We need to deepen our thinking about guns. About our relationship to guns.
In this agonizing renewal of the ancient controversy over gun control we are, as with abortion, polarized into two rigid camps, both to some extent in denial of nuances of actual experience, actual feeling.
We all learn from early schooling that, as Mao put it, all political power comes out of the barrel of a gun. (Just because Mao said it doesn’t make it wrong.) Our founding revolution, the Civil War it took to hold us together, WW2, our finest moment. Guns indispensable to all.
In a certain real sense we owe everything– our civilization and all the privileges and pleasures thereof– to guns.
The proposition now before us is for citizens to leave guns behind, to delegate their use, to allow ourselves to trust the civilization that guns earned us. If we do this, statistics show, if we become a less gun-saturated society, we will have more of the peace and security that seems the essence of civilization. Fewer deaths of innocent children and others. Statistics show that other countries born out of violence have achieved this. But we find it hard to let go of guns.
Couple of items:
In my early 20s, my wife and I were about to embark on a cross -country trip whenI read a story in the newspaper about a couple camping on a road trip somewhere in Nevada running into some bad guys, the wife raped in front of the husband, both eventually butchered. Our trip would take us through that same area. Having little money for motels, we too would be camping at night. Thinking I better do what I could to protect us, I went to a sporting goods store to buy a gun, which in those days in California was about as simple as that. Having no knowledge of guns, I chose the handsomest pistol, one with a burled maple handle. It was only a .22 but I appreciated that I had by this purchase become a potential killer.
Thus armed and dangerous we made it safely across the Wild West. The gun did in fact afford at least the illusion of security.
I’m not sure quite what to make of that episode now, beyond that clearly it connects me to the NRA slogan, “When guns are outlawed only the outlaws will have guns.” I was one of those who don’t trust civilization won by the gun enough to give up the gun. Looking back, I still don’t know what else I could or should have done.
I can’t remember what happened to that gun but I have not owned one since.
I recently viewed a movie re-run on the same subject. In “Death Sentence“ (2007) Kevin Bacon plays a middle class professional who when his son is killed by a gang, takes the law into his own hands, arming himself with a variety of assault weapons, with devastating consequences.
The movie is ostensibly an argument against such vigilante behavior, showing Bacon looking more and more like his vicious skinhead adversaries. But like Charles Bronson “Death Wish” movies, like the revered “Pulp Fiction,” it manipulates us to love the violence, the revenge. (Even Al Pacino ‘s “Scarface” blazing away with a machine gun: “Say hello to my leetle fren”–hard not to love such moments. A handgun just wouldn’t be the same. ).
The vigilante is the best person in the world of that film, better than the cautious police who warn against revenge, better than the hapless legal system, better than the loving wife who is only frightened by her husband’s ferocity in behalf of her and their children. If anything, civilization ends up the bad guy.
It seems clear that in the world envisioned by those of us who want strict gun control this genre would disappear, not from censorship but because it would be so objectionable that no filmmaker would make it, any more than a racist film is likely to be made these days.
The question is: how do we get to that world from this one?