Guns and Cliffs

December 21, 2012

A friend recently advised me not to expand my social networking presence to Twitter. My problem? I have opinions. Spouting off about hot-button issues — and this week they are school massacres and fiscal cliffs — run too great a risk off turning off half my readership. I guess I kind of agree, hence my valiant effort to stay quiet during the presidential election after getting it out my system last March.

So, with that bit of throat clearing out of the way, I’m damn well going to voice a couple of opinions on here anyway. (Feel free to skip, of course.)

The Fiscal Cliff
First, the less important topic, namely, our political leaders’ collective failure to lead with regard to the so-called “fiscal cliff” we’re approaching in two weeks. I read a great article recently from a professional mediator — you know, one of those guys paid to resolve differences between opposing parties. He made some sense when he observed the president and Congress are making a classic mistake in their negotiations, and that is confusing values with positions. A value is something like, “It’s important for every American to pay his fair share of taxes.” A position is, “Raise taxes on those making more than $250,000.” Values are what you hold onto, what you’re fighting for. Positions are the manifestations of those values. Never go into negotiations with positions that you’re unwilling to change — the take-it-or-leave-it approach. Are there alternate positions that conform to your values as well as your opponent’s?

He said the way to get to this win-win position is for each side to ask the other a series of why questions about their positions. For instance, “Why is $250,000 your threshold? What is so important about that particular number?” Answers to why questions reveal values. And if each side can uncover a common value, then perhaps they can brainstorm together a new position on how to achieve it. And thus save face, because ultimately saving face is the value everyone holds above all else.

But we know that ain’t never gonna happen.

We are going over the fiscal cliff — a term, by the way, I regard as irresponsible fear mongering. It’s not a cliff; it’s a series of tax hikes and spending cuts. And, unlike falling off a cliff, it’s not even irreversible. They might very well pass a compromise deal next summer and make it retroactive to January 1.

But what if they don’t? I say so what. Yes, there will be a huge tax hike on everyone to pay for fewer services. The economy will take a hit, and we might suffer another recession. But consider that our national debt stands at well over $16 trillion dollars. Visit usdebtclock.org and try to keep your gorge down. That number is going up by over $1 trillion per year. The fiscal cliff changes will only slow that fall by about half its speed, meaning that the debt will still go up by about $500 billion. Per year. Our finances are still out of control.

And yet, I like the fact that our annual deficit will be cut in half by these changes. It’s going to be painful in the short term, but it will be better for us in the long term. A drastic correction to our budget was going to be necessary anyway, so it might as well happen now.

Gun Control
Jesus, what a fucking nightmare. And I’m not referring to the NRA’s speech today. Yes, I feel pretty emotional over the fact that somebody mowed down an entire class of first graders and their teachers. I can’t look at the pictures of the kids because all I can see is how much they resemble my own kids and my nieces and nephews. My mother was so upset that she called me, just to make sure her grandbabies were safe and happy. I’m a writer, so I would say I can imagine — or at least try to — what those families are going through, but the truth is I cannot. They must be in a living hell right now. Whose sanity could remain intact after knowing their kid got murdered at school like that?

Emotions are high with everyone and will probably remain so for a good long while. We’re all trying very hard to comprehend the incomprehensible. To pin the blame on someone or something. So it’s natural to grasp onto things like guns. We say guns must be the cause. Mental health, the dissolution of the family — well, those are complex issues without easy answers, but outlawing guns, that’s easy to understand.

I’m not saying I fall on one side of the issue or the other, just that I can understand the urge to sink our teeth into this one thing and not let go. What I’m really saying is that sometimes, when confronted with true evil, there is no explanation. It just Is. And this is, by the way, exactly why we need more horror literature and movies in the world; a horror story is one of the places where we can give an explanation to evil, where we can understand it. Horror, when it’s done right, is the most morally harsh genre there is. And we need that reassurance, that hope that evil can be defeated, or at least understood.

I don’t have the answers to whether we need more or less guns. I’ve heard compelling arguments on both sides of the debate. My only wish is, whatever we as a society decide to do, it’s done with specificity and is based on unemotional, hard data.

I keep thinking about a scene I read in my new favorite book, Ready Player One. In one of the few sequences taking place in the real world, our protagonist Wade is in fear for his life, so he purchases a handgun from a vending machine. (Being in the future, he can do that.) He’s required to have his thumbprint scanned by the machine, which instantly conducts a criminal background check of him by connecting with all the appropriate databases. Satisfied, the machine spits out his new gun, wrapped in a clear plastic bag. The gun has an automatic, timed lockout mechanism for the next twelve hours — a built-in “cool down” period. Finally, Wade must hold the gun for a few seconds in each hand until the gun can record his handprint. When it’s done, only Wade will be able to use it.

It’s that last part I keep coming back to — the technology to ensure only the buyer can use the gun. We know that Adam Lanza stole his mother’s legally purchased weapons before using them to kill her and all those kids. Would a handprint-lock mechanism have prevented the massacre? Maybe not, but Adam Lanza certainly wouldn’t have been able to use his mother’s guns to carry it out.

You see what I mean? Specificity. Control guns if you must; outlaw what is necessary; do whatever makes sense. But I would appreciate it if the legislative scalpel were finely wielded in an intelligent manner, passing laws that really could have prevented an atrocity like this from happening.

Just a suggestion from the world of literature.