Guns, Cats & Dogs, & The Old West

When I was in my early thirties, I lived in San Angelo, Texas. I had just moved back to town to become an instructor at the base where I went through tech school. I knew the small city from my student days. It was a nice place to live despite the groans of the students from metropolises like New York or Los Angeles when they arrived (they thought they’d fallen of the edge of the earth). There was no interstate. People were very friendly. Guns could be bought at the grocery store. It wasn’t exactly the Old West, but it’s influence could still be felt.

I knew few people in the city beyond the base. I therefore decided to go out and volunteer time on my days off at the city animal shelter. They were nice and I had a good time taking the dogs out for walks, play with the cats, and helping get them adopted. I found that the identification of the breed of the dogs were usually way off as was the guesstimate on their age by the city workers. I would correct all this and would spend time with the animals.  It was a fulfilling hobby.

I will never forget though the day when one of the workers sent me back to get some supplies in the back area where people adopting dogs and cats were not allowed. The room was filled with white plastic bags stacked up until the disposal unit got there. I saw the results of our completely unregulated love of cats and dogs. Even in this small city, hundreds of euthanized cats and dogs were stacked up like plywood. I later learned that for every successful adoption about four animals were euthanized. And the San Angelo shelter had a very good ratio compared to many of its counterparts. It is an image that has never left my mind.

When I raised this issue outside of the shelter, and suggested to people that we (the general public) should not be allowed to breed dogs without a license and that most dogs and cats should be sterilized as puppies and kittens, people looked at me like they had encountered one of those wide eyed liberals from California they had always heard about but never quite met. They not only did not seriously consider it, they considered me odd for even thinking it. And so, the entire time I helped at the shelter I watched the dichotomy of the happy family driving off with their puppy, kitten, dog, or cat but with the city disposal unit driving away with four times as many of them every week.

As I watch the debate on guns that is going on in our society, I read a great deal. When I read from the gun rights folks the argument is often framed as one of the government trying to take away guns. Even the ones who tacitly acknowledge that no one is actually suggesting this will argue back that, “Well, they aren’t proposing it now. Let them have gun registration today and tomorrow they will take away our guns.” And despite the fact that almost every allied nation to us has much more stringent guns regulations and is totally free and democratic doesn’t phase them. The last time I looked, the Untied Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Japan (and I could go on) are not ruled by despots enslaving their populations. As a matter of fact, places where there are no gun laws, like countless places in the Third World, are places few American ever decide to travel (more less reside) and they have more than a few despots. But no one is even advocating the same laws that exist among our allies. All people are really advocating today is registering guns, limiting assault rifles, and limiting high capacity clips (and the latter two probably won’t make it through congress). The real reality is that in America, even after Newtown, we likely will pass little if any legislation. Which is what I want to write about more than cats and dogs or guns. Where does our aversion to not passing any rules come from?

I believe this all comes from a romanticism not of the days of our founding fathers but rather of the Old West. People like to think of a simpler world where they personally decide what is right and wrong and, if push comes to shove, they can take care of themselves, even if the bad guys show up. And no one is going to tell you what to do with your house, your land, your property, or even your dog or cat. That’s the utopia in many people’s minds in our society. Yet, for people who actually lived back then, life was much harder, much shorter, and had few of the creature comforts we enjoy. And, of note, as soon as they could, they developed more rules for their society – not less.  Even San Angelo in the early 1990s had tons of regulations compared to what it would have been like 100 years before.  There is a reason for this.  Living together comes with responsibilities.

I raise all this to ask at what point do our ideas of a perfect world (living lives as unregulated as possible) come into conflict with the common good? Do we really love dogs and cats, for example, if we are willing to exterminate so many of them like pests instead of pets? Looking the other way doesn’t mean we aren’t complicit in all those deaths. The city animal shelters work for us (and have no other option since we refuse to regulate pet breeding). Do we really believe in freedom when for some in society, like on the other side of my hometown for example, it is not unusual for people to get gunned down on the street? Of note, in New Orleans, people ironically got shot standing outside of a store after the Martin Luther King Parade. It was by a drive by shooter who apparently mistaked them for someone else. Was the answer for the victims of the drive by shooting to jump up, pull out guns, and start shooting back at the car that sprayed them with bullets? Or is the answer that somehow the teens driving in that car would have had a hard hard time finding someone to sell them such a weapon? People will argue that criminals will still get guns. And they do in places like the UK and Australia. But their gun violence is small compared to ours. No one is arguing that gun regulations will eliminate all gun violence. Of course it won’t. But it would eliminate a great deal if we didn’t treat gun ownership as some ultimately unregulated right.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to own a gun or even having a gun for safety or for a hobby. There is nothing wrong with wanting a pet, or having one for safety or for a hobby. There is nothing wrong with wanting to sell guns or breed cats and dogs for that matter. But what is wrong is the idea, especially in our 21st century world, that we want to do this all according to our own whims and with no registration or legislation applying to us.

It was Cain in the Bible who asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” What was God’s implicit answer?

What do you think?

Until next time,

Tom

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