As the rapper Kool A.D. says, it’s hard to answer the question of guns. Firearms, while deeply ingrained in America’s collective consciousness, are deadly, and in the style of self-fulfilling prophecy, they beget tragedies too numerous to recount. But our inability to face the violent nature of our nation’s culture and history prolongs a bloody status quo.
We all know the argument recited with ritual repetition by champions of the Second Amendment and within context, it does hold water. Having successfully revolted against the English crown, wariness of concentrating political power, especially the use of force, into a single entity befell those who took part in the constitutional process, and rightly so. At that time firearms provided a necessary, if violent, means used by the citizenry to defend against tyranny. The right to bear arms comes second only to freedom of speech, religion and association.
Considered from a different angle, one that allows us to move forward through American history, the colonization of the North American continent also necessitated an armed populace. In order to expand westward, farmers, with the help of the U.S. government, relied chiefly on violence as the means to remove Native American populations. As a child I used to watch reruns of old John Wayne and Clint Eastwood westerns, always involving a gun-slinging white man of few words who cuts down ruthlessly uncivilized Indians in the name of justice. The attraction of this narrative, which stands as a testament to how deep this celebration of violence is set in our national identity, permeates our culture and its films, television shows, books, news, advertisements, video games and play toys.
Our national history can inform our thinking on the issue of gun control. Personally, I am not someone who feels that the state should hold a monopoly on violence, and I don’t think that it is within my rights as an individual, nor is it within the rights of the government, to tell people that they cannot own guns. With that said, I don’t propose that collective gun ownership provides an adequate counterbalance to the means of violence that the government controls, and it is this idea that lies at the heart of the Second Amendment.
Our military and police forces — thanks to the weapons-industrial complex and the policing policies of Reagan that continue today under President Obama and encourage the militarization of local police and the use of military issue weaponry against American citizens as a means to combat drug use or “terrorism”— ensure that any well regulated militia stands no chance against a coercive government.
Similarly, in serious considerations of the nature of America’s gun fetish, it is best that we forget the Alamo and remember the Trail of Tears. Too often the same tropes repeat themselves throughout American history and, unfortunately, that of the crazed citizen committing unthinkable violence against innocents is becoming one of them.
We might do well to remember that such actions, when committed outside of the West, are labeled acts of terror. Writing off a school shooting as the result of mental illness is as much of a cop-out as blaming such acts on lack of gun control. That is not to say that the mentally ill do not deserve better care or that automatic weapons or hollow tip bullets should not be made illegal (they should). Rather, it is important to bear in mind that our culture is one born of violence, and it revels in it in adulthood. A serious consideration of this history and of the fundamental nature of such violent acts needs to be a part of any deliberative process if we are to hope that that process will prevent tragedy in the future. In order to do that, we must first address the fundamentally alienating aspects of modern capitalist society.
Michael Dean is a fourth-year political science major.
Rebuttal to the Right’s position:
I do not deny that our nation could be described as having a “violent” culture based on my counterpart’s criteria. What I do question is whether it could be characterized as any more violent than any other culture. Our Revolution was indeed violent, yet France’s was by any measure much more so. Modern Europeans have no problem displaying pornography on television and movies while they effectively prohibit violent images, yet many European countries have disproportionately high rates of violent crimes. I do not have nearly enough room to even begin to consider any country on any other continent. And yes, Jared Loughner, James Holmes and Adam Lanza were certifiably insane. To say that such a condition had no effect on their choices is laughably inane.