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February 12, 2008

No More False Dichotomies: Nothing changes, and everybody hurts

Guns don’t hurt people, people hurt people. It wasn’t that .32 caliber bullet that tore my mother’s kidney to shreds and obliterated her spleen and roiled her stomach and pancreas on that rainy January Saturday night 17 years ago, it was that junkie from the housing project who took the handgun from his girlfriend’s purse while she showered, then put the finishing touches on his Jonesin’ afternoon by putting a major hurting on another, innocent human being.He did it. I understand that. The gun was only the avenue by which a troubled person committed a troubled act. But, I have to say, I wish he’d merely smacked her around a bit and taken her wallet. Cuts and bruises are no fun at all but they can heal. Gunshots are hell. You don’t want to see your mother with tubes and drains and green shit oozing out thereof for days on end. You certainly don’t want to be that person.The sad (but sadly mundane) tale of Darren Pickerill and Richard Koenig, the subject of this week’s cover story, is a striking case of how cheap provocation can turn catastrophic when guns are present. Remove the guns from the equation and you’ve got banty roosters flying the bird and stringing together favorite expletives in the most creative way their thick skulls can muster. They may even smack each other around. Big deal.Guns are one of those intractable social issues that now define our politics, particularly on a national scale. The two poles scarcely discuss anything cogent; they talk past each other, like the perpetual abortion debaters or blindly provincial sports fans. Each side feels insulted, aggrieved and misunderstood, and so everything gets magnified and distorted until all is caricature.I’m not sure having a family member who was shot by another person gives me more standing to spout off on the subject, but it certainly yields a particular perspective. I would indeed get rid of every gun in the world. That’s a fanciful notion, granted, so the best we may hope for is lessening interpersonal conflict. No one’s quite figured that one out, of course, and in today’s always-on world, it only seems there’s more generalized anger. And so we regularly confront incidents that turn tragic because someone uses a gun. It is insipidly silly. I’m tired of malcontents who work out their frustration with guns. But, will arming everyone will really reduce the problem, or will we simply see more innocent people maimed and killed? I know what I think. We can do better.•••Before last year’s gubernatorial primary, the LEO brain trust met with eight of the 10 candidates. As I showed Gatewood Galbraith out after his interview, he candidly told me Beshear would win, and then added that ol’ Steve wouldn’t be any different than any other guy who’d come down the pike lately. I didn’t disagree then, and lately Gatewood’s seemed downright prescient. Although LEO endorsed Beshear in the Democratic tilt as a sort of lesser of many evils, we weren’t excited about him, nor did we know, after his incessant assertions that casinos will save the state from financial ruin, what to make of his inability to say what he’d do if gaming didn’t pass. He basically said he would not let it fail, as if the mere force of his personality is a guarantee.We’ll have to see how this turns out — the governor may have something in reserve that we’re not seeing now — but he has certainly dug himself a hole that, damn it all, he didn’t need to dig. What is it with top dogs who can’t help but step in it right away?•••Strangely, both the gun issue and the political leadership issue fall under a rubric that, for me, holds the key to most everything. That is, nothing will change until you and I change our thinking first.Candidates bandy about the word change, but they’re all like Beshear, cut whole from the cloth of a ridiculously broken and corrupt system. Nothing will change until average people pay attention and get involved in issues daily, not just during election cycles. The same goes for guns. We have to engage. We cannot sit idly as malleable political same-old same-olds play the system to their advantage while we rant and rave at one another. How about we cut out the middleman and start talking to each other?Is that a bang-up idea, or what?Contact the writer at cstemle@leoweekly.com