Archive for December, 2012

December 18, 2012

It Makes No Sense

by Cynthia

December afternoons in Tennessee can be mild and breezy or damp and frigid depending on what is blowing in from the southwest. Last Sunday was a warm and sunny one.  I was in the garden for the first time in weeks, pulling the curly dock out from between the rows of spinach and tossing lettuce long gone to seed into the compost. The house and garden are positioned on the top of a ridge overlooking a valley of other small farms. Sounds that originate anywhere around us roll up the hill, seeming to come from just behind me, or a few feet away when in fact they may have begun as far away as half a mile.  Stratton Bone’s cattle sound as if they are bellowing from right behind our barn even though they are grazing down the hill and across the road. Gunshots are a sound to which I have become accustomed as I weed and hoe and try to bring up some goodness out of the rocky limestone soil.   Usually it is someone shooting at deer or dove.

Lost in some thought, I was tossing weeds into a bucket when somewhere from behind our hill came the sound of a semi-automatic weapon being fired. This is a sound to which I am not accustomed, a sound which ripped through the winter air like small knives, the reverberations hitting me in the chest over and over and over.  The relentless gunfire was such a violent contrast to the soft damp loamy soil and the bright green of the spinach and the simplicity of a sunny afternoon in the garden. Two days earlier a weapon like that was used to murder little children and their teachers. I’d spent the hour in church that morning fighting back tears, imaging the unbearable despair of the parents and grandparents. I thought of my own sweet Luke and Lilyanne and the preschool they attend. The whole nation was in shock and mourning. But not the person shooting this gun. This person was somehow cut off, disconnected from our communal horror by something I cannot understand or even name.

Guns do not frighten me. I know about guns. I grew up around guns and think of them in the same category as  fishing poles or bows and arrows;  a tool used to put food on the table. I haven’t bought a roast in years, as my freezer is full of the wild game that some man in my family killed with a gun or a bow.  When I was a girl, each Saturday night in the fall and winter my father would take his guns down from the gun rack that hung in our den and lay them on the coffee table where he methodically cleaned them. He poured the oil on a clean cloth and ran the bore rod down through the barrel, explaining to me how a speck of dirt in the barrel could affect the trajectory of the bullet. He was a fanatic about gun safety and made sure that we knew how to tell when a gun was loaded and when it was not.  After he finished cleaning the guns, he locked them into the gun rack and began shining  everyone’s shoes for church the next morning. The smell of gun oil will forever make me think of my father and wood smoke and clean leather.

My husband owns several guns. And we own a gun safe to which he and I alone know the combination. I do not fear guns, and I support the rights of individuals to own guns. I am a country girl after all.

I am also a psychotherapist. I see what happened in Connecticut in that small town elementary school as a disastrous convergence of two of our country’s pressing social problems; two of the problems about which we have the most ambivalent response:  the legality and accessibility of assault weapons (weapons of mass destruction) and our denial ( as a society and also as parents)  about the importance of mental health treatment.  Much of the current conversation about the need for accessible mental health resources focuses on the “severely mentally ill”. We need to expand that focus to include those whose mental illness creates limits on their healthy participation in community life; the paranoid loner, the social outcast, the kids whose behavior causes his peers to avoid him.  A tiny number of these young men become violent. Their easy access to powerful weapons creates a ghastly combination of instability and deadliness .

The question of a ban on the sale of military style assault weapons is not a question of freedom. It is a question of common sense. It is difficult to take seriously the outcry of those who insist on access to assault weapons for “sport” purposes. Where is the sport? What skill is involved in blowing something away with an assault rifle? One of our favorite family activities is skeet shooting. There is skill involved in shooting skeet, skill and sport involved in hunting, skill and sport in target shooting. But the value of semi-automatic assault rifles as instruments of “sport” seems inflated by those who oppose any restrictions on their ability to purchase and fire any kind of gun they choose.

Semi-automatic weapons are designed to kill people quickly and efficiently and en masse. Their use as weapons of war makes sense ( as if anything about war really makes sense). But civilians have no business owning these kinds of guns. I am not allowed to keep a tiger on my property because society has decided that keeping a wild, meat-eating predator puts the people around me at too much risk. Yet any adult without a criminal record can keep an assault rifle in their home. It makes no sense.