Nothing gets attention these days like denouncing people on the other side of a social issue. It’s a thing the Russians seem to have spotted in us. They are eagerly egging us on with their bot and troll campaign. I wonder if they know about Dwaine Caraway yet.
The Dallas City Council member said at a press conference Monday he wants the National Rifle Association to voluntarily cancel its May 3-6 national convention in Dallas’s Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, and he wants someone to impose a ban of some kind on AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.
But at the same press conference, Caraway said he keeps a gun in every room in his house. He didn’t say what kind. Common home-defense handguns are 9mm semiautomatic pistols, capable of firing as fast as an AR-15, designed for quick reloading of high-capacity magazines like an AR-15. But pistols are much more difficult to aim than rifles, less accurate, more prone to shooting the occasional neighbor.
I’m not here to call Caraway a hypocrite. In fact, I think he deserves credit for calling attention to the nation’s gun problem.
But I think the fact that he owns multiple guns tells us there must some be some sliver of daylight by which he could at least get a glimpse of the other side of the story. Caraway is not the only person who ever bought a gun to defend his family.
I get the argument that the gun problem is about guns and we wouldn’t have a gun problem if we had no guns. But we can all look up and see the mountain range of history and culture standing between this day and a day without guns in America.
The very least we must conclude is that the trek from here to there will be brutal. Are we really going to get it done by banning each other? And how do we know whom to ban, exactly?
Take hunters. My dad didn’t hunt, so I don’t. But most of the hunters I know are cool. They’re outdoors people. They get the woods. They defend the woods. I’m an outdoors person. When I talk to hunters about nature, I find I have a lot in common with them.
I get the moral issues in killing animals. But I fish. Unless you’re a vegetarian, you are a partner in a killing machine that dwarfs hunting.
None of that is meant to say that moral questions about killing other life-forms are without merit or should never be raised. Of course they should be raised. But when those questions are raised, we could all stand to do some listening.
And now we come to the bigger misgiving I have with Caraway’s attempt to impose a one-man ban on the NRA. What do bans accomplish, anyway? I didn’t like it last year when the mayor and some rich blue-noses ran off Exxxotica, an exposition slated for the Kay Bailey center. It had something to do with the sex toy industry.
The mayor and oilman Ray Hunt were front and center in the campaign against Exxxotica, shoulders rigid, noses in the air, declaring that Dallas did not need more sex. I didn’t say anything at the time, but it occured to me later, thinking as an older fellow myself, that it gets a lot easier to call for less sex the farther away you get from 50.
I know my own self-control is … well, frankly, it’s just impeccable. They really should make a statue of me and put it out front of the First Baptist Church. But even if they did that, it wouldn’t occur to me to impose a ban on sex for people in their 20s any more than a ban on high winds.
Somewhere in the making of a decent life and a decent community, we have to have a decent respect for people who are not in our same boat. I’m not talking about surrendering or giving up a heartfelt moral argument. But I am talking about the ability to say one of two things about somebody else: 1) She’s really right-wing, but she’s a good person, or 2) That guy’s a real libtard, but he’s an OK guy.
Where did that go? When did we become a nation of warring moral geniuses? When did we become people who know exactly what’s right about ourselves and exactly what’s wrong with everybody else? Are we just addicted to our own certainty? Is it the moral equivalent of Oxycontin? Is the slightest shred of self-doubt, even modesty, only the mark of a loser now?
A very murky picture emerges from the various Russia investigations, and certainly no one has yet put to bed the possibility of collusion by the Trump campaign. If there was collusion, the mood in the Kremlin now must be one of bitter buyer’s remorse.
But what should be more troubling for us is the pace at which the Russians have continued their campaign of bots and trolls, aimed now not especially at any particular person or party but agnostically at creating divisiveness. They stir the pot against Muslims. They stir the pot for Muslims. They do whatever they think will spur us to shred our social fabric.
Then there is the great problem of so-called social media, or, as I call it, antisocial media. The level of disarray the Russians ever could hope to sow on Facebook comes nowhere near the sabotage Facebook itself works on our culture and sense of community. Facebook’s auto-isolating algorithms fill our faces with everything we already know and think, so we never achieve the amount of social stretch that used to be involved in belonging to a decent bowling league. Twitter is another glee club without glee.
And Google. Why would anyone trust Google for a straight answer? Just for grins yesterday, I Googled “Help, I have fallen and can’t get up.” The first four items on Google’s list of helpful information were
Alert-1® - Get Help Now Button, America's #1 Senior Fall Alert; 10 Best Fall Detection Alerts, #1 Medical Alert System - 2018; Be the Hero of Your Own Life, See Us on TV? mobilehelp.com; and Elderly Medical Alert - SeniorSafety.com.
Let’s say I really was flat on my back in the bathroom, my eyes spinning around like pinwheels while I desperately plucked out a plea for help on my cellphone. Which Google answer would I go for? I think I’d choose, “Be the hero of your own life,” for the sheer counterintuitiveness.
What if we did this instead? What if we invited Exxxotica back to town but persuaded the sponsors to take part in a public symposium on sexual exploitation and abuse? I bet we could tell them a bunch of things we think they need to know. But I wonder? Could they tell us something as well?
As for the NRA, I definitely am not here to offer any blanket defense for that organization. NRA leadership has agitated and advertised online for social division and hatefulness to a degree that makes even the Russians look like American patriots.
Another issue is the way the Dallas convention center operates. Robert Wilonsky reported in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News that the NRA will pay zero, zip, nothing at all to use the city’s convention center. The city's tourism bureau is picking up most of the tab. The person who explained it to Wilonsky said giving away the convention center rent-free is common practice, not a special deal for the NRA. I had to stop reading when the person used the term “incent,” which I believe may mean “try to make smell better.”
The fact remains that over the years, I have met an awful lot of thoughtful, smart people who are NRA members and supporters. I wonder if there might be something I could learn from them? Maybe we could extend the same invitation I suggested for the sex toy people: Come to town, and let’s be sure to sit down and talk guns while you’re here.
The gun problem is real. We’re not imagining it. But a little bit ago, I mentioned the mountain range of culture and history standing between the problem today and a tomorrow when gun issues are resolved. We can’t snap our fingers and make those mountains go away. We have to agree on a path.
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I tried to remember yesterday where I learned to shoot a rifle. My dad didn’t teach me. He was a minister. He preached peace and conciliation. Finally, it came to me. Sure! I learned to shoot a rifle at church camp. I looked it up. It’s still there.
I had a little buddy at church camp who wore what we called pop-bottle glasses. We were 8 or 9 years old. He and I used to sneak rifles out of the shooting barn and go wandering with them on the endless wild pebble beaches of Lake Michigan.
He had a habit of shooting at low-flying aircraft. Of course I knew that was wrong, and I urged him to desist. Fortunately, he couldn’t hit anything. I don’t remember seeing any suspicious plumes of black smoke in the distance, so I think it all came out OK. If they still teach little Christians how to shoot at my old church camp, I’m sure the camp has developed a much more advanced gun safety curriculum by now.
All of this is an evolution. In North America, a very violent past is not far behind us. Not far enough, obviously. The path to peace and safety is rugged ahead. We may need to give each other a hand up. Meanwhile, we might want to go easy on the banishments.