What We Can All Learn About Responsible Gun Ownership From the Tragic Mistakes of Others

Anyone who knows me knows that I, like most red-blooded American males, enjoy a good explosion every now and again.  Michael Bay movies were great for a while, but then I turned 13; and with the onset of puberty began what I hope will be a lifelong responsible relationship with projectile weapons.  You say “hope,” because as anyone who doesn’t live in fantasy land is painfully aware, people are not perfect; they make mistakes.  Mistakes can be painful and embarrassing, but mistakes made while in possession of a firearm can be downright life-altering.

I know that many people, myself included, are not immune to the “it will never happen to me” philosophy: I was one of them.  However, a recent tragedy in my own backyard of Boulder, CO involving the mistaken shooting by a homeowner of a drunken college girl who mistakenly wandered into his house caught me seriously off guard.  Essentially, a married couple were asleep in their bed late last Wednesday night when they were awakened by the startling sound of someone crashing around their house.  The unidentified perpetrator made its way to the couple’s bedroom after coming in through the closed-but-not-locked screen door, and woke the couple.  The man (who’s name is Justice, by the way, how fucking awesome is this line from the article: “Justice fired one shot,”), after screaming that he had a gun and he would use it if whoever-the-fuck-you-are doesn’t beat pavement right now, wound up taking a shot that hit this unfortunate girl in the hip.  The rest is history: Colorado’s make my day law protected the homeowner from criminal and civil liability in the matter, and the girl survived, though she is still in the hospital.

My initial reaction to this incident was one of horror: shooting someone mistakenly is a worst case scenario for a responsible gun owner.  In my world, just because I wouldn’t be charged with shooting her or having to defend myself in civil court would not mean that I could just let the whole thing wash off.  I’m not trying to judge, because after all I think the shooters did a lot of things right.  They heard someone in their house, outside their bedroom.  If that doesn’t get your hairs standing on end, I don’t know what will.  They shouted a warning to the intruder and told them they had a gun and would use it if they came any closer.  The intruder was silent: eery shit.  Then, he fired one time, not some spray and pray gangster crap.

However, while I can totally understand that armchair quarterbacking this scenario is unhelpful to everyone, there are some pretty valuable lessons that I learned from this and wish to share.    After all, if you’re going to own a weapon, you must temper that awesome power with responsibility less you wind up as a cautionary tale like these poor folks.  Better to have too much responsibility than not enough.

Lesson 1: A Locked Front Door is Your Friend

The trespasser gained entry through closed, but unlocked, screen door.  Given that the cops measured her BAC at .2 after they showed up, it strains credulity that this woman would have possessed the necessary motor skills to have found her way past the simplest (yet often most effective) security mechanism: the pesky deadbolt.  If she had to break into the house rather than simply gain entry through an open door, chances are it would have taken her longer to accomplish, and she would have made more noise that would have alerted the couple to her presence before she got to the entrance of their bedroom.  This may have given them time to have oriented themselves properly and maybe even make a better decision about whether to pull the trigger (though that is still not a guarantee).

I say this because my housemate constantly makes fun of me for locking the door when I am at home, as he thinks it is unnecessary.  I most passionately disagree, as even though the presence of our two dogs might provide some early alert to a potential intruder (though likely it won’t, as they tend to bark at goddamned everything that moves outside), it’s still not going to buy enough time to escape out the back or take up a defensive position in the (admittedly unlikely) scenario that some dude is busting through the door looking to fuck up my day.

Lesson 2: Back Light Your Target If At All Possible (And It’s Always Possible)

Shooting in the dark is hard, and shooting when you just woke up (I imagine, because I’ve never done it) is hard as well.  You can’t see what’s going on, and if you just woke up you’re not going to be 100% oriented and on the ball, so mistakes will be magnified.  That being said, you want to give yourself every conceivable advantage when dealing with these situations.  It is said in countless places that back lighting a target provides for a serious advantage.  If you turn on the lights in your bedroom, but the target is down the hall, that will just make you more visible to your target, and actually make the target less visible to you.  Advantage homeowner if you can set up a system that shines light on the target and leaves you in the dark.  That way you can see them and they can’t see  you.

As someone who maintains a nightstand gun, I have to admit that I never thought about the idea of back lighting until this article really brought the point home.  If you own your home, it would not take much to set up an electrical switch next to your bed that turned on the lights in the hallway outside the bedroom.  After reading this article, it is something I will most certainly do the minute I move into my own home.  If I’m in an apartment, and I want to keep the nightstand gun with the legitimate intention of using it if threatened, there is no excuse–run an extension chord to a standing lamp down the hall and connect that fucker to a foot switch near the bed.  Then you can be in a real advantageous position, as you’ll know what the fuck you’re shooting at before you pull the trigger, which brings us to…

Lesson 3: Know What The Fuck You’re Shooting At or Don’t Shoot At All

That’s basically the first rule of gun safety, loosely translated: don’t point a gun at anything you are not wishing to destroy.  When you aim a barrel at “shadows” you wind up putting lead through walls and into the baby’s room or a neighbor’s house, or in this scenario, a drunk chick who unfortunately got too schwasty after graduation and didn’t know what the fuck she was getting herself into.  I have a lot of sympathy for the girl, having done a lot of dumb shit myself while a bit too seduced by the water of life.  Thankfully, I never GOT SHOT IN THE HIP for my troubles.  I’m not making excuses for her–people need to be able to handle their shit–but I sympathize.  I sympathize with the guy who shot her too, because I’m sure he feels like a real goat (his wife had legitimate fears about stalking, and let’s be real, psychiatrists are the type of people who would be more exposed to actual crazies, which brings us back to Lesson 1…), but that’s the thing about sympathy: it just doesn’t put hemoglobin back into the circulatory system.

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Populist Rage and the Specter of Neo-Nazism in Greece, oder Mein Kampf mit der Politik

It is doubtful that anyone in America has heard about this, or frankly could give two shits if they had, but the European community has reacted with disgust at the recent results of the Greek parliamentary elections held on May 6, 2012 in which the Golden Dawn (a party advocating Neo-Nazism) received a startlingly high 7% of the vote.  Of course, the European community has reacted with disgust at these relatively high electoral numbers, with bloggers heaping shame on the Greek electorate for its perceived proto-fascist bent.  (Neni Panourgiapenned an article for Al Jazeera critical of the party’s frequent vigilante and racist ideology in which she identifies such a proto-fascist movement as a more general ‘European Problem’).

Ms. Panourgia’s article nicely documents the terrorist tactics employed by the Golden Dawn since the 1970’s, and identifies their racism and bigotry.  However, the article leaves unanswered its author’s most potent question, posed in the last third of her piece:

“Why would Greeks, who fought against totalitarianism in massive numbers and paid one of the heaviest tolls in Europe for their participation in the resistance against Nazi Germany, vote for this despicable, emetic, and deeply anti-political formation, even as a protest?”

This is a question that is not on its surface an easy one to answer, yet with some careful consideration, one can pose a partially satisfactory answer.  Being an amateur student of Western history, I for one am not surprised that the populist Golden Dawn party should see a surge in public support at a time when Greece and the rest of Europe are being driven ever closer to the brink of economic disaster.  The austerity programs which left millions of people unemployed and begging in the streets have been perceived as a massive failure by all but the financiers of the European monetary system (not to mention Germany and France, who were forced to shoulder heavy burdens in order to inject capital into the Greek economy and who saw their continued entanglement as an undesirable alternative to restrictive austerity whose principle effects would be felt only in Greece), and given the rise of serious talks of kicking Greece out of the Euro, one must expect a steep incline in populist anger to manifest itself in the polls.

A rise in public outrage is to be expected in times of economic decline—we’ve witnessed it in America in recent years with the Tea Party movement, and before that with the much more subdued xenophobia of Pat Buchanan’s failed presidential campaign.  Both of these domestic movements contained more than a hint of racial or other types of bias and short-sighted reactions, but even by the worst accounts they are not seriously comparable to Nazism.  However, given that it seems to be only natural for people to lash out at something—anything—in difficult times, one can’t help but wonder whether criticizing these movements on their face, as many in America have done with the Tea Party and Mr. Buchanan, and as Ms. Panourgia has more recently done with the Golden Dawn, is a constructive project.  Not surprisingly, such tongue-in-cheek criticisms—almost always made with a condescending tone from a privileged universalist position of multiculturalism, which always risks nothing but words—will be well received by the indoctrinated left, and conversely easily dismissed by those on the right who are consumed by populist rage.

Slajov Zizek, an intellectual hero of mine for some time, has written extensively on the subject of populist anger, dedicating an entire chapter to it in his 2008 book, In Defense of Lost Causes (IDLC).  Though he himself ultimately disagrees with the theoretical implications of populism for reasons too complicated to get into here, he nicely elucidates some of its more desirable practical qualities.  From a starting point, he describes populism as occupying a position that is:

“ultimately always sustained by ordinary people’s frustrated exasperation, by a cry of ‘I don’t know what’s going on, I just know I’ve had enough of it!  It can’t go on!  It must stop!’—an impatient outburst, a conviction that there must be somebody responsible for all the mess which is why an agent who is behind the scenes and explains it all is required.”  (IDLC, 282).

Zizek’s initial observation seems similar to the much rehashed critiques of populist movements levied by liberal-multiculturalists who esteem tolerance of otherness as the highest virtue; namely that such movements are the product of an infantile lashing out at the world, or an oversimplified view of a complex situation.  Anyone who has had any experience with the Tea Party or has studied the rise of Nazism after World War I can attest to the fact that these criticisms are undoubtedly well founded.  However, they fail to recognize the aborted revolutionary potential that is present within all populist movements from the rise of fascism in post-war Europe to the modern day reprisal of Nazism in Greece and elsewhere in the Eurozone.  The problem with populism, is that it correctly identifies an injustice (almost always capitalist excesses that have led to difficult economic times for the “average” citizen), but fails to recognize that the source of that injustice is systemic.  Rather than direct criticism at the system directly, populists movements almost always take for granted the fact that the system is inherently sound, moral, and good, preferring to single out a behind-the-scenes actor whose excessive qualities have poisoned the erstwhile harmonious structure.  Or, from Zizek:

“For a populist, the cause of the trouble is ultimately never the system as such, but the intruder who corrupted it (financial manipulators, not capitalists as such, etc.); not a fatal flaw inscribed into the structure as such, but an element that does not play its part within the structure properly.  For a Marxist, on the contrary (as for a Freudian), the pathological (the deviant misbehavior of some elements) is the symptom of the normal, an indicator of what is wrong in the very structure that is threatened with the ‘pathological’ outbursts…. This is why fascism definitely is a populism; its figure of the Jew is the equivalential point of the series of (heterogeneous, inconsistent even) threats experienced by individuals: the Jew is simultaneously too intellectual, dirty, sexually voracious, hard-working, financially exploitative  . . .” (IDLC, P 279).

The problem with populism is not that it is inherently “proto-fascist,”—far from it.  In many ways, the populist rage that is so easily condemned by self-described rational thinkers as childish outbursts of temperamental dilettante political actors is in actuality only slightly misguided.  If we are to single out one problem with populist rage, it is not, as its critics would allege, that it is too radical in its ideology and openness to brash or even violent political action.  On the contrary, the problem with populism is that it is not radical enough in its thinking and execution—it does not pursue the logic of its own presuppositions to their rational end.

 For example, in post WWI Germany, instead of directing anger toward central bankers and speculators, the National Socialists fixated on the figure of the Jew, upon whom all of the properties of the evil capitalists were transposed.  This was rather convenient for those who were in power at the time, as they ultimately had used all of the dirty capitalist tricks to consolidate wealth for themselves.  It would have been patently against their own interests to direct populist anger against the very system that ensured their survival, and so the Jew—a figure that had historically been mistrusted in European history—made a convenient scapegoat.  Modern populism is strikingly similar, except that the specter of illegal immigration has been transplanted in the place of the figure of the Jew.

It is for these reasons that the holier-than-though, let’s-all-just-talk-about-this, criticisms of the multiculturalist left are ultimately misguided.  Leaving behind the obvious fact that it is impossible to use reason to diffuse rage (be it justifiable or otherwise), the liberal multiculturalists completely overlook the positive aspects of populist political movements—namely, that they are essentially 85% correct in that they identify a serious problem, only they fail to look for solutions in the proper way.  One can’t help but wonder whether there is not some kernel of truth within modern populism that can be harnessed and put toward some more positive revolutionary purpose.  These movements at their most profound can be used as engines to affect positive change, or they can devolve into self-destructive forces of horrific proportions–begetting childish violence for its own sake. 

At a time when popular anger is on the rise, it would behoove those on the left to take notice of the revolutionary potential at its center, especially at such a key time in history.  Perhaps the biggest difference between our current situation and that which gave birth to National Socialism in the 1930′s is one of scale: in post WWI Germany, the state of economic inflation and the general destitution of the populace had gotten so bad that people had taken to burning their paper money for heat rather than spending it.  The situation in Greece has not yet become so dire, though it is fast approaching a tipping point.

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Ah Poo is Here

The camera comes into focus on a brightly lit room—podium standing majestically at the center with microphones glimmering under harsh lights.  Looking conservative and regal dressed in a gray suit and black tie, Our Attorney General paces nervously backstage, flapping his hands at his sides and muttering quietly to himself.  In a few moments, he is scheduled to address the nation about the many scandals that have plagued his administration, most recently the extrajudicial murder of two of our citizens.  Given his proximity to the Rich Old Farts who control the media, he is confident that the well-orchestrated cover up will have taken effect, and he will not be required to answer too many difficult questions before retreating back to the comfort of his insular home.

“Like swine to the trough,” he assures himself.  Nevertheless, he continues pacing, as there have been rumors of far-off tremors preceded by the honest blue ozone smell of lightning in the distance.

Inconspicuously, a young man in a patchwork jacket two sizes too large and a ridiculously outdated fedora with a conspicuous “PRESS” card jammed into the brim leans confidently against the back wall, checking a gold pocket watch and carefully surveying the room.  He gives off the appearance as being just another fixture in the back stage area—so seamless that you’d almost never notice he was there, ridiculous as that sounds given his curious mode of appearance.  He had been told that the secret to maintaining a low profile in a public space is to see everyone else before they see you, and that was what our young friend had been doing; standing and surveying, taking note of everyone who walked in and out of the area.

Suddenly, as if in response to some unknown signal, our young friend snaps his watch shut and replaces it in his jacket pocket, walking assertively toward Our Attorney General with a congenial smile and an outstretched hand.

“Just wanted to thank you, sir, for your consideration in letting me back here to talk with your handlers—erm—assistants.  It was a fantastic opportunity for me, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate the story when it hits the papers tomorrow morning.”

“Yes,” replied the man in the grey suit as he shook the reporter’s hand, “I trust that I will.  Now, if you will excuse me, there’s the matter of this press conference.  You should have a seat in the audience.  I’m sure you’ll want to take good notes for your story.”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” replied our young friend.  “I have already accomplished everything that I came here to do.”

Perplexed but unfazed, Our Attorney General broke his grip of the reporter’s hand and went back to pacing and muttering.  The reporter simply walked away through the door in the back of the room, quickly removing a thin latex, skin-colored, glove from his hand as he went, and deposited it in a trashcan outside.  Once outside, he casually lit a cigarette, took two long puffs, and got into the backseat of an idling Lincoln Town Car.  In another instant, he and the car had vanished, leaving behind nothing but a faint puff of blue smoke.

Back inside, Our Attorney General enters briskly from stage right and approaches his awaiting public.  He steps up to the podium, as he had done countless times in the past, and opens his mouth to speak, but the words do not come.  He clears his throat with a loud “harrumph” peculiar to men steeped in power and privilege, and tries again, but to his horror—instead of the carefully practiced speech—a small but utterly recognizable piece of shit comes flopping out of his mouth and lands with a splat on the top of the podium.  Silence fills the room.  Appalled by this irregularity, but never one to lose face in public, Our Attorney General quickly clenches his teeth and claps a clammy hand over his tight mouth, betraying more than a hint of embarrassment on his sallow face.  He coughs twice quietly to keep up appearances, arranges a pile of papers on the podium, and again looks into the uncaring glow of the teleprompter.

Tentatively, he opens his mouth again and begins to speak, but is suddenly stricken with a feeling of dread as the words again catch in his throat.  Something is building inside him.  Something is not right.  Horrified, he draws in a deep breath and attempts to hold it, but the pressure proves too powerful, and as he opens his mouth to begin his speech, a torrent of foul-smelling excrement is propelled from his gaping maw, showering the reporters and onlookers below with flecks of shit.

“SHIT!” he exclaims to himself, white with terror, standing transfixed by the piercing gazes from below.  But it was building again, and there was nothing to be done to stop it.  Like a volcanic eruption, the shit began to flow freely from Our Attorney General’s helpless orifice, landing in a resentful pile on the papers in front of him, dripping down the microphone wires, and pooling in a fetid puddle at his feet.

It kept coming for what seemed like an eternity, spraying every corner of the room, collecting on the lenses of the television cameras, and defiling the reporters’ notepads.  A high-maintenance blonde cast a look of disgust at Our Attorney General as she attempted to clean a persistent glob off of her new Prada pumps.  Women screamed, and a few of them fainted.  Some of the veterans weathered the storm without a bit of surprise: they had come prepared with umbrellas and plastic ponchos.

As quickly and unexpectedly as the torrent began, it stopped.  No longer did Our Attorney General feel the building pressure inside his stomach—gone was the feeling of dread as his throat cleared up as if by some miracle.  Astonished, but relieved that the worst was behind him, he opened his mouth to speak to the people below:

“I  most sincerely apologize if any of you were offended just now in some way,” he began, “I must confess, I have been feeling under the weather today.  My adviser begged me to cancel my engagement.  It appears that I should have listened to him.  Not to worry, ladies and gentlemen, the Office of the Attorney General will gladly pay for dry cleaning and, um, any other expenses that this unfortunate illness may have caused. “  Looking around the room sheepishly, he paused for a moment and again looked into the teleprompter.

“I resign!” he shouted violently.  And again, he covered his mouth with a hand reflexively, his eyes darting furiously back and forth, looking desperately for a way out.

“I RESIGN!” he shouted uncontrollably through his hand and clenched teeth, “I RESIGN, I RESIGN, I RESIGN, I RESIGN, I RESIGN!”

By now, the entire experience was too much for Our Unfortunate Attorney General to bear, and he took off running stage left like a frightened school child.  The reporters looked around instinctively at one another, but generally made no new expressions of surprise.  A man in the front row looked up from his notebook, of which he had filled a solid four pages with frantic scribbling, and, almost as if annoyed at being short-changed by the whole ordeal, cast a wistful glance at his watch, got up with a prolonged sigh, and made a casual exit toward the door.  The others soon followed suit, heading back to their offices and studio apartments to churn out tomorrow’s story over four fingers of whisky.

Meanwhile, at the outskirts of town, the Lincoln pulls up to a small house and stops.  Johnsons with gleeful smiles eagerly step off the front porch and open the back door to the Town Car, excited to greet the Director of the Germ Warfare Division as he steps out; looking somehow regal dressed in his patchwork jacket and fedora.  He returns their knowing looks, shares their good cheer, and enters the house behind them with a bounce in his step.

“Really, it was nothing.  Just a simple truth serum and nothing more….”

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