Somethin’ Happening Here


Today’s “abbreviated pundit roundup” at Daily Kos has a lot of good links to articles about firearms. One of them is “As a gun owner, I agree with Obama’s proposed ban on high-capacity magazines” by Kirk R. Wythers, from the Christian Science Monitor.

The first time my grandfather watched me feed five shells into my gun, he looked at me soberly and said, “Nobody needs more than three shells. If you miss with the first two, you’re probably going to miss with the third.”

I thought of this today after reading Josh Marshall’s long piece on being a member of the non-gun tribe.

It’s customary and very understandable that people often introduce themselves in the gun debate by saying, ‘Let me be clear: I’m a gun owner.’

Well, I want to be part of this debate too. I’m not a gun owner and, as I think as is the case for the more than half the people in the country who also aren’t gun owners, that means that for me guns are alien. And I have my own set of rights not to have gun culture run roughshod over me. …

… A big part of gun versus non-gun tribalism or mentality is tied to the difference between city and rural. And a big reason ‘gun control’ in the 70s, 80s and 90s foundered was that in the political arena, the rural areas rebelled against the city culture trying to impose its own ideas about guns on the rural areas. And there’s a reality behind this because on many fronts the logic of pervasive gun ownership makes a lot more sense in sparsely populated rural areas than it does in highly concentrated city areas.

But a huge amount of the current gun debate, the argument for the gun-owning tribe, amounts to the gun culture invading my area, my culture, my part of the country. So we’re upset about massacres so the answer is more guns. Arming everybody. There’s a lot of bogus research (widely discredited) purporting to show that if we were all armed we’d all be safer through a sort of mutually assured destruction, pervasive deterrence. As I said, the research appears to be bogus. But even if it was possible that we could be just as safe with everyone armed as no one armed, I’d still want no one armed. Not at my coffee shop or on the highway or wherever. Because I don’t want to carry a gun. And I don’t want to be around armed people.

Do read both pieces entirely. Josh’s point about rural versus urban is one I made a long time ago, and again here. I grew up in rural Missouri and eventually ended up in the New York metropolitan area, and I full well appreciate why New Yorkers don’t want guns around. And it’s not because they are “elitists” who think they are better than rubes. It’s because guns represent a much greater threat in high population density areas. As I wrote earlier,

After living here awhile, I came to understand why. New Yorkers habitually seek safety in numbers. If you keep to areas where there are lots of other people, you are generally safer than if you are somewhere isolated. New Yorkers prefer subway cars and elevators with at least a couple of other people inside, even if the other people are strangers. They stay in well-lit, high-traffic areas.

In short, they insulate themselves from harm with lots of nearby human flesh. Thick crowds of strangers that an Ohioan would find suffocating are comforting to a New Yorker. The thought that somebody in the flesh shield might whip out a gun and start shooting that flesh is more frightening to New Yorkers than the burglaries that worried my neighbors in Ohio.

If you aren’t used to living here, the density can be hard to imagine. Last summer some guy shot another guy in the vicinity of the Empire State Building, and the NYPD came and shot the shooter. They also shot nine bystanders. And I don’t think that means the NYPD are worse-than-average shots. I know the area; there easily were thousands of people within range of those firearms. “Clean” shots may have been impossible.

But I want to come back to Josh’s description of the two tribes of gun-owners and non-gun-owners, and that guns are part of American tradition. In my experience, the American traditional gun owner was more like Kirk R. Wythers’s grandfather, who didn’t see the point in loading more than three shells at a time. Today’s gun loon is a relatively new sort of critter, driven by a relatively new social/cultural pathology that is causing lesser-educated white men in large parts of the country to see the possession of military weapons as somehow necessary to their self-esteem, and even their very existence. It’s not surprising there is a growing threat from far-right terrorist groups.

How did this start? I dimly remember some talk about stockpiling weapons when John F. Kennedy was elected, because Ozark Mountain folk were afraid of a Catholic president, but that died down pretty quickly. Other than that, the obsession with having to be armed to the teeth in case one has to overthrow the government is just not something one heard in the 1950s and even the 1960s, even in the rural Midwest. This is not traditional. There is something else going on here.

See also “Hannity, Shapiro, and the Politics of Situational Patriotism.”

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  1. giantslor  •  Jan 19, 2013 @5:17 am

    Excellent post.

  2. Bill Bush  •  Jan 19, 2013 @7:24 am


    And now for something completely off topic: a David Brooks teardown complete with facts and a chart in color! Maha B. needs some amusing morning reading, which is only fair since the rest of us have her gun column.

  3. c u n d gulag  •  Jan 19, 2013 @8:36 am

    As you all know, I grew up in NYC until 11, and then not too far away in the Mid-Hudson Valley, and returned to live there for a decade.
    And I didn’t grow up around guns. But I did grow up around a lot of people. The rural person finds comfort and solace in open spaces – I am, frankly, scared. I don’t even like the suburbs – too much space. I like apartments – people below, and to the left and right of me (preferably, no one above, so you don’t have to hear creaking floors, or people stomping around),

    I couldn’t live in a lonely house in the open. I can live in apartments, and suburbia.
    Because of “In Cold Blood,” I couldn’t live out in the “country” like that. And I can understand why people would feel the need to be armed out there. And entire family in Kansas was murdered, ‘in cold blood’ – stabbed, and shot to death.
    And sure, that was a pretty isolate incident, but I wouldn’t want to live out in the open like that.
    And in NYC, when I was a kid, we had the famous case of Kitty Genovese. She was murdered a few minutes drive from where I was a child, sleeping, in Queens.
    A murder in NYC is not so isolated an incident. What made this case famous, was that people in nearby apartments heard her screamng as she was being stabbed to death, and did nothing about it:

    And to me, the difference between the two cases, is that in that house in the open spaces, people would have screamed, gunshots would have rung out – but there was no one to hear it, except the dying, those about to die, and the killers.
    In Queens, plenty of people heard her screams, but ignored them for a long time. THAT was what was new about the case. Usually, someone would have at least phoned the police right away – if not run out there to help her.
    Would a gun have helped her if she had one? Possibly – we’ll never know. The gun could just as easily have been taken from her, when she was attacked. This sometimes happens. Or, if she pulled it out, and missed, the bullet(s) could have struck people in apartments nearby. That, now that more people in cities have guns, happens more often than it did when I was a child. There are the “drive-by” murders you read about. But there are also those murdered while in their apartments, looking out windows, or, even asleep in their beds.

    And so, we have two gun cultures.
    One, in rural areas, where guns are appreciated, and sometimes even necessary, is understandable. It’s a culture where guns may not only be desireable to hunt with, but may also may be needed for home defense. Also, to protect people and livestock from animals – like alligators, bears, wolves, mountain lions, etc…

    The other, in urban areas, where guns mean crime – or defense from crime. Only.

    Stray bullets in rural areas, whether from hunting that miss the target, or in home defense that miss a perpetrator, might hit a haystack, a rabbit, or, another room if the gun is fired inside the house. Possibly someone in that room.
    Stray bullets in an urban area, will likely hit another building, or car, or person. The gun has no place in an urban area – except to defend the person or home against others with guns. There’d be no need for guns while walking around, or for home defense, if there we none available to robbers, or gangs. And THAT is why people like Josh Marshall and I don’t want to be around guns.

    And so, this cultural divide is much the same as what we’ve had here in this country since it was first founded. I wrote about this in the comments here awhile back, not too long ago, and, since this string of word-turds is already pretty long, I won’t bore you with again.
    I’ll just sum it up – the main problems in this country remain the same. Our Founding Fathers not only made concessions on race, but on space. The more rural Southern areas were afraid that the more urban Northern areas would eventually have all of the power in government, and demanded concessions. One of which was, that while slaves weren’t treated like citizens, they still had status for their owners as 3/5ths of a person, for purposes of being represented in Congress.
    So, our present gun ‘conflict,’ has its roots in the old issues of race, and space.

  4. chris  •  Jan 19, 2013 @10:54 am

    “in case one has to overthrow the government”

    To take up arms against one’s own country is an act of treason, is it not?

  5. maha  •  Jan 19, 2013 @11:17 am

    To take up arms against one’s own country is an act of treason, is it not?

    Do read “Hannity, Shapiro, and the Politics of Situational Patriotism.”

  6. c u n d gulag  •  Jan 19, 2013 @10:58 am

    Apperently not if there’s a Black guy who’s the leader.

  7. goatherd  •  Jan 19, 2013 @10:58 am

    Cundgulag, a few days ago, I heard a guest on our local show, “Charlotte Talks” sum it up perfectly. He said that the institution of slavery necessitated a police state. From what I have read and heard from historians, the old South was less free in many ways, including requiring travel papers in some instances and having free speech “honored more in the breach than the observation.” –These “kind of relate” to your point.

    I guess, I am halfway between a gun owner and a non-gun person. We have some guns, mostly inherited. I grew up in a rural area where guns were part of the culture. It wasn’t unusual for kids to start hunting at a very early age, which in retrospect, seems on the edge of insanity to me now. I lost two friends to hunting accidents by the time I was twelve. (I know this is a claim occasionally made dishonestly, but, I assure you, it is true in may case.) They were both killed the same way, the person walking beside them stopped to attend to their gun. One of the shotguns was missing its trigger guard. –I may have written about this before, so I claim the codger’s prerogative to repeat myself, with an apology.

    For the reasons above, I do know how to safely hand a gun. Recently, we’ve had bobcats and coyotes close at hand. (Seven bobcat sightings within a month!) But, a moments reflection told me that a gun wasn’t the answer unless they were inside the goat pen, actually killing goats. Even in a rural area a stray shot is a dangerous thing and a stray shot is highly likely under circumstances where it may be dark and emotions are agitated. “Pulling a Cheney” would be very possible. After talking to a wildlife biologist, we decided motion controlled lighting was a better choice.

    The “non-gun” part of me is that I tolerate guns, because there might be the occasion of a severely wounded animal needing a quick end to suffering. But, it pretty much ends there. Our guns are about the least precious things we have. I don’t give a rat’s bum about them. If someone came to grab them tomorrow with a “buyback” deal. I would be happy as a clam to be rid of them.

    Well, I am doing the codger thing of going on too long. But, I would like to say, Josh Marshall has written a very interesting and insightful article as usual.

  8. maha  •  Jan 19, 2013 @11:12 am

    He said that the institution of slavery necessitated a police state. From what I have read and heard from historians, the old South was less free in many ways, including requiring travel papers in some instances and having free speech “honored more in the breach than the observation.” –These “kind of relate” to your point.

    That’s an interesting point, and not the first time I’ve heard it. The Old Antebellum South did not tolerate anti-slavery speech. State governments imprisoned people — white people, I might add — who spoke out against slavery. Several states banned Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as I recall. Newspapers that didn’t reflect the opinion of the plantation owners saw their printing presses busted up. That didn’t happen a lot, though. Newspaper owners knew where their bread was buttered.

  9. c u n d gulag  •  Jan 19, 2013 @10:59 am

    Or, come to think about it, anytime a Democrat is the leader.

  10. biggerbox  •  Jan 19, 2013 @12:35 pm

    I’m increasingly noticing the way some ‘gun rights’ people seem to treat guns as totem objects, and the degree to which they are fanatically concerned with people “taking their guns away”. The idea that our dysfunctional body politic could even manage to organize such a thing seems absurd to me, yet to them it’s a key organizing principle of their lives, which are dedicated to opposing it.

    It reminds me of the fierce way some toddlers get about cuddly toys, clinging to it at all times, and instantly getting angry about any perceived attempt at taking it, or touching it, or looking at it the wrong way.

    There is a strange emotional component which is interfering with a rational discussion. It’s about “you can’t tell ME what to do”, and it’s about the resistance to “them” taking something away, and you can’t even get to discussing actual details like how many rounds per magazine, or long guns vs. semi-automatic hand guns, or statistics about safety.

    I think there are people who don’t really want to have a gun as much as they want to take a stand against “them” taking something away. They want that struggle so much that they imagine it is happening, even when, as in the first Obama administration, it wasn’t, and now it still isn’t, really.

    But it gets hard to talk about sensible, modest approaches to regulating guns when those people keep trying to turn any conversation into the “cold, dead hands” epic struggle.

  11. goatherd  •  Jan 19, 2013 @1:09 pm

    Thanks to Bill Bush, nothing better than a sound David Brooks takedown.

  12. Stephen Stralka  •  Jan 19, 2013 @1:10 pm

    As far as why so many white dudes feel like they desperately need assault weapons, I think changing technology might be a factor. For one thing, computer technology makes it easier not to live in the real world than ever before. Video games where you go around shooting things have been around long enough now that there are millions of adults who have never known a world without them. And as you advance through these games and score points, your weapons tend to get more and more powerful and more and more automati

  13. Stephen Stralka  •  Jan 19, 2013 @1:22 pm

    As far as rural vs. urban, this stuff is amazingly atavistic. It’s partly replaying the battles between the federalists and anti-federalists in 1787 and 1788. Plenty of patriotic Americans didn’t want the new Constitution. One way of looking at it was that they had just fought a war to get rid of one distant, meddling government, and now these guys wanted to set up another one?

    So the anti-government types have always been with us. Which is fine, except that it’s pretty annoying how they think they’re the ones who love the Constitution the most. There’s also a long history of anti-government types claiming credit for things the government has done.

  14. wmd  •  Jan 19, 2013 @4:02 pm

    I think a fair portion of the “we’ve got to be ready to take on the government” came about as a result of two events – Ruby Ridge and Branch Davidian actions. The crowd that believes in out of control government sees David Koresh and Randy Weaver as martyrs and symbols that the government really is coming for guns. That both could have handled the charges through the legal system doesn’t compute – they see the system as corrupt and don’t believe that either victim did anything wrong.

    There may well be other factors. These two come to mind readily and seem to me to explain the attitude.

  15. Swami  •  Jan 19, 2013 @5:59 pm

    wmd…Excellent point.. I’m not advocating for a position in the current debate on gun control..but when I saw the photograph of the ATF carrying off their wounded while falling back after their first assault on the Waco compound…My first thought was..GOOD! Waco was a disgrace in the way that was handled, and Ruby ridge was another disgrace. I can understand how those two episodes could provide abundant fodder for the gun crazed wingnut.

  16. chris  •  Jan 19, 2013 @6:51 pm

    “Do read “Hannity, Shapiro, and the Politics of Situational Patriotism.”

    Actually, it only underscores my question. Suggesting that the need to fight your country as “justification” only begs my question that much more. People have killed other people in the streets and have said they were justified in doing so. It’s still defined as a homicide.

    I highly doubt any gun advocate who feels threatened will take his M-16 and open fire on a military base. Actually, he would most likely take his fears out on the nearest politician who disagrees with his views. Which is where my cynicism is kicking in. Let me further explain as best I can.

    My guess is these people don’t wish to keep their military type weaponry in the event that the US military actually starts attacking its citizens. This scenario means a military coup, which unless I am misunderstanding the definition of, means the military would be attacking its own country. In this instance, the gun advocate would be defending his country. But is this the scenario they envision? Aside from the fact that an Apache helicopter would sweep them away like small bugs, I can’t truly believe their intent is to fight the military. Which leads me back to selecting politicians as their enemy and intent versus actuality.

    So, if we assume they go after some liberal politician because he views them symbolically as the country that he feels is threatening his rights, would the attacker be tried for treason or murder?

    And this is where my cynicism kicks in. The defendant may clearly state he was fighting his country, but I believe the government would want to avoid any speculation of the crime of treason, believing it would actually fuel more attacks. I don’t necessarily disagree with that rationale, if only because the defendant’s argument would be more suited for a guilty judgment by reason of insanity.

    So this leads me to wonder. We have these people who may or may not act upon their vitriol. Is talk of treason a right that our founding fathers thought as legitimate free speech? I don’t doubt they are on a watch list, because this free speech also has the hardware to act upon their threats.

    These situations gave us Ruby Ridge and the Branch Davidian, which only fuels the gun nut’s paranoia. The irony is, they are self-fulfilling threats. They (gun right nuts) are a threat to the government which is why the government is a threat to them.

    Where does the line get drawn? How can the cyclical paranoia end, if it can at all?

    I know freedom isn’t always pretty, but it sure can be frustrating when one has to deal with the unreasonable.

  17. c u n d gulag  •  Jan 19, 2013 @7:09 pm

    My prediction:
    Next week is the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and I expect a lot trouble.

    I look for the the gun-nuts to join in with the “Pro-Life” crowd, and, anticipate several “Two-for-one” protests that may include mass shootings.
    After all, ‘Rushba the Slut Hutt,’ said that “The best way to prevent abortions, is with a gun.”

    I hope that fat @$$hole is wrong, and nothing happens.
    But, if soemthing happens, I want that fat POS to be held responsible.

    Wanna bet there won’t be any takers?

  18. Swami  •  Jan 19, 2013 @7:25 pm
  19. erinyes  •  Jan 19, 2013 @10:42 pm

    Hernando county is kinda Redneck central along the West Coast.Perhaps Marion County in Mid Central, and Polk for East Central.Yep, still Bush Country.Bibles and Bushmasters.
    Lord help us…………

  20. Philo Vaihinger  •  Jan 20, 2013 @11:58 am

    “Last summer some guy shot another guy in the vicinity of the Empire State Building, and the NYPD came and shot the shooter. They also shot nine bystanders. ”

    Good grief, do you WANT cops shooting under such circumstances?