Land of Guns

We’ve gotten a lot of great, powerful emails this afternoon in response to the shooting in Connecticut. I’ll be printing some of them this afternoon and this evening. The opponents of gun control argue that the gun control regulations on offer wouldn’t prevent these tragedies. And in most of the cases they’re right, at least in the narrow sense. Most of these people bought legally, didn’t have a history of mental illness, didn’t buy at a gunshow etc.

They’re both right and not right — in part because what we generally mean by ‘gun control’ only operates on the very fringes of the problem. The key is grasping this is that there’s a culture of violence, particularly a culture of gun violence that pervades American society. It’s particularly rooted in the South. But it’s worth noting that most of the recent mass shootings have happened outside the South. We know this. Our lax gun laws are rooted in this. They didn’t create it, though they exist in a mutually reinforcing, symbiotic relationship.Part of the point of my earlier post is that you’d need pretty draconian gun laws — things that seem profoundly implausible in anything like the political reality we have today — to change the equation when you have 300 million firearms in the country and half the country owning them. That is simply not going to happen. Not without some profound transformation of thinking.

So email one from TPM Reader JH

In America, guns are part of our culture. They symbolize power, protection, and even righteousness. This isn’t a product of Hollywood or video games, for they only reflect who we are. I think our national conversation about guns should start with what is blindingly obvious today: guns are not cool. Maybe if we treat our 300 million firearms as a sombre reality instead of a source of pride and power, fewer unstable people will look to them in times of personal crisis.

And email two from TPM Reader AY

I’m a gun owner and a hunter who is otherwise on the far left end of the Democratic party spectrum. I grew up in Oklahoma, where hunting and a respect for gun culture were just a part of growing up. I understand and believe in the need to protect the rights of hunters, and I even understand the impulse of the libertarian right to protect private citizens’ right to bear arms in a nation governed by an increasingly invasive security state. I also believe in legislation that would radically limit the clip sizes of semiautomatic weapons, and ban some assault rifles and handguns outright.

I know people on all sides of the gun control issue, and I’ll tell you what a lot of liberals don’t realize: there are a lot of gun owners (especially hunters) who agree with me. What precludes reasonable conversations from occurring, I think, is not only the monstrosity of the NRA, but also the tone-deaf proclamations issued in the wake of gun tragedies by urban liberals who do not understand rural gun culture.

Many moderate gun owners I know feel as if the mainstream of the Democratic party are out to wage a war against hunters and responsible gun owners. They view gun control advocates as classist, regionalist snobs. I don’t think that is true, but its hard to argue that point when articles like this reinforce that view so explicitly.

It’s time for more reasonable heads to prevail. We don’t need blanket proclamations about the evil nature of guns (something TPM has admirably steered away from). We do need to talk about clip size and the availability of cheap handguns. Talking about concealed carry laws – as silly as they may seem – feels counterproductive. These tragic shootings are not, it seems, being carried out by those gun owners who pass the test for the permits, and among the moderate gun advocates I know, restricting permitted concealed carry seems to be a hot button topic that closes down debate.

There’s a lot to think, feel about, be angry and reflect on. I won’t try to unpack all of that now. But there’s some reordering of values and tolerances that is necessary here along with different laws. I don’t think guns are evil, not just literally but also not in the sense that AY is getting at. But there’s a level of fascination, a projection of safety and power and assertion and domination associated with firearms in our culture, something approaching a worship that is rooted in our culture and seems to be growing. I don’t think this changes without pushing back that arc of change.