None of us think we are, or ever will be, the bad guy. Now sure there are some who set out to be such, but we normally know who they are before middle school and track them accordingly (this sentence was typed while firmly holding down my computer’s sarcasm key. It is right next to the snark key which is often pressed by mistake). But really, we watch bad guys on TV, the news, CSI, our laptops, and we contemplate ways to protect ourselves from them. We argue that protection comes from either confiscating, or buying more, guns. We call for more policing, or less, depending on whether we feel the cops are on our side or not. We argue a lot about how to best protect ourselves from bad guys, spend loads of money on locks and security systems, but in every case we are all convinced, that the bad guy is somebody else.
Have we ever stopped to think that maybe the bad guys weren’t bad until they actually did whatever horrible thing it is they did that got our attention?
This thought was made crystal clear in my mind the day I looked over at the car stopped next to me at the intersection. The driver was holding a pistol. He wasn’t necessarily aiming it at anyone; he was just driving while holding it, and consequentially pointed the gun at whoever was to his right or left depending on where the steering wheel was turning.
It freaked me out. Made me nervous. I’m assuming the driver was carrying the gun because driving down this particular street freaked him out. Made him nervous. I had heard of people doing such a thing to protect themselves while driving through the bad part of town. It is a sort of public display of preemptive protection. Maybe he felt safe but driving next to him, I did not. On top of that, I had never considered this a bad neighborhood. In fact, this was my neighborhood. Wait. Does he think I’m the bad guy? As I was contemplating this I realized that my confused face looks a lot like my angry face and I was staring in confusion at a guy with a gun who doesn’t know me. When the light turned green I paused long enough for the car behind me to honk. I wanted to put some space between me and the guy who was protecting himself from me. It was my best means of protection.
As I thought about how I knew nothing of this guy, and he knew nothing of me, and neither of us knew anything about who was or was not dangerous, I realized I knew very little about my own potential. Of course I don’t think I am capable of any horrible act, but who is? Who, while buying a gun for self-protection, considers themselves a public threat? Who, when they see the mug shot of a shooter on television thinks, “Wow, that could be me one day?”
I think about this every time the killer’s neighbors are interviewed and they say, “He was a quiet guy who kept to himself. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. I just can’t believe it.” Everyone always seems so surprised. Especially the family. Those who know the bad guy best are usually the ones who deny guilt the loudest. We like to chalk it up to denial. They just can’t believe little Johnny is capable of such bad things. I can’t blame them. I don’t think I’m capable of such bad things either. But obviously somebody is.
So how do we stay safe?
I have listened as one side, the side with superior skills of logic, informs me that criminals do not follow gun laws so they all have guns and that the only way to protect you from them is to also have a gun. I may not be smart enough to understand the algebra that proves gun plus gun equals safety, but those who argue this side are as sure of its truth as one plus one equals two. It is simple math. I am sure none of those who buy guns for self-protection will ever become a bad guy themselves. Of course not; they are Republicans.
Then there is the other side. They rely on science, and logic, and state protection. They point to other nations where not even the police carry firearms and the murder rate is so much lower. Why can’t we be more like them? Why don’t we model ourselves on these counties with homogenous populations a fifth of our size? This side trusts that the state will act in the interest of the citizen, despite worldwide evidence of governments killing their own populations. They are convinced ours would never do such a thing because we are America. We don’t do that. Of course these are the same people who are least likely to trust the police with anything.
How do I decide who is right? How do I know who the real bad guys are? Because the more I listen to both sides, Republican and Democrat, they are both convinced that the others are the bad guys. We should all protect ourselves from both of them. From everything and everyone.
While contemplating the danger I present to everyone else, while I am still convinced I am in no way a bad guy, I thought that perhaps a lot of the bad guys used to be good guys. Maybe people aren’t always one or the other. Maybe we all possess potential for great goodness or horrible atrocity. Maybe the only way to protect myself from the bad guys, including my own potential to become one, is to figure out why people go bad and try to prevent that.
Better yet, maybe we should figure out what makes people good and help them become, or stay, the good guy. Myself included.
You think I’m a Pollyanna.
Not really. I just don’t see the bottom of the rabbit holes that both sides of this debate have dived into and I have no desire to follow suit. I won’t feel safer driving down my block knowing everyone I see has a gun, nor do I think the cartel will play nice once the cops only carry sticks. We have all gone too far.
Which is what makes me think I have the capacity to one day go too far as well. I want to prevent that. I think the only way for me and mine to be safe is if we all do the same.
Tune in next week when I tackle misogynistic rhetorical devices like the use of the word “guy”.