In Search of the Guns & Freedom Unicorn

December 16, 2012 7:24 p.m.

This is a disturbing article. You have to read it to get the full feel. But the gist is that over recent years the town of Newtown, CT. tried to place some limits on the rise of what might be called extreme gun-owning and shooting in the community. It wasn’t a fight between gun-owners and non-gun-owners but traditional gun owner and hunters versus people shooting close to other people’s homes, shooting at unlicensed firing ranges, firing military style weapons, even firing into explosives.In short, the opposition of the extreme gun owners and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (the country’s second largest gun-rights organization, which happens to be located in Newtown) prevented anything from happening.

Here’s the part that got to me most. It comes at the end of the piece …

On High Rock Road, where many gunfire complaints originated, what appeared to be three or more gun ranges were set back from the road.

The owner of one, Scott Ostrovsky, said he and his friends had been shooting automatic weapons since he bought the 23-acre property more than 12 years ago. It is safe, he said, because his land is sandwiched between two other gun ranges, the 123-acre Pequot hunting club and the 500-acre Fairfield club.

The explosions his neighbors hear are targets that are legally available at hunting outlets. “If you’re good old boys like we are, they are exciting,” he said. He said he was distraught at the school massacre but said guns should not be made the “scapegoat.”

“Guns are why we’re free in this country, and people lose sight of that when tragedies like this happen,” he said. “A gun didn’t kill all those children, a disturbed man killed all those children.”

There are a lot of folks who believe we’re free in the US because of guns.

It’s worth stepping back for a moment and thinking about what that means.

It is a bizarre, weirdly narcissistic notion that is totally unhinged from any of our history. It is also comparatively new. Since the close of the 18th century, there is only one time that Americans rose up in any organized fashion against the government of the United States — during the Civil War. This is obviously a significant exception and one I’ll return to. But it is not one that speaks very well about the need for guns to protect our freedoms. And in any case, since it was done by treasonous state governments that appropriated US Army forts and Navy facilities, the whole issue of private arms wasn’t a driving factor.

But back to the point — the Jacksonian drive for universal manhood suffrage, the fight against the bank of the United States, abolitionism, the women’s rights movement, progressivism, the various religious awakenings, westward expansion, industrialization, the New Deal, the Civil Rights Era. Obviously you could come up with a very different list. But we’ve been a country now for well over two centuries and we have the longest period of unbroken republican, constitutional rule of any country in the world.

We’ve expanded our freedoms, sometimes let it recede. We’ve had major blots on in our history like the post-Reconstruction era in the South or the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. It’s a rich and complex, sometimes tragic, but generally incredibly powerful and inspiring story. And yet in really not a single one of these cases has any government — state or federal — been pushed back in some moment of overreach by armed citizens or even affected in its decision-making by the knowledge of an armed citizenry.

You could imagine a very different history in which various strong men had taken power and been deposed by violent uprisings. That just hasn’t been our history.

You could certainly make the argument that all sorts of awful things might have happened if we didn’t have hobbyists at gun shows buying military grade weapons and body armor and stuff. But that’s akin to magical thinking.

Maybe my mobile devices are keeping the government in bounds too. I might say water skiing or rock music have stemmed the tide against tyranny. But you’d probably say I was crazy.

It is a bizarre fantasy, I believe of comparatively new vintage, and one that holds pretty much the entire actual history of a free people in some combination of ignorance and contempt. It’s the crazy black helicopter nonsense from the 1990s just slightly updated.

The Second Amendment really is rooted in a worldview in which gun ownership, always in a civic, if not always a formal militia context, was seen as a bulwark of liberties. I’d like to get into in a separate post just what that history is about and how it relates to today. But for the moment let’s look not at concepts but an actual lived history. Has private gun ownership helped keep us free? We’ve had two centuries to look at this one. And the results make the very idea laughable.

And yet many people now believe this. And it imparts an aura of self-righteousness to their desire to stock up private arsenals, fire off semi-automatic weapons and blow shit up. That sort of ignorance is dangerous.

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