWAT team searched the premises for an armed robber. The next day, Sandy Hook. The day after that, a lockdown at Fashion Island after a man fired off 50 rounds in the parking lot. And among my first thoughts, why didn't I apply to get my PhD at Queen's? Why didn't I try to move to Belfast? The place that Americans and Brits are so afraid of was my first idea for refuge.

"You mean I have to wait till morning for my free taco?
SAN FRANCISCO WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS!"
Yes, loyalists in Belfast rioted over the flag a couple weeks ago, a pretty trivial thing to start burning cars over. But then, last month, people in San Francisco rioted when their team WON the World Series. They WON. They rioted because they were HAPPY. And that's not an isolated incident.

At least in Northern Ireland, they came up with a reason to kill each other--which is not say that, by any stretch of the imagination, the atrocities committed by sectarian terrorists in Northern Ireland were actually justified. But here, we don't even need an excuse. We do it for sport. Because we can. Because we feel bad about ourselves. Because we're mad at someone else. Because it makes us feel safe to have the power to end a life.

Little known fact: God is
basically a vampire. He
can't come in unless you
invite him. Also, he hates
garlic.
This is not a blog about how much better Northern Ireland is than the U.S. This is about looking at ourselves through the same lens we use to examine the world beyond our borders. When the things that happen here on a daily basis (see @gundeaths) happen even once elsewhere, we condemn the society. Let's remove the plank for a second and do a little condemnation of our own. And not the kind that Mike Huckabee and whoever else does, where they eschew any form of introspection and instead blame an absence of God in our society. Because God is a "gentleman" who doesn't force himself where he's not wanted. Which is really their way of saying, "God's a spiteful douchebag like me, who pouts and stomps and ignores people who don't do exactly what he wants right when he wants it." Clearly, we've been going to different churches.

I'm getting pretty sick of the narrative that it's unpatriotic to question our exceptionalism, or that it's unpatriotic to consider that maybe the 2nd amendment wasn't drafted with high-powered assault rifles in mind, or that we have a huge violence problem around here and it's neither God nor Grand Theft Auto that's causing it. I'm sick of the threats of unfriending on facebook if my opinion on how to prevent such a horrific tragedy reads to you as if I'm going to storm into your house and forcibly take your guns from you (with my bare hands, apparently, 'cause we know I'm not gonna be the one armed). If avoiding any form of critical thinking pertaining to your ideologies is more important to you than the relationships you have built in your life, then by all means, delete me. It's unfortunate to see you go, but then, I've probably hidden you from my newsfeed already anyway.

So, y'know, Monday in America. 
My friend Ian likes to take guests to Belfast on what he calls the "bombs and bullets tour." A retired policeman, he knows all the gruesome details of the acts of violence perpetrated during the Troubles, and can point out exactly where they happened. Many times I embarked upon that tour, listening intently with my jaw half-dropped in disbelief at the things that had transpired. And yet, when I walk into the library at CSUF every week, I'm walking into a building in which 6 people were murdered and 2 injured by a gunman one morning. Were I to truly pay attention to the nightly news, and were I not so completely used to people killing people that I can easily tune it out, I could probably walk through L.A. and point to spot after spot where someone was struck down in cold blood or over some minor argument. I can name off the top of my head ten celebrities shot to death (John Lennon, Sam Cooke, Phil Hartman, Dimebag Darrel, Alfalfa from Little Rascals, Tupac, Biggie, Gianni Versace, Alan Berg, Selena...I could actually go on), not to mention several presidents and political figures (Lincoln,  2 Kennedys, MLK Jr., etc., etc.). This idea that violence is a solution to problems of basically any proportion is pervasive and it's eating us alive. And now people want to arm our teachers? Because they don't do enough? Now they're supposed to be armed guards, too?

I heard on the radio earlier a host responding to someone's question about what happened to the days of Andy Griffith and Mayberry and all that. The host's response was that you can't put the toothpaste back in the bottle. Those days are gone. But those days never existed. Even as Mayberry flooded American living rooms with a false sense that nice, white communities full of nuclear families with perfectly manicured lawns worried over nothing more dire than whether the fish were biting in the local watering hole, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were murdering the Clutter family in Kansas. And John List was becoming increasingly paranoid about his finances and the salvation of his family before shooting them all and starting a new life. And Charles Whitman was shooting 45 people, killing 13, from a tower on the UT Austin campus. And John Norman Collins was embarking on a murder spree throughout Michigan. Mayberry was never any more real than Mystic Falls or Sunnydale.

Incidentally, I'm growing
a gun plant in my backyard
as we speak. The rain is doing
wonders for my .38s.
I'm not writing this because I want to take away any of your real or perceived rights. I'm writing because I'm sad that this is where I live and where I grew up. I'm sad that so many people died on Friday, and die every day due to violence. I'm sad that the only response a huge section of the population can think of is to fight fire with fire. People who want guns in this country have guns. There are hardly any barriers to getting them. And yet no one was able to stop Aurora or Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook. So unless we're suggesting that we arm the entire citizenry of the United States, whether individuals want to be armed or not, can we at least concede that maybe there could be other solutions? That the fact that we can't stop ALL the bad guys is really not an excuse to not stop ANY bad guys? I'm not asking you to join the anti-gun lobby. I'm just asking you to think. Consider. Come up with something, ANYTHING, other than a) give the good guys more guns or b) accept that crazy people be crazy and there's nothing we can do about it. Is that really the extent of our ingenuity in this country?