17 May 2006

Gun control

I'm kind of wondering whether the Vice President's recent gun accident wasn't more important in eroding the administration's support in Red America than folks realize ...

Digby worried at the time that it wouldn't stick.

Now if Cheney had received fellatio and hidden it from his wife instead of drinking beer while on medication, shooting a man at close range and hiding it from the public, the story might not fade. Not because they would be concerned about his personal sex life, of course. It would be because of what it said about the his character.

But I suspect that actually, a lot of folks who have firearms as part of their lives do see this as a reflection of character.

Consider Mike Leggett of the Austin American-Statesman who didn't like Cheney staying sequestered for a few days after the incident, unwilling to speak to the press while his spin people tried to erase his responsibility.

Be a man. You shot a guy.

That would be my unsolicited advice for Vice President Dick Cheney.

You shot a guy. At least stay in town until he's out of the hospital.

You shot a guy. Don't blame the sun or the wind or the rotation of the Earth. And for goodness' sake, don't blame Harry Whittington.

He's the guy you shot, and unless he pulled the trigger himself, it wasn't his fault. Unless he was invisible, it wasn't his fault. And it wasn't his fault that he didn't "announce his presence," either. He was supposedly 30 yards behind you. His only fault was being a human being standing on two legs.

He's in the hospital. You're in Washington. And others are making excuses for you.

You shot the guy.

I've been hit with pellets, and it felt like a swarm of bees coming upside my head. I didn't spend several days in the hospital. I've picked shot out of other people sitting on the tailgate of a pickup, and they didn't even have to go to the doctor. They went back out hunting.

They got peppered. Whittington got shot. By you.

Cheney did—eventually—come out and take responsibility. I'm guessing that a guy like Leggett wasn't too impressed. I suspect that he's a lot like ReddHedd at Firedoglake, who descibes how important and deep-rooted firearms safety is for folks who grow up around guns.

One of the first things my dad taught me was how to move around in the woods or in a field to maximize my safety. Aside from the blaze orange requirements today for visual safety, you stay behind the person with the gun, you keep your muzzle pointed away from people and dogs who are your companion animals (and reports are that they were using dogs to flush out the birds, so guns would have been pointed skyward to minimize potential accidents for the dogs), and you never, never, NEVER squeeze off a round without first ascertaining the entire visual in front of where you will be shooting, within the designated path of your particular firearm (different guns have different ranges and shot patterns, depending on caliber and load) -- in other words, look very carefully before you ever pull the trigger.

That Mr. Whittington was in the line of sight for Dick Cheney is regrettable. But no matter whether Whittington walked into the line of sight or whether Cheney turned to shoot at quail and placed Whittington within his line (which is a more likely hunting scenario, given that you generally try to walk up on a hunting party from behind if at all possible if you are at all experienced, to minimize possible accidents), it is the hunter's responsibility at all times to be secure in what he is seeing before he ever pulls the trigger. Period.

And no amount of trying to spin this to a press corps who has never fired a shotgun takes away from the fact that the shooter always has the obligation to ensure safety before pulling the trigger. ALWAYS.

Not doing so as a kid would have gotten me a serious butt whipping and worse. My dad was very, very serious about it, having known idiots who went out in the woods and caused just this sort of accident. You never, ever shoot without looking very carefully first. Cardinal rule of gun safety number one.

And this is not just a matter of screwing up a thing about handling guns, which is bad enough. It's what guns represent. Eric S. Raymond writes with a kind of chilly romanticism about how owning and using guns is inherently a deeply moral exercise.

There is nothing like having your finger on the trigger of a gun to reveal who you really are.
Nothing most of us will ever do combines the moral weight of life-or-death choice with the concrete immediacy of the moment as thoroughly as the conscious handling of instruments deliberately designed to kill. As such, there are lessons both merciless and priceless to be learned from bearing arms — lessons which are not merely instructive to the intellect but transformative of one's whole emotional, reflexive, and moral character.

He lists them, and they are illuminating in this story.

  • it all comes down to you .... No one's finger is on the trigger but your own. All the talk-talk in your head, all the emotions in your heart, all the experiences of your past — these things may inform your choice, but they can't move your finger .... They can change how you feel about the choice, but only you can actually make the choice. Only you. Only here. Only now. Fire, or not?
  • never count on being able to undo your choices
  • the universe doesn't care about motives.

Indeed, Raymond argues that practice with firearms is inherently and necessarily a meditation on these questions.

These are hard lessons, but necessary ones. Stated, in print, they may seem trivial or obvious. But ethical maturity consists, in significant part, of knowing these things — not merely at the level of intellect but at the level of emotion, experience and reflex. And nothing teaches these things like repeated confrontation with life-or-death choices in grave knowledge of the consequences of failure.

I don't imagine that most American gun owners would reach for the moral and ethical dimension quite so directly as Raymond does—though I think he's hardly alone—but I do think that his perspective does live in the psyche of many American gun owners in some form.

There is nothing like having your finger on the trigger of a gun to reveal who you really are.

I suspect that a lot of Americans who used to trust Cheney have seen him reveal something about who he really is, and they don't like it.


Agnieszka Krajewska said...

It's hard to know what goes on in the hearts and minds of people, particularly people who are not particularly articulate or into discussing their inner states, but I suspect that the moral meaning of firearms is deeply understood by most gun owning folk in America. It's a point that's hard to miss when one is shooting with one's friends.

I have been shooting only a few times, but each time I have been struck with the realiztion that I weild the power of life and death and I am making a choice about how I use it. I have also been struck with the incredible level of trust between people who are shooting together. Not only am I making the moral choice to not kill them, but I trust them to make the same choice with regards to me.

One could just as easily say the same thing about driving a car, yet it doesn't have quite the same impact.

However, I don't know if gun loving people who like Cheney are seeing the conflict between their gun ethics and his unmanly behavior, or if they have already made up their minds about him in a way that facts cannot move. In our sad era political opinions seem to have more to do with emotions and old loyalties than facts and critical thought.

TheWayOfTheGun said...

I concur.

Gunfighter said...

I am a professional firearms instructor, and there is no way that you can convince me that Cheney wasn't at fault.

His actions/behavior are inexcusable.