Josna Rege

388. It Wants To Be Found

In Books, Media, Music, Politics, reading, Words & phrases on August 17, 2016 at 2:17 am

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Happiness is a warm gun (bang, bang, shoot, shoot)/Happiness is a warm gun, mama
When I hold you in my arms/And I feel my finger on your trigger
I know nobody can do me no harm
—The Beatles

When I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit as a child, the scene that most disturbed me was the diminutive hero Bilbo’s underground encounter with the etiolated Gollum, in which he found the Ring and got away by outwitting (cheating, actually) his opponent in a game of riddles. From then on, Bilbo kept the Ring and he kept it a secret, using it to make himself invisible whenever expedient, and thereby sealing his reputation as a brilliant little burglar. It was clear to me that Bilbo’s behavior, though justifiable, was not altogether ethical, and I even felt sorry for the light-deprived, near-translucent Gollum, left all alone in the underground tunnels without his “Precious.”

Gollum’s hissing to himself, “What has it got in its pocketses, my Preciousssss?” filled me with a terrible fascination, followed by the chilling realization that it wasn’t his own precious Self he was referring to, but the possession he had come to prize more than his own soul. In fact, his “Precious” was precisely what was in Bilbo’s pockets.

But the most terrifying realization came in the later Ring Trilogy, when it became clear that the possession of the One Ring had not only turned the benign Sméagol—once a harmless hobbit himself—into the slinking, sniveling, cringing, cadaverous Gollum, but threatened to do the same to anyone who held onto it for any length of time. How did it do this? It made its possessor feel powerful and it made him feel safe, especially when slipped on his finger, cloaking him in invisibility. But in fact, the feeling of safety conjured up by the Ring in his pocket was entirely false.

Here, in Peter Jackson’s film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf warns Frodo of the Ring’s active desire to be reunited with its true master.

You must remember, Frodo, the ring is trying to get back to its master…. it wants to be found.

In The Hobbit, Bilbo had found himself continually fiddling with the Ring while it was in his pocket, and on occasion it even seemed to slip itself onto his finger. The same thing happened to his nephew Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. The Ring actually compelled its wearer to slip it on, thereby making him, far from invisible, hyper-visible to the Dark Lord; far from a powerful agent, it made him an instrument of another’s evil designs.

*****

Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well. The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also pull the finger.
                                                                      —Leonard Berkowitz

It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” goes the ubiquitous anti-gun-control slogan. But what Leonard Berkowitz, the late, eminent professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin, Madison, found was precisely the opposite: the mere presence of guns in a given space excited and incited greater aggression. It came to be known as the weapons effect. The proximity of a trigger made a person want to pull it. Like the possessor of the Ring of Power, far from making him safer, it exposed both him and others to much greater danger. He became hyper-visible, because having a gun—in some studies, just seeing one—made him want to shoot it.

Guns do kill people, because, as with the Ring of Power, being in the presence of their terrible power evokes the desire to wield it. Sadly, one may not realize until too late that one is not the possessor, but the possessed. Efforts to conceal the weapon will be futile, because it wants to be found.

*****

Let’s not just leave things here, ascribing intent to the instrument but leaving its lord and master unnamed.

In the aftermath of the December, 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, there was plenty of talk of the deranged shooter and the need to prevent the sale of guns to the mentally ill. What was almost never mentioned was the curious fact that Newtown, Connecticut is also the headquarters of the NSSF, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, just three miles away from the elementary school. The NSSF is a non-profit organization, the trade association for the firearms industry and its foremost lobbying group, in recent years outspending even the NRA, the National Rifle Association.

NSSF Logo

The NSSF’s mission is “to promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.” But its logo, with green deer, pine trees, and hunters with protective earmuffs, and its accompanying slogan: Promote · Protect · Preserve, suggest something very different from a trade association, more like an environmental conservation association. What purports to promote gun safety simply promotes more guns; as another of its slogans puts it more starkly: Always shooting for more. (See the Gun Violence Archive for more information on gun-related incidents in the U.S., including mass shootings.)

The NSSF runs and publicizes shooting ranges all over the country. Its website has a handy-dandy feature that allows you to find the range closest to you. Adam Lanza’s mother, a gun enthusiast herself, had taken him and his brother to one of these shooting ranges, where he learned how to wield the weapons he later took from her hoard to shoot and kill her and 26 others, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The New Republic ran an article soon after the shooting that made the link between the NSSF and the Sandy Hook mass shooting. However, it disavowed any suggestion of causation, that the presence of the NSSF headquarters in Newtown had anything to do with the young man’s shooting spree. Instead, it merely noted that there was “a certain tragic irony to it.”

It seems to me that this link underscores the illusory nature of the sense of safety conferred by the possession of a weapon. The NSSF claims to be all about safety: teaching people to use weapons safely at shooting ranges, even running youth programs that promote the responsible use of firearms. But what happened in the very belly of the beast? A mother took her son to one of these shooting ranges, and he made full use of his training, right in the backyard of the outfit that promotes them. What was touted in the name of safety and protection was in fact the very instrument of death and destruction, both for the de-ranged young shooter and for his innocent victims. As Gandalf noted: “The Ring is always trying to get back to its master”. To know its true nature, we would do well to track the smoking gun back to its source (bang, bang, shoot, shoot).

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  1. Hi Josna ji,

    Namaste!

    This is a post that is a need of the hour. Very well thought of and clearly written. Admire your clarity of thought and crisp writing.

    Regards,
    Mahesh

    • Thank you, Mahesh, ji! I appreciate your encouraging comment. This is an issue that provokes strong opinions, so I hit the “publish” button with some trepidation. Best wishes, Josna

  2. This also evokes the spectre of the nuclear button, of which one president said in humour “Let’s nuke Russia!” and a more recent presidential hopeful would dearly love to have his finger on …

    Terrifying, Josna, at whatever level, guns or red button.

    • Aargh! Your comment evokes the trigger-happy maniac in Dr. Strangelove! Yes, it is terrifying, and it’s already upon us and all around us especially in the U.S.. Hoping that recent events begin to shock people into something resembling sanity.

  3. Hi Josna
    I read somewhere that there are more people killed in the US by gun suicide than are killed by gun homicide. And this may be because, in the low moments that we all experience from time to time, it is all too easy – as you say – to finger the trigger and for it to finger us back. I enjoyed your article and the powerful images accompanying it.
    Evangeline

  4. Beautifully written Josna. Just love the way you relate the ring to guns. This aspect of guns you draw attention too, never comes into the debate.

    • Thank you, Don, and welcome back! So nice to hear from you after a long time. I’m glad the Ring-guns connection made sense to you. Looking forward to reading and appreciating your reflections and sketches again. Wishing you good health and happiness in your new home. J

  5. Compelling and terrifying.
    Your ring-gun connection makes the reality of what’s going on in the US even more stark.
    More needs to be said. So thanks for publishing Josna.

    • Thank you, Arti. I’m glad the link made sense to you. Nice to hear from you after a while–and after the super-charged month back in April! Have you been world-traveling? Any new writing? Warmly, J

  6. At 9 years old I took a hunting safety course for several months. In my area many people hunt and eat wild game. I never forgot what I was taught about handling weapons even though in my early adult life I did not own a gun. Fifteen years ago I married an outdoorsman. We enjoy fishing together and often throw back our catches- but not every time as we do enjoy fish a couple of times a week. Admittedly I have hunted in recent years (even as recently as two days ago as it is the season here.). I have not shot anything yet …nor do I know that I will. But outdoors I listen to every sound as I sit alone. Once I went hunting all alone for a week. I spent from dawn ’till dark quietly waiting. I was scared alone in the woods, but I was very in tune with everything. Nature was so big and clearly in control. I handled my gun with the great reverence and the techniques I was taught. Opinions and well-written thoughts I respect as well. I’m glad you posted it for the conversation.

    • Thank you for describing your love of nature and your respectful, even reverent, attitude to hunting. I think a lot of outdoors-men and women share it to different degrees. I agree that for those who grow up in hinting families, learning to handle a gun early is important and can save lives; but my fear is that leaving firearms training (especially of children) in the hands of the firearms lobby is a conflict of interest, like putting the fox in charge of the chickens.
      Thanks again for entering into conversation on this issue, especially since it has become so polarized.

      • I am not a fan of many gun lobby positions. It is too easy to obtain guns and the firepower is not reasonable. Assault rifles are crazy! There is no need for those type of weapons among the public. Keep writing :).

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