It never occurred to me to ask my father for an automatic rifle for Christmas, at sixteen or any other age. If I had, my father — among the 54,000 Americans who stormed the shores of Normandy on D-Day in World War II — would have (a) had my head examined, as they used to say, and (b) seriously questioned himself, as in, where did he go wrong raising me?
If only such attitudes about guns and gun ownership were the norm now. US civilians own an estimated 120 firearms per 100 residents. This rate of ownership is 50% higher than it was the day President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Gun Control Act of 1968. Johnson marked that occasion with the statement, “Today we begin to disarm the criminal and the careless and the insane.” Or not, as it were. The Act certainly did nothing to reduce the number of gun fetishers, who view any regulation of firearms as the moral equivalent of castration. Instead, their numbers have swelled and their fetish has been normalized.
While fear for one’s safety is often cited as the reason for our high rate of gun ownership, psychiatric researcher Dr. Joseph Pierre pointed out that “the largest demographic of gun owners in the US are white men living in rural communities [who have] higher incomes and greater ratings of life happiness than non-owners. These findings suggest a mismatch between subjective fear and objective reality.” In other words, many gun owners don’t fear for their safety as much as they feel unmanly without a gun. That is why, Pierre noted, “the threat of gun restrictions [remains] an important driver of gun acquisition.”
I often refer to U.S. Gun Obsessive Disorder (or GOD) as a fetish, but a better analogy might be mass addiction. The tobacco industry was able to convince hundreds of millions of Americans it was cool to smoke cigarettes, despite the fact that doing so killed people. The gun industry has managed to accomplish the same thing, using the patriotic allure of the U.S. Constitution, rather than nicotine, as its lethal hook.
Or maybe GOD is not a fetish or addiction but an auto-immune disease. Our constitution (not the bodily one) enshrines the people’s right to bear arms, a last-resort line of defense against tyranny. But the deceptively short sentence which expresses that right has been hijacked and perversely turned against ourselves by viral agents like the NRA. Every new insult of mass gun violence, which should — in a healthy organism — stimulate a healing response, instead provokes the gun nuts to marshal their forces and attack any perceived threat to gun ownership, inflaming the situation rather than resolving it.
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“I live in Tennessee. Good luck coming here and get anyone’s guns,” remarked one fan of professional inflamer Tucker Carlson after one of Carlson’s fear-mongering rants last year. “Most people I know would rather be dead than give up their guns,” said the Tennessean. This prompted a barrage of me-too replies:
“Same with most people here in Michigan that i have talked to/know”
Same in Kentucky”
“Good luck in Alaska. Everyone is armed”
“Texas here too”
These were followed by an incoherent rant by someone named “Annie Ray” who sounds disturbingly like Payton Gendron, the Buffalo supermarket shooter:
“Demorcrat want us dead you know The old population control trick, we’ve been sought out every since president Trump went by Law and Order and respectful for our constitution. We real AMERICAN PEOPLE have decades of this country it’s OURS and I believe it’s time for us who will to UNITE and take back what’s rightfully OURS“
Payton Gendron is behind bars at the moment, but the real identity and whereabouts of “Annie Ray” are unknown. Probably armed, possibly dangerous, but definitely not alone in her paranoia. We discount the Annie Rays out there at our peril.
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Things are so different now, with respect to guns, than when my parents raised me. I had a toy cap gun, which I no more saw as a stand-in for the real thing than baseball cards were for live players — it created no desire in me for a real gun. Real guns, I understood, were part of another world, a very adult and responsible and intimidating world, where guns implied death and not something to embrace if you could possibly help it. That’s the message I got from my parents, even though I don’t recall any explicit warnings or lessons.
That attitude about guns seems quaint now. It certainly wasn’t the attitude of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley (Oxford, Michigan), 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse (Kenosha, Wisconsin), or 18-year-old Payton Gendron (Buffalo, New York). For them, guns were part of life.
Whether America’s gun disorder is a fetish, an addiction or an infection, it is evident that our culture is sick and our response to gun violence is pathetic. The only remedy, I think, will come from the next generation. So my message to today’s parents: if you want your children to make this country great, then put away your guns and don’t pass along your resentments. Teach and show kids kindness and how to deal with life’s unfairness.
I’m not sure there is any other answer.