The great Henry Allen visits the Post Opinions page today and the subject we’ve been wrestling with for almost two weeks: what to do about guns. Allen says guns are an emotional symbol in America, of self-reliance and protection and patriarchy, and trying to separate the dangerous gun fetish from the benign gun patriotism is a cultural, not legislative, job. Guns in America are romantic and symbolic. We’d all be safer if we thought about them as they are, not as we wish they would be. The only way to solve the problem, Allen argues, is to slowly change our culture, the way we have been slowly weaning the country from its problematic love affair with cars.
This is a complicated argument, and PostScript is very interested in seeing if it changes the debate she’s been witnessing in comment sections. Allen urges us to change our thoughts, basically. Can/do we?
Well, a pro-gun rights commenter, HGF78, discusses the sense of security delivered by having a gun for self-defense, without any hint of what Allen calls gun fetish. It’s about responsibility, sorta the opposite of romantic:
Laws do not stop the bad guys. Most gun owners have a gun to protect their families. You know, from people like the person that kill his grandmother with a hammer and is let out of prison after 18 years. My family has been gun owners since before there was an America. Every generation has owned a gun in the home. All are/were trained on gun safety. You only use the gun to stop a person from harming you. It is not a love affair; it is a history of protection.
Nyetaryan, pro-restricting gun rights, similarly advocates taking the culture war out of the debate and perhaps involving cheese, which all Americans universally love. This is innovative — the first proposal PostScript has seen involving a cheese course:
Look, there is nothing to be done about the guns, their presence is too great and numerous and their owners are too fervent. What IS possible are some reasonable fixes concerning assault rifles, large clips, ammo identification and limits, robust and well administered background checks, and required and high liability for manufacturers, sellers, and owners. Even there, the likelihood is that there will be only some decline in mass-murder (a laudable outcome) and possibly on suicide, but hardly any effect on general gun violence.
The only thing a general attack on gun ownership will produce is to motivate gun owners to attack and often defeat progressive officials. I wish it weren’t so, but as Allen indicates, our culture is dominated by a worship of guns and gun violence, and it isn’t limited to crackers and trailer trash, it is ubiquitous. Perhaps that will change. But meanwhile concentrate on policies that promote responsible gun and rifle ownership, expect very little, and don’t bet the farm on a progressive outcome. Then go back and enjoy a glass of wine and some artisanal cheese.
lguy1 accepts the pro-gun rights argument about keeping dangerously mentally ill people unarmed, but challenges that that is only possible with gun control laws:
How can we “keep guns away from nut jobs” as long as we allow totally unregulated, undocumented gun sales at gun shows, person-to-person and over the internet? Even if we had a way of identifying future killers (which we don’t and never will) they could still easily acquire guns because of these NRA-enforced loopholes.
cmsatown has an example of gun control that seems to have worked without harming the gun culture:
Apparently we have some pretty strict regulations on who can own automatic weapons and penalties for breaking the law. So it seems like gun control does work because none of the shootings in recent history have been with automatic weapons.
lu_ma_ke cites an example of culture changing behavior and thinks one particular gun advocate is helping this issue along culturally:
Smoking has long been a part of our culture too, but public sentiment has changed to the point that smokers have become something of a pariah. Ironically, if the NRA’s [Wayne] LaPierre keeps delivering his paranoid delusional rants, gun owners may go the way of smokers. It may already be happening. Gun ownership is actually down; it’s just that the same gun nuts are buying more and more guns.
But rmillman2 says that successful campaigns to change behavior, cultural or not, generally are backed up by legal enforcement:
A lot of Allen’s criticisms have value, but he makes a false assertion that changing public opinion is done outside or laws. Allen asserts “But look at our cultural shifts on race and gender, on drunk driving and the cooling of the American love affair with the automobile.”
Changes in the public perception of “race and gender, on drunk driving” have been made by enforceable legislation. Without legislation backed by an an enforcement mechanism, it is just talk.
This was all well and politely argued, for one of our gun discussions. Well thunk, guys! Somehow PostScript expected a Boxing Day brawl.