Think of this as Volume 17, Number 29 of the newsletter I have written weekly since March, 1997. Enjoy.
As drugs were to the 1970s, so guns are to our time.
Drugs like heroin, LSD and cocaine gave an illusion of pleasure and invulnerability to people 40 years ago. Guns today also provide an illusion of safety, and invulnerability.
The sense of invulnerability in the 1970s is exemplified by J.J. Cale's song “Cocaine,” from 1976.
“She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie...cocaine.”
That's the main lyric. But, of course, cocaine does lie. It's always lied. It lied to John Pemberton (who included it in his original formula for Coca-Cola) and it lied to Sigmund Freud (who thought it therapeutic). It was lying to Eric Clapton when he recorded the song – he has since claimed that it's subtly anti-drug. (That's right, and Bruce Springsteen's “Born in the USA” was an anti-Reagan song. The music means what the public decides it means, not what the artist intends.)
Guns are a lot like cocaine. We know they're dangerous, but in a dangerous time those who are addicted insist they're not. Every week, little kids are dying from finding guns in parents' drawers and playing with them, just like crack babies died in the 1980s.
As a drug, guns are in fact more lethal than cocaine, than LSD, than heroin, because they instantly kill people who have nothing to do with them. For instance, a waitress near the New Jersey border with Pennsylvania was hit in the back by a .22 caliber bullet while working on the bar's deck. Just one of 45 incidents compiled by David Waldman by googling through newspapers.
A University of Pennsylvania study in 2009 showed gun owners more than 4 times as likely to be shot, and more than 4 times as likely to be killed, by guns, as non gun owners. You could say the same thing about cocaine 40 years ago – users were probably that much more likely to die young than non-users.
Arguments for guns sound increasingly like arguments against drug prohibition, with the added lunacy that the Second Amendment is “absolute.” (No amendment is.) They also sound increasingly irrational. But what do you expect when it's those who are addicted to something who are doing the arguing for it.
The solution here is not in the hands of the state, and it's not in the hands of non-gun owners. It's in the hands of gun owners. Prohibition didn't end alcohol addiction in the 1920s, and gun laws won't end gun addiction in our time.
The way forward is the same sort of 12 step program alcoholics go through. Admit you're an addict, find a higher power, make an inventory of the gun addiction and then start trying to make amends. You live without guns one day at a time. It's the only way.
What will it take for this to happen? What will it take for people to “just say no” to guns?
Based on history, it's going to take time. The drug culture raged throughout the 1970s, in large part, because people chose that culture over a mainstream culture that had rejected them.
When people dropped out of politics in the 1970s, they ceased caring of things outside themselves, and they found solace in physicality of all sorts – sex, drugs, rock and roll, even running. Most of those who dropped out had been liberals, they'd been against Nixon and against the war, they'd been for civil rights. But their views were rejected, soundly, repeatedly, and they dropped out.
The numbers on drug addiction, of course, didn't start trending decisively downward until the society began to age out. Addiction is, by and large, a young person's game. They can handle it, and they can lie to themselves that the damage they see in the mirror isn't real.
It's also, mainly, a man's game. Yes, there are female addicts. But most women I know who went into addiction followed a man there.
The same is true for gun addiction. Gun addicts increasingly realize that society is rejecting them. Their politics are increasingly unpopular. Hiding behind gun addiction is one great way to ignore all that, and claim it's not happening.
But it's a lie. Addiction of all kinds is a lie you tell yourself.
How someone reaches the bottom here is unclear to me. Is it when their kid is killed after finding one of their guns, or when the cost of buyng guns and ammunition starts taking away from other things? Or does it happen slowly, as the gun owner realizes how much money is being wasted, and slowly tapers off?
I don't know. I do know that this is not something I, a non gun-owner, can solve. It's not something the state could solve, even if all guns were prohibited tomorrow. It's something only a gun owner can solve, by putting down the weapon, by separating it from its ammunition permanently, and eventually by walking away.
Hopefully, our nation's past experience with alcohol and drug addiction will accelerate that process. But I'm not holding my breath. When the solution to a problem lies in people changing, the only thing you can do is walk away, and wait.