Although I support strict gun control and am frequently called out as a naive lib’rul because of it, I do agree with my gun-enthusiast friends on one point: The debate over guns really has very little to do with the guns themselves.
What the debate really is about is a culture that worships the gun. It’s a mindset that at its heart is authoritarian, obsessed with power and control, paranoid and distrustful of anything or anyone other than themselves and their loved ones. Until we address that cultural paranoia, a meaningful path forward is impossible.
The great success of the NRA over the past generation is in its ability to recognize that shift in thinking — from gun owners as sportsmen and hunters to gun owners as paranoid and angry men and women convinced the government is out to enslave them — and exploit it for maximum value.
It’s why every teenager in America could cry out for protection from future savagery like last week’s butchery in Parkland, Fla., and the NRA and its base wouldn’t budge an inch.
It’s why the pro-gun right believes that the kids are being manipulated by Democrats who, after all, are part of the conspiracy to deny them their gun rights.
We lived as a nation in relative peace and consensus for more than 200 years during which guns weren’t fetishized objects that defined either one’s manliness or power. Then the changes brought by movements for civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and demilitarization unmoored the systems of power that had enforced the American consensus.
Many, but far from all, gun enthusiasts don’t share the view of those movements as changes that made for a better vision of America. 9/11 and its aftermath only hastened their view that we live in a mean and nasty world that can only be defended by force.
When the gun culture wants to Make America Great Again, it’s talking about times when blacks were at the back of the bus, women were in the kitchen, students were in their classrooms, and gays and transgender Americans were invisible. It’s talking about a time when white men could get a job without a college degree, when they could earn a decent living without having to reinvent themselves every decade or so, when they could get on a plane and not worry about a brown-skinned man sitting across the aisle from them.
That cultural battle is at the heart of why we now find ourselves stuck with an incompetent racist and rapist as POTUS.
It’s been during those decades of cultural conflict that the gun has become central to the identities of so many Americans. Many gun owners equate any attempt to regulate the raw destructiveness of guns with a totalitarian conspiracy to put them in chains. Drive around town and check out any truck plastered with bumper stickers that proclaim: ‘Not a Liberal,’ ‘Make America Great Again,’ ‘Back Off,’ ‘Deplorable,’ ‘You’ll Not Take My Gun’ and you’ll know what I mean.
But here’s the irony of it all: Democracies can’t be enforced at gunpoint. They require that we trust each other and our institutions to work toward a common good.
Guns didn’t make America great. Ideas did.
Listen to the rhetoric of much of the pro-gun crowd, and it’s fair to conclude that many of them long ago lost trust in the very idea of America. Many of them see us engaged in a Hobbesian war of all against all. They believe that only the gun can endow us with the protection to survive.
What I’ve always found remarkable is that the same people who resist any effort to regulate guns are the same people who insist on American Exceptionalism — that ours is a nation alone blessed by God, upon whose favor we have grown and become a beacon of freedom.
They are the same people who also believe that their government is fundamentally evil and that it became really evil when it was led by a half-black man. They believe that many of their fellow citizens are fundamentally evil and will use anything — knives, baseball bats, staplers, vats of acid, etc. — to carry out their vile deeds. That many of the institutions on which Americans have depended for centuries — a free press, a good education, stable political systems — are fundamentally evil and the problem rather than the solution.
And that only a gun — and more frequently an arsenal of guns — can protect them from that evil.
What kind of exceptionalism is that? What kind of democracy can that be?
An armed nation is not a democratic nation. It’s time for us to decide which we’d rather have.
(Photo Credit: M&R Glasgow)