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.