Guns And American Culture Don’t Mean What You Think They Mean.

The Addison Gallery at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA is currently running an exhibition, Gun Country, comprised of photos, paintings, drawings and other visual artifacts about guns. The museum refers to this collection as showing ‘America’s fascination with the gun,’ but a staff writer for the art blog Hyperallergic, Seph Rodney, has decided that what this exhibition really shows is that “guns are a principal symbol of our sense of masculinity and power for our culture.”

addison            Even though it has become a watchword of the gun-control movement that America’s love affair with guns is a function of the degree to which our society is still controlled by power-hungry, white men (read: Donald Trump), I think that what Rodney is saying happens to be a load of crap. And the reason I say that is because if America’s socio-economic-political structures reflect the dominance of white males who use guns to symbolize their masculinity and strength, how come the rest of Western civilization isn’t also awash in guns?

Oh, I forgot. We are the only Western country where white men settled a whole frontier armed with their trusty six-shooters and Winchester repeating rifles, so guns play a special role in our culture and historical consciousness that they don’t play anywhere else.  Another load of crap.

In 1934, then-Attorney General Homer Cummings proposed the first piece of federal legislation to regulate the ownership of small arms, a bill which became law and is known as the National Firearms Act, a.k.a. the NFA.  Given the existence of the 2nd Amendment, Cummings wanted a law that would make it legal for Americans to own guns, as long as these weapons were not too dangerous for civilian use. Hence, the appearance of the NFA list of ‘prohibited’ weapons (machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, silencers and a few other things) which still exists today.

What is not generally known about the NFA was that Cummings initially put handguns on the ‘prohibited’ list. These particular products were then removed from the NFA list before the bill became law. Now it is usually assumed that the decision to let Americans have free access to handguns (thus creating the contemporary problem known as ‘gun violence’) was because of successful lobbying by the NRA, as well as the genuine love and devotion that our culture promoted regarding the existence and use of guns.  More crap.

The reason why the U.S. government didn’t disarm the civilian population in 1934, whereas other Western governments disarmed their civilian populations shortly after World War II by copying the NFA but putting handguns and semi-automatic rifles on the ‘prohibited’ list, is because America was the only industrialized country whose political system hadn’t been threatened by armed, mobilized, mass protests from the Left.  We were the only advanced country whose labor movement wasn’t tied to revolutionary Socialist and Communist political parties; we were the only advanced country which never suffered from violent, countrywide work stoppages and strikes; we were the only advanced country in which personal ownership of weapons wasn’t ever considered to be a threat to the security of the state.

What I find so funny and ironic about the dopes walking around with an AR slung over their shoulder and tell us that it’s the gun that keeps them ‘free,’ is that these are the same jerks who tell you that they need a gun to protect themselves from the ‘tyranny’ of government, except that the current government adopts and promotes social and economic policies which happen to be based on what that same government believes will be supported by the more guns = more freedoms crowd.

The first and last time a President believed that protestors outside the White House represented a threat to law and order was when the President was named Nixon and remember what happened to him. Now maybe the idiot in the Oval Office also represents a threat to the Constitution,  and if so, he’s a much bigger threat to the country than all the noise and nonsense coming from the NRA.

 

 

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Khalil Spencer: The Gun War Is Joined.

I’ve said before that the firearms community should be involved in firearms violence prevention. Two reasons come to mind. One, we know more about firearms than the typical non-shooter. Two, we need to engage and try to reduce the harm out there while moderating the discussion. Unfortunately, the loudest voices are not always the most careful ones. While some of the gun violence prevention folks tend to suggest ideas that many gun owners loathe, the 2nd Amendment purists are typically the Party of No, regardless of the question.

spencer2As a result of the latest high school shooting in Florida, all Hell is breaking loose on the “gun prevention”, so to speak, side. An example is the Sunday editorial in the Santa Fe New Mexican, which pretty much threw everything the Editorial Board could think of at gun owners and then tossed the kitchen sink along for good measure. Given the blood-soaked circumstances, who can blame them? Among the suggestions are”…bans on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, better background checks and numerous other laws…an amendment to the state constitution removing the prohibition on local governments passing any gun restrictions, or even rewriting a provision upholding gun rights…” A law abiding citizen who has never raised a gun in anger might find himself or herself suddenly on the wrong side of the law simply by virtue of having bought a gun with a 12 rd magazine. Its not even about “common sense gun laws” but about retaliation for the NRA and GOP’s intransigence and, as many Progressives would like to do, make many if not most of today’s modern, high capacity semiauto guns (see below) scarce and inconvenient to own.

But protecting the 2A, and the state constitution’s analog, from emasculation should not have as a price tag more and more bullet-spattered schools, theatres, and churches. Something is going seriously wrong in the country and its not just one issue but as our Los Alamos Catholic priest said yesterday, a host of variables are responsible of which the firearm is the enabler, even if the culture is the ultimate culprit. As anyone who reads knows, we have always had guns. Lots of them. Actual household ownership rates are probably down even as sheer numbers have gone up (based on recent research). What’s changed?

When I was a teen, I legally carried a box of 22 Long Rifle ammo to school in my book bag as I was a member of the Rifle Club. One could mail order a rifle or walk into the local K Mart and see racks and racks of military surplus, “NRA-Fair-Good-Excellent” rifles that could be had for a few greenbacks. Indeed, these could be had without telling your life story to the FBI’s NICS system as these were pre-background check days.  Most of those surplus guns were purchased to be modified to be sporting and hunting rifles. We didn’t have endless mass shootings by me-too youths, or self-styled militias of the right and left parading under banners of intolerance. Its the culture that has changed, and in part, the kinds of guns flying off the shelves reflects the change in culture. Guns used to be primarily for sport and secondarily for guarding the hearth. Nowdays, Gun Culture 2.0, as Wake Forest Sociology Professor David Yamane calls it, is about self defense and even the shooting sports reflect that, i.e., NRA Precision Pistol has given way to International Defensive Pistol Association matches. The look and function of the guns follows the paradigm shift. Black rifles, high capacity or pocket pistols, and short barrelled shotguns with only a pistol grip to make them street legal replace Grandpa or Dad’s Model 70 Winchester or Smith and Wesson revolver.When you are planning for a personal defense moment, more bullets are better. My concern, articulated here before, is that Maslow’s Hammer has become, in part due to this paradigm-shift in gun culture, Maslow’s Handgun.

I think those of us who enjoy firearms need to hustle over to the Middle of the Road and help find some solutions. For the life of me, I don’t know why an immature nineteen year old with emotional problems should be able to walk out of a gun store with a weapon designed to control a battlefield, no questions, other than the innocuous NICS ones, asked. As I have said before, anyone old enough to get a driver’s license can drive. Not everyone is allowed to drive a Freightliner. If I want to drive a Freightliner, I owe it to society to show I can handle it safely.

As far as armed teachers and the like? Aside from the fact that teachers are underpaid as it is while not being asked to get into firefights with heavily armed terrorists, surprise matters. Pearl Harbor showed that its not enough to be armed. A school shooting is a surprise attack, and will succeed just as the Japanese naval air forces succeeded. Sure, someone can eventually shoot back to limit the damage but meanwhile, people are getting shot. More guns is not the answer. More sanity, perhaps, is.

What Would Happen If Americans Didn’t Own Guns?

The NRA keeps saying that if HRC is elected, the first thing she will do is confiscate all the guns.  So that got me thinking.  What would happen if the guns were taken away?  Or to put it more specifically, what would happen if America implemented licensing for gun ownership similar to what exists in the rest of the OECD?  Such a system would mean the immediate disappearance of assault weapons, the gradual disappearance of small, concealable handguns and the remaining firearms (true sporting rifles and shotguns) being regulated to varying degrees. The number of guns manufactured and imported each year would drop by more than half, but the revenue loss of roughly $13 billion in a GDP of almost $18 trillion would hardly be noticed at all.

conference-program-pic            On the other hand, what would the absence of guns mean to public health and crime?  As to the former, there would probably be some drop in the 20,000 suicides that occur each year with guns, but the evidence also suggests that there would be a ‘substitution’ effect, meaning that many, if not most suicide-prone individuals would find other means for ending their lives.  As for unintentional injuries from guns, as the total number of guns in civilian hands declined, so would the number of injuries, but the medical costs of gun accidents is less than .001% of the medical costs racked up each year for treating all unintentional injuries, hardly a major component in driving costs of medical care.

As for intentional gun injuries, for the sake of argument, let’s place annual gun assaults midway between FBI and CDC, or roughly 100,000.  That’s still only 15% of all serious assaults which might not be committed if guns couldn’t be used, but I suspect that the ‘substitution’ effect here would also render the difference less, because our overall assault rate is not much different than average assault rates throughout the OECD.  As for the argument that our homicide rate would be much lower if we didn’t have easy access to guns, this is perhaps true.  But in 2014 the U.S. still racked up almost 5,000 homicides without guns, substantially higher than most of the OECD.

In all of the arguments being made about strictly regulating guns however, what seems to be missed is the effects of gun absence on gun owners themselves.  Because there are somewhere around 30 million households that contain legal guns, and of the 60 million or so legal gun owners, at least 5 million define their life-styles, the social milieu, their culture and cultural beliefs in terms of guns. So what happens to these folks and their everyday existence if they can’t have access to guns?

When I was growing up in the 1950s, I had lots of toy guns but what I really took pride in was my collection of Lionel trains.  The trains and the room-wide track display eventually disappeared, both for me and for just about everyone else who loved model trains.  By the time my children were old enough to play with model trains, they were sitting in front of a television set playing Nintendo and collecting video games.

For that matter, when I was in my twenties and thirties, I don’t recall all that many cars on I-91 going towards New Hampshire and Vermont with kayaks on top or backpacks and tents behind.  Times change, styles change, leisure activities change – the market will always find a way to satisfy our desire to accumulate objects we really want but don’t need.

Which is exactly the problem with guns.  More than 30,000 people die and another 70,000+ are injured each year because Americans have free access to something they really don’t need.  So the issue of how and why to regulate this product doesn’t come down to numbers at all.  It comes down to a moral imperative which says that we should not sanction the use of violence in the ordinary course of human affairs – neither violence towards ourselves or towards anyone else.

Want More Americans To Buy Guns? Put One In Everyone’s Hands

Back in 1835, the French Chronicler Alexis de Tocqueville published his remarkable portrait of our country, Democracy in America, which retains an extraordinary clarity and insightful awareness to the present day. Based largely on conversations between the author and Americans he met as he went hither and yon, the two-volume work captured much of what we still believe makes America an exceptional country both in terms of word and deed.

Two things that made America exceptional, according to de Tocqueville, was our individualism and our penchant for violence, both of which he believed reflected the degree to which most of America in the 1830s was still largely a frontier zone.  What connected individualism and violence, according to de Tocqueville, was the apparent willingness of Americans to settle disputes without recourse to any government authority, and to use weapons to settle disputes, in particular knives and guns. This strikingly American cultural trait remains true to this day, expressed most directly in the current argument about guns. Stop and think about it: gun-control advocates have established a clear link between elevated homicide rates and access to guns; pro-gun advocates claim that the risks of gun ownership are far outweighed by the degree to which guns protect us from crime. Take your pick either way, the fact is that as regards the current argument about guns, what de Tocqueville understood about American culture in the 1830s appears to be alive and well in the present day.

pink gun                Ultimately what is going to resolve the debate about guns and gun violence is how guns fit into our overall culture, and right now on this issue America seems to be split.  On the one hand for the first time a clear majority of Americans believe that guns keep us safe.  On the other hand, despite the upward spike of gun sales since you-know-who moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the percentage of American homes with guns sitting around continues to decline.  And believe it or not, I believe that these two seemingly contradictory trends will not only continue, but will become even more pronounced over time. Why do I say this?

First, the demographics that are averse to gun ownership will continue to drive the population profile of America as a whole, by which I mean millennials, single women, racial and ethnic minorities, new immigrants, in other words, everyone except older White men.  And White males between ages 30 – 60 still own most of the guns. A recent poll of registered voters in New York State showed that virtually all the groups except older White men overwhelmingly supported the restrictive new SAFE Act that will, at least in the case of New York, no doubt result in fewer guns.

At the same time, the media and popular culture continues to promote guns and gun violence as a basic theme.  Of the ten most popular movies released this year, half involve multiple shooting scenes with good guys getting shot by bad guys or the other way around.  So Hollywood still believes that we respond to settling arguments with guns.

Remember when the local bowling alley was a place where the family would spend Sunday afternoon because the backyard barbeque was rained out?  To be sure, there were always a few lanes being used by serious bowlers who were practicing for their next league match, but most of us went bowling just to have some fun.  I think the idea of shooting ranges becoming destinations for family fun may be coming into its own; an operation like Colonial Shooting is a far cry from the nasty and overly-serious range environments that cater to the hard-core shooting crowd.  If the NRA would stop taking itself so seriously and stop trying to convince everyone that they need to walk around with a gun, the industry might actually begin to attract all those outliers whose natural curiosity will motivate them to shoot guns even if they have no interest in owning one.  And you never know, put a gun in someone’s hands and they might actually want to keep it there.