At about this time last year, 20 six and seven year old children along with 6 adult school staff members were murdered in
the town of Sandy Hook elementary school by the mentally disturbed son of a Connecticut gun lover – whose last gift to her overtly troubled son was a check intended for the purchase of a CZ 83 pistol. As you might expect, the media has observed this sad anniversary with numerous stories evaluating the impact of that event from every possible perspective.
We’ve learned in last several days that since Sandy Hook at least 194 more children under twelve have died as a result of gun violence. We’ve learned that gun control advocates are still out there, if somewhat disheartened by the grip that the gun lobby has on the political process. And we’ve certainly learned that there are no limits to the outrageous lengths that the gun lobby will go to to limit reform, including claiming that it’s not guns that kill people, but gun laws.
Our state legislators in Missouri have mostly, with a few notable, predominantly Democratic exceptions, embraced the latter attitude. As Michael Bersin has documented here, here and here, the usual suspects are busy filing bills for the upcoming legislative session that are designed to turn Missouri into a facsimile of a glorified wild west where rugged men hold sway by virtue of their guns. There is, it’s true, HB1172, which attempts to mitigate the effect of a “stand your ground” law – but which hasn’t a prayer of a chance of passing in a legislature where guns are symbols of resistance against a world changing in ways that seems to upset a majority of white, male Missourians.
So what’s going on? How can hunters and sane gun owners object to laws that keep guns out of the hands of the Adam Lanzas of the world? How can sane folks in general want to send their kids to schools where teachers, janitors, and what-have-you, are toting guns in order to “protect” the students? What normal person wants to be confronted by gun-slinging hotheads at Starbucks when we go for Saturday coffee? And what kind of idiots think we have to resort to silly and unconstitutional “tenther” strategies for no reason other than to insure just these types of outcomes?
Last night on PBS I saw a Bill Moyers’ interview (available here in video or transcript) with cultural historian Richard Slotkin that suggests some answers to similar questions about the irrational hold gun mythology has on the psyche of some Americans. Slotkin, who has specialized in exploring the roots of violence in America, makes many excellent points, but I was especially taken with his taxonomy of gun supporters:
Well, I think the extreme gun rights position, so called, some once called it “gun-damentalism” connects on a kind of spectrum to more normative attitudes. You have, as I said, reasonable gun owners. Then you have the American consumer. The American consumer looks at the gun as it’s a piece of property. The American consumer wants to use his property without restraint, wants to throw his plastic water bottle wherever he pleases, wants to drive a gas-guzzler, wants to play his boom box loud.
Which is a crude way to put it, and yet I think there’s a lot to that. Nobody wants to be bothered registering their weapons. Take it a level down from that or level further out from that, there’s an ideological level which really kicks in around the time of the Reagan presidency in which gun rights is a very powerful symbol for the deregulation of everything. If you can deregulate that, you can deregulate anything.
And then the last level is what I’d call the paranoid level, the people who think that they have a Second Amendment right to resist Obamacare– that the constitution protects their right to resist the government, that that’s what the Second Amendment is about.
And that’s dangerous stupidity and nonsense. But it uses the language of liberty and rights that we’re used to thinking of in other contexts. And if you think of all of the rights in the Bill of Rights, haven’t they been extended and expanded over the years? Why not Second Amendment rights as well?
And that’s the level at which it gets pernicious. But their appeal, their ability to control the debate, I think, comes because their position coincides with the interest of the Reaganite ideologue who doesn’t want to regulate anything and the consumer who simply doesn’t want to be bothered.
Sounds about right to me. Picture my favorite paranoid bullyboy, GOP State Senator Brian Neives, for instance, or the currently infamous State Rep. Casey Guernsey (R-2), both of whom have prominently employed massively overblown, faux-heroic freedom and guns rhetoric, when you consider this further comment by Slotkin on the topic of just what kind of person it is who makes up the more deluded and paranoid rump of the anti-gun control agitators:
… I’ve always felt that it has something to do, in many cases, with a sense of lost privilege, that men and white men in the society feel their position to be imperiled and their status called into question. And one way to deal with an attack on your status in our society is to strike out violently.
The world is changing fast. Thirteen states have legalized gay marriage. We have a black president; we may very well have a woman president soon. After years of right wing and corporate resistance, we have actually done something to bring our country more in line with other industrialized nations as far as healthcare goes. Social precepts that were valid seemingly just yesterday are now in doubt. Do you wonder why those who depend on a vanishing status quo to preserve their sense of order and privilege are responding in what seems to the rest of us to be a disproportionate, even deranged manner? What we can know for sure is that we’d all better be very concerned about how these frightened and rage-filled individuals are fetishising guns in the process of acting out against their fears of social displacement.