If you were to trust the media, truly never a wise thing to do, you might believe the controversy over gun-control to be a Manichean dispute between shadowy fascists and an angelic horde. (Journalism is ever the dark night of the mind.) Talk to the contending forces and you get an equally silly view: The pro-gun folk think that the other side wants to make the nation into a communist dictatorship. The anti-gun crowd believe that the other side consists of heartless Bull Conner clones who want shoot orphans, widows, and people in wheel chairs.
Actually, good and evil have little to do with it. The debate over guns is a clash of cultures, a confrontation of different kinds of character, a disagreement over social philosophy, and even–though few notice this–over free will and determinism. The contending factions don’t need guns to detest each other. They would anyway.
Those who favor free ownership of firearms tend to be rural, from the South or west, tough-minded, self-reliant, and disposed to believe in personal responsibility–i.e., free will. Those opposed are usually urban or suburban, more northerly and easterly, unacquainted with self-reliance, tender-minded, and inclined to believe in determinism–i.e., that society determines our behavior. Exception can be found in droves, yes. Western megalopolitans may oppose ownership of guns, while New Yorkers from small towns may not. But the foregoing dichotomies establish the poles of the debate.
The two sides have entirely different views of the world. In their approach to guns, both are expressing their experience. They hate each other.
Let’s start with the outlook of the pro-gun folk. I know them well, having grown up in rural Virginia. Everybody had guns, certainly including me. (A lovely Marlin lever-action .22.) Kids of fifteen bought ammunition at any country store, and no one thought anything of it. The first day of deer season was a high-school holiday, since the teachers knew that the boys weren’t going to be there anyway.
Guns were several things to us. To people who often lived at the low end of lower middle class, the shooting of ninety pounds of dressed venison was not trivial. Farmers used guns to kill whistle pigs that ate crops. Shooting was sport, guns and dogs a source of protection in lonely homes. For a boy, getting a first gun was a rite of passage to adulthood, or toward it, like a driver’s license or a girl’s first bra. Though few recognized it, guns symbolized the independence that rural people prize.
There was almost no crime, and no gun crime at all. We shot rats, deer, beer cans, frogs, and golf balls. (Well, I did.) We didn’t shoot each other. We didn’t think about it. There were things you just didn’t do. When two kids settled a dispute in the boy’s room, bloody noses and puffy eyes abounded. Nobody–ever–kicked the other guy in the head, picked up a piece of pipe, or went for a gun.
People viewed crime as a choice. Nobody made you rob a bank. You did it because you decided to. Personal responsibility. Guns? We had lot of guns. We had no crime. Therefore guns didn’t cause crime. Quod erat demonstrandum. Any fool could see it.
Now consider those who oppose guns. They live in urban agglomerations where people exercise little control over their circumstances. They are accustomed to relying on the group instead of on themselves. Police provide protection, the plumber changes washers, Safeway supplies food, a mechanic does things with the alternator whazzit. Contractors build the addition to the house. Dependence on society is the rule.
Theirs is a society of the tender-minded, inclined toward organized compassion instead of toward gutting it out, a land of therapy, support groups, and the detailed study of feelings. Having little sense of individual control over destiny, their lives narrowly bounded by the rules and regulations needed in mass society, heavily psychologized and Oprahficated, they lean toward believing that we do what we do because of society’s influence. You rob a bank because of your upbringing.
No personal responsibility.
To them, crime is like the weather: something one suffers rather than something one does anything about. Criminals in cities are too numerous to be suppressed except by harsh measures which, aside from being unconstitutional, do not appeal to the tender-minded. Criminals, they believe, can’t be held to civilized standards of behavior. So at least take their guns away, and they won’t shoot each other.
Which of the two views of existence is correct, if either, I don’t know. If I had been raised in the ghetto, I’d probably be a drug dealer. But that’s what the dispute is about.
There is, of course, more than the cultural divide behind the dispute. The unspoken subtext of debate over guns, always, is race. Whites are terrified of blacks. When their first kid reaches school age, the parents move to the whiter suburbs–liberals as quickly as conservatives. When whites think about armed robbers, rapists, or burglars coming through the window in the night, they think about blacks. The statistics bear them out. The carnage in the cities, for example, is almost entirely committed by blacks against blacks.
But no one dares mention race. For liberals–though they fear blacks and flee from them: look where they live, for example–there is a powerful ideological aversion, forged in the anti-apartheid movement of the Sixties, to criticizing blacks. The black vote is crucial to Democrats in presidential elections. Reporters keep their heads down: The chains of political correctness are real and strong. You can lose your job by saying the wrong things. Consequently what writers say, we don’t believe, and what we believe, we don’t say.
If you fear crime, yet can’t attack the criminals without seeming to be racist, and either can’t or won’t do anything practical about racial ills, then you attack guns. There is no political penalty. (Oddly, the recent series of multiple murders in the high schools and elsewhere have been a godsend for people opposed to guns because the killers have been almost entirely white.)
That, it sez here, is the reality of gun-control.