Monday, April 8, 2013

Guns and Poaching

 As the national debate over gun control rages and subsides, the ineptitude of Congress is highlighted and the threat of another mass shooting continues.  The media promotes and thrives in two-sided impasses like this because they can appear fair as well as contentious, attracting lots of readers and knowing the script. You hear the standard arguments on both sides (need I repeat them?), but there’s one argument I stumbled upon that incorporates a larger worldview on the issue of gun violence and tips the scale for me: poaching. I’m not saying it’s the strongest argument, far from it, but it’s one more consideration to throw at the puzzle of gun control, with room for ponderment and debate.

While watching Wild Russia: Siberia, a Planet Earth offshoot at a friend’s house, I noticed how often the narrator Clifford Wells would say the words “endangered” or “critically endangered,” and I couldn’t help think about the reasons why these strange and magnificent creatures were diminishing. Wells cited only  “increased human activity” as the culprit, which could be a lot of things, roads, railroads, mining, pipelines, pollution from construction, but no doubt over-hunting and the use of guns had a part to play. 

Is it possible that proper gun control, say bullet tracing, could put an end to poaching or over-hunting? Is it possible that proper gun control could have prevented the decimation of multitudes of once-thriving species? Would we still have massive herds of buffalo on the Great Plains or packs of wolves in the Ohio River Valley if we had enacted gun control around the time of the Louisiana Purchase? Maybe we should all just blame it on Jefferson.  

Certainly, there are other types of poaching and resource extraction that don’t involve guns that affect the environment just as negatively or worse. Hunting of animals by humans has been practiced for centuries, it’s just the more modern form that has gone awry, whether it’s seafloor dredging, commercial farming, or cutting down bird and insect habitats for paper. There is a sustainable way we need to hearken back to before we deplete all that we cherish.   

It reminds me of a scene from Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder, where a purple dwarf star morphs into a DNA repository for all the endangered species of the Universe. The Encyclopod decides to save a sample of human DNA, and Fry wonders out loud, “But I thought you only saved endangered species?” The creature offers a curt “farewell” and brisks away.   

I’ve always thought the world was a better place before guns; fighting with swords and bows, while admittedly more gruesome, is something an adolescent boy obsessed with fantasy and science fiction can’t shake off, but at least it was harder to kill something. You had to really want to do it. You had to be hungry and in need of protein or cold and in need of clothing to hunt down that wild animal for its meat and fur.

For most, it was probably an unpleasant experience or necessary chore, something they didn’t want to do all the time, hence natural population controls. Guns come along and it’s suddenly easier to kill something. Wars become quicker and more widespread, massacres and war crimes more commonplace, and the fate of wild animals and their ecosystems put into question. Guns and the more chilling effects of industrialization are inextricably linked.    

Here is where the media zeitgeist comes back into play. Guns and the fear of guns. People have documented and commented on the negative tone of news stories which always seem to focus on murders and robberies and accidents. You may be a responsible gun owner who goes off into the hills and gets his jollies shooting rounds into beer cans, but the story you hear on the news is “man gets shot in hunting accident.” Or “three die in car shootout” or “kid gets shot in eye by bb gun” or “police shoot man for pulling out wallet.” These news stories happened, but you don’t always hear about the “man who had a safe time with his buddies shooting pop bottles.”

Fear is a multi-edged sword (or mace) in that we fear these horrible news stories happening to us, so we go out and buy guns to protect us from such incidents. “Protect yourself from that cat burglar watching your house.” “Make sure you’re strapped when you walk past that crack dealer on the corner.”  The reason we have so much gun violence in America is because a lot of us are just paranoid and afraid.

There is no question that common sense measures (background checks, owner registry, ammo tracing, limited capacity magazines, etc.) are necessary, and do not restrict the Second Amendment rights of American citizens. The gun lobby, like a lot of lobbies, may be the real reason change has not come. There is plenty of regulation in other industries, but the ones with the most powerful lobbies in Washington, not so much.

I’m for banning certain types of weapons and/or at least making it real hard to obtain those weapons, but for me, the issue lies more deeply in our culture and how we interact as a community.  Are we being friendly, honest and transparent with our fellow citizens, or lying and manipulating to gain constant advantages of power and money? Is the greatest accomplishment in being human the power to dominate and destroy or do we have a softer, nobler and more holistic side?  Does the history of poaching and the extinction and endangerment of thousands of creatures due to unregulated human behavior teach us anything about failing to have gun control?  

I think so.

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