Come on America, let’s talk about Fear.

guns and flowers

I don’t own a gun. I don’t own a gun not because I am *against* guns per se, but guns scare me. Research has indicated that if you carry a gun for protection you are more likely to be shot. Especially if you don’t know how to use it. That would be me. I have shot a gun – many of my friends own guns – but I don’t *really* know how to use one. I am also not prepared to kill someone. If you have a gun for self defense I think you have to (mentally) be prepared to shoot someone. I don’t think I could do that.

I have fired a gun, I have shot clay pigeons (which is great fun) – I even got to yell ‘pull’. I have shot a pistol at a soda-pop bottle. I have friends who lived on a farm and had trouble with Coyotes. They owned a gun and actually tried to buy guns (semi-automatics) so that they could easily kill the offending Coyotes (who killed their chickens and other livestock) with out much pain and suffering on the Coyote’s part. They keep their guns locked in a cabinet. I have friends who hunt, like people in Britain licensed to have hunting rifles, hunters use guns to enjoy a nice fresh duck or deer now and then.

The recent shooting tragedy in America has broken our hearts – mine included. So pointless. So sad. With some restriction – it feels like – these things could be prevented. It is about fear. Fear for our children. Fear for ourselves. Fear of random acts of violence that kill swathes of innocent people. I am afraid of guns. I get this fear. I don’t want our nations children to be whacked by some guy with a gun. I doubt hardly anyone does want this. Including people that own guns. This is worth remembering.

My cousin owns a gun. She has been personally attacked in the past. As a result she has learned how to use a gun, obtained a license for said weapon and carries it for self-defense. Why? Because she is afraid and wants to protect her family. It is about fear.

Gun control in America is about the hardest topic you can think of to discuss in the USA. The debate is almost tribal. I don’t understand guns for protection, I can’t figure out why you would want one for self defense. But that is how I see the world. It is not how someone who buys a gun for self-defense sees the world.

But it all boils down to fear, I think. The 2nd amendment of the US constitution gives its citizens the right to bear arms. Gun advocates use this in defense of carrying/owning guns. I don’t think this is a very good argument. The constitution also says slaves are 5/8th of a human, that has now (thankfully) been over-turned. No tyrants have been over-thrown by the US citizens through armed conflict. Discounting the Civil War – which is a whole other messy can of worms and not really relevant – US citizens haven’t risen up in arms against Washington and I don’t think that is going to happen anytime soon.

What I think this debate should be about is fear. Why do we, when we fear for ourselves, think I should get a gun? Whatever gun laws you do enact, it won’t make a huge amount of difference to criminals. That is why they call them criminals. Given the recent school shootings in the last 20 or so years, we as Americans need to talk about fear and about what we are going to do to prevent it. We need to address the question of why conflict resolution through gun ownership has become so prevalent in our society. We need to talk about gun control, we need to talk about solutions. We need to listen to each other. We need to listen to WHY people own guns self-defense. What do they fear? We need to ask WHY people hate guns and fear guns. What do they fear? We need a constructive open dialog about fear and weapons and to think about how to prevent tragedies like Columbine and Sandy Hook. Without blame. I mean really without blame.

Because, in the end, as a great man once said, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain is a bio-physicist in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford (UK), but she blogs in a personal capacity. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain
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10 Responses to Come on America, let’s talk about Fear.

  1. rpg says:

    Good post, Sylvie.

  2. Akkie Bardoel says:

    Thank you, friend Sylvia. The most important part I think of what you say is that we need to talk about this all over this land. 1) Fear. Why people are so afraid they are going to be physically attacked. And 2) mental illness: how can we get treatment programs for the mentally ill reinstituted in this country. This is a critical component of President Obama’s health care legislation, that mental health care again becomes available to those who need it. I refer you to a story on my page, a blog from a Mom. She copes with a mentally ill son and she needs our help, as much as, by a factor of 10 bigger, this country needs our help. This country (the USA) is as full of good and loving people as any other. Unhappily, we have fallen into a dissonance here that is apparently unique to us: we think having a shooter is a legitimate part of living in a society in the 21st century. We are the only country in the world that thinks so. Let us begin there. Why is this? Why do we think this? Why are we so afraid of our government and our fellow citizens? This country has a deep past with guns. In its childhood, revolutionary and civil war eras, violence. It is almost as though, if you put this country on the couch, and the USA opened its mouth to talk, you would see the smoke of a violent, traumatized childhood. Talking is what analysts do. This country need to talk.

  3. Erin bw says:

    I pray Syvie that you never have to live through an attack on your life. But if you ever have to you would understand. It is not fear of being attack, its the fear of what if or what could have happened. But nevertheless it is fear. The fear of the unknown. I would rather be prepared then not. Because my daddy always said and part of the boy scout motto is be prepared. You fear guns and I fear not having one. Unless you been in a situation that threats your life or love ones you will never understand. Which I understand that.

    • thanks for your comment. This is what empathy is about – learning to care and trying to understand other people’s fears and respecting those fears, hence the post. I don’t think I can never understand – what I want to say is ‘I want to understand’ educate me (only if you are willing this is tough stuff) I understand that your fear, threat to life is very real. But others have been in a life-threatening situation too and had a different response. Let’s talk to them to. So it’s about understanding other people’s responses and fears and working through this in a rational way. Maybe we need gun control? Maybe we need more mental health care? maybe people like you who hold guns responsibly can educate the rest of us how to do this? thank you so much for commenting Erin.

  4. I also should say, when someone has a real fear, just saying that fear is stupid is not really fair. What I think is scary you may not. There are some crazy fears, in my mind, but it’s good to listen to why someone might be afraid…

  5. Agatha I completely agree with what you said about the mentally ill. We need to be educated about how to see the signs of this, how to help, how to protect against them harming themselves and others. I have no idea how to do this – but I think we need to learn from this, somehow, if at all possible…

  6. I have used guns a lot but I refuse to own one because I don’t want the responsibility for it if things go wrong. One of my friends owned a gun – responsibly too with all the right guidelines and now one of her neighbours has no child to watch growing up. The kids figured out all her safety things including all the lessons about not touching and it went very wrong. As for protection – I don’t think so. By the time you decide it might be necessary, get up the courage to use it and get it out and try to aim it with most likely shaking hands (and hand guns are actually hard to aim decently) it would be too late. Much better to take personal defense fighting skills – at least they can’t be taken away and used on you.

    viv in nz

  7. cottingham says:

    No point me having a gun i could not kill anything but i would like to try clay pigeons shooting
    interesting post thanks
    cottingham

  8. clearcreek says:

    Mmmm. Fear. Dr. McClain has hit on the core of the US psyche. It is a bipartisan emotion/pathology and state of mind in this country.
    The consumer driven run to militarized gun consumption is the product.
    We will not legislate away this blanket of terror. It is now our culture. I say now, but hasn’t this always been the fuel on which we run? We are a warring country without national emperialistic motivations. (I said nothing about corporate aspirations) From 1812, to our Mexican efforts in the 19th century, WWI, and then in WWII we could use national protection and maybe a little empire dreaming as the reason for conflict. Korea, Vietnam, Latin America and the entire Cold War were fought not over sovereignty, but defending “a way of life”.
    The War on Terror has been an exercise in cultivating fear. This is who we are. Now we are a country filled with trembling people armed with 3 million guns.

    Fear makes you stupid. Catecholamines were not made for rational thought. When you look at our last bumbling 40 years, you see the actions of a fearful state. Stupid decisions keep surfacing and we repeat them. These are the errors of a non-rational people.
    I have no antifear remedies outside of loving the family you have and extending a caring message to those in your community. Nationally we must identify leaders that are not pandering to the “be scared” aesthetic of most news outlets.

    Surrounding this latest American horror story, we will now legislate out of fear several pointless laws that will do nothing to change the dynamic except harden each side’s distrust of the other.

    If we can recognize that fear and stupidity go together, we may see some progress. The fix for ignorance is education. Let’s talk about some.

    In full disclosure, I was brought up hunting. I had a gun safety instructor for a father. I went hunting with a small shotgun for the first time when I was 4. That felt very “normal” but now freaks me out. I believe in the second amendment. The “well regulated” part is my focus.
    I am sitting with a safe full of several long guns, semi-automatic pistols and enough ammunition for a small zombie attack. Against all the data that says it is lightning strike unlikely, I can defend my home in case of “attack”. I am not immune.

    Gun ownership is a right but more importantly a responsibility. We are awash in guns without a gun sensibility. As a people, we do not appreciate the role of firearms.
    Guns are nearly indestructible objects. However, they need to be fed and can be starved.
    Gun control legislation needs a politically viable focus. An AW ban will not pass the senate…for now. If we truly want to control gun use we need support for a curriculum and background check for an ammunition purchasing license. Ammo is key. It does not run afoul of the 2nd amendment and is an effective check on freaks. The legislation would include a mental health background clearance in addition to the current criminal checks. The curriculum part would be 20 hour course of gun handling and safety. I am a physician. I care for far more stupid use injuries than intentional shootings. People should be failed if too stupid to function with a firearm in a controlled environment.
    The ammo license will entitle you to a limited number of rounds. I have watched people buying 1000 rounds of 9mm “for the weekend”. If you are trying to look scary…you are. I fear for people around you and your kids.

    We cannot legislate away an emotion. We can educate about the ridiculous power of these weapons. We can change by increments the way we treat each other and by extension the world. This can only happen after we each whisper a message of community above the shouts and weeping driven by fear.

  9. clearcreek says:

    Correction 300 million guns.

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