NORTH ADAMS — We're talking about guns in the face of a horrible tragedy, yet again, and as always happens, the dialogue features many gun owners talking about why they need to own guns with no regulation or stipulations.
These statements are often framed as paranoid, but paranoia is a symptom of fear, a way of managing your fears, and the statements are examples of fear.
These gun owners are afraid.
That is not to say they are cowards. Being a coward is different from being afraid. They are obviously willing to face their fears, but facing them without a gun chills them.
They're not the only people in America who are afraid. I hear fear when BlackLivesMatter activists talk about police brutality. I hear fear when feminist activists talk about male violence on women. I hear fear when Muslim citizens fret for their own safety. I hear fear in protests by the current crop of uprising college students.
The difference is that these fears are spoken of by those who have them. They are not ashamed to feel what they feel. They own their fears.
Unfortunately, gun owners seem less inclined to do that. They aren't keen to admit their fear. They wrap their fear in cowboy language and masculine posturing. They prefer the phrase "being prepared" rather than "being afraid," but when you are "prepared" to fight against Muslims and criminals who exist only there to hurt you, your family and your country's way of life, that sounds an awful lot like fear.
Gun owners have more in common with women fearing male violence or Black Americans fearing police violence than they care to admit. The violence gun owners fear is violence that exists, certainly, though their perception heightens it.
It paralyzes them and they take strength from firearms. When people are paralyzed by fear, they do irrational things that seem helpful, but make the situation worse. For gun owners, that means fighting for a system of distributing guns that makes it easier for people to get them and do exactly what gun owners fear they are going to do — try to kill gun owners.
They are so fearful that they can't see that these precautions are also meant to keep them safe, not just those of us without guns.
They're so fearful that they would rather allow dangerous people to have legal access to firearms. They would rather live with the possibility that, just as they fear, they are going to be the targets of these people, rather than do anything to prevent them from procuring a weapon in the first place.
They are so fearful that they forget that if they truly are responsible gun owners, as so many of them claim, they have nothing to fear from gun regulations.
They are so fearful that they think that their right to not die trumps my right to not die.
They have so little confidence in whatever god they worship, in the police force they claim to support, in the military they claim to support and in their own survival ability and that of their friends and family, that they feel helpless without a hunk of metal in their hand. They envision themselves as sitting ducks.
That's the saddest self-image I can imagine. I don't get angry at that kind of fearful. I feel sorry for them. I pity them. Because anyone who looks at themselves as so helpless is at the lowest point a human can hit.
So don't yell at gun owners who oppose gun regulations. Hug them. Let them know that we're trying to protect them. Help them feel a little better about themselves. Help them feel empowered and brave, and not pin all their safety on guns.