Creation Myths

So we are going to talk gun control.

The president has been refreshingly blunt about the need for a fundamental change in our country’s gun safety regulations, addressing the issue yesterday with a surprising directness. It’s a shame it took something like this, that none of the other mass murders were terrible enough to even reconsider our current stance towards assault weapons. But better late than never, I suppose. The evidence is pretty clear that gun control policies with teeth reduce gun deaths. Yes, there are other ways to hurt someone if you’re determined to do so. Yes, knives can kill, bombs can kill, smaller arms can kill. The point of this is not to prevent all violence. The point is to make it not so goddamned easy. A knife is not the same efficient murder tool as an M4. It just isn’t.

The pro-gun lobby, meanwhile, has predictably veered off into a blind madness of blaming anything and everything except guns. Much has been made of Congressman Louis Gohmert’s wishing the principal had a loaded M4 in her office. Congressman Gohmert has been justly ridiculed for that comment, but I see that as just garden-variety armed citizen stuff. By far the second worst I’ve seen was Daily Beast Blogger Megan McCardle, who suggested that we train children to rush a shooter in a human wave attack (yes, seriously). The worst by far was Fox News personality Mike Huckabee, who just said the hell with it and went Full Metal Falwell. Gov. Huckabee is, of course, following a long tradition of religious extremists blaming unrelated tragedies on affronts against their deity, which always coincidentally seem to coincide with the extremist’s current pet political issues. But while universally repugnant, these sorts of comments typically have some sort of internal consistent logic. I honestly can’t make heads or tails out of Huckabee’s point. Gay marriage leads to… gun violence? Little help? Anybody?

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At least one thing is clear. There is a vocal, sizeable sector of the pro-gun lobby that will never, ever consider tighter regulations on even assault weapons. Not for any reason. That refusal speaks volumes. Let me be totally clear – I’m not saying definitively that restricting gun access is the answer. I believe it is part of the answer, but that’s beside the current point. The point is that – assuming nobody finds acceptable events like Newtown – refusing to even consider tighter gun laws makes plain that the pro-gun lobby is not addressing this topic rationally. From a very basic and elementary Logic 101 standpoint, reducing access to handheld, highly efficient rapid-fire weapons of mass murder will reduce the incidents of murders committed. To refuse to even consider the data that supports this point is a defiance of reason. I would argue that for the most ardent gun rights supporter, reason is beside the point.

It’s common for people of my political leanings to dismiss pro-gun people as “gun nuts” who are “scared of their shadows,” or are “compensating for something.” Such patronizing and dismissive labels are ultimately useless. They overlook the exact, extraordinary degree to which firearms are embedded in the American conscious. To a certain extent the gun culture is American culture, and has been since its inception. Every people in history has had its creation myths and larger-than-life heroes. Ancient Mesopotamia had Gilgamesh, the Greeks had Heracles, the Romans had Alexander and Aeneas. The United States has John Wayne.

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Look, I know it seems odd, explaining the American gun obsession via some half-baked esoteric anthropological theory about the mythology of how we think of ourselves. But I think it’s pretty clear that social memory runs much longer than human memory, and cultural assumptions we’d never think we still hold (certainly race comes to mind) still linger, long after the situation that created those attitudes has passed. There is a line of thought among historians, for instance, that European countries’ different attitude towards the role of the welfare state are due to Europe seeing so much more destruction than the United States did in World War II. The fight was on their land, so they saw fit to create a wider safety net. Cultural memory is counted in generations, not years. History matters.

There are several eras in our relatively brief history in which we might have developed an over-fascination with firearms. Even today you will occasionally hear some of the more… eccentric… of gun-owners claim that part of the reason for their gun collection’s existence is to keep the government in check. There was a time in American history when this might have made some sense – that time being very early in our history, of course, when both the government and the private citizen were armed with basically the same weapons. Thus far I’ve refrained from asking these gun-owners what good their shotgun will do when the government sends a tank, but I expect someday the temptation will get the better of me.

Homesteading and the expansion westward, taking place over the course of a century (and encompassing the era of much of John Wayne’s filmography) is a large, colorful memory in the American conscious. I don’t know how they’re teaching it now, but when I was in middle school the westward expansion was still taught essentially as a triumphant march to manifest destiny. A homesteader protecting his home and feeding his family with his rifle is a powerful image, one familiar to anyone my age who grew up playing “Oregon Trail” on the computers at school.

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What does any of this matter? It’s what we’re up against (“we” being those who favor tighter restriction on certain firearms). The “gun nuts” are on the other end of a lengthy cultural tradition, an intrinsic part of our creation myth. Evidence does not, and will not ever, matter to them. Widespread access to military-grade weaponry is an article of faith, impervious to contrary evidence. So while it’s nice to hear the president talking about an assault weapons ban, I have no idea how the White house plans to get such a bill through Congress. President Clinton passed the previous ban under a Democratic Legislature. Not only is the house Republican-controlled, they have refused to work with the president on almost anything. I have this sick feeling that tighter gun regulations will go the way of closing Guantanamo, stalled by GOP obstruction. We’ll see if second-term Obama’s got a little more fight in him.

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~ by kroveechernila on December 17, 2012.

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