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Gun culture, gun terror, gun fantasies


This is an interesting piece in the WAPO about the gun culture in rural Kentucky:

I am a Democrat who ran for local office as a Republican because in Anderson County, Kentucky, right down the road from the state capitol, Democrats no longer have a prayer of winning a partisan election, even if it is to serve in a nonpartisan job. This is die-hard Trump country now. Donald Trump won the county in both 2016 and 2020 with more than 70 percent of the vote. I figured that running on the Republican ticket, talking neighbor to neighbor with Republicans in a sensible manner about issues like guns would give me a fair shot.

I was wrong. I not only lost, I lost spectacularly. No matter how I tried, I could not convince voters that I was not going to show up at their door one day with a checklist, authorized by either our Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, or Democratic president, Joe Biden, and seize their guns. And when I was honest in telling them I believe AR-15-style guns are weapons of war and should be banned altogether? Voters laughed.

The term “gun culture” gets tossed around. But what does it mean to live in a place rooted in Trumpian (angry, unabashed, aggrieved, armed-to-the-teeth) 2022 gun culture?

I think about guns because, two days before our May 17 primary, a friend removed my campaign signs from his yard. Around 9:30 that morning, while I was driving to Sunday school and church, he had heard the pop-pop of gunshots as men in trucks drove by, randomly yelling my name and Hillary Clinton’s and cursing about liberals.

I think about guns because, in mid-April, it was rumored that a local machine parts shop had a doormat in the store with the face of a longtime female magistrate on it. It read “Wipe Your Feet Here.” I wanted to see this doormat for myself and ask some questions: Did they have a supply? Was it for sale? Who created it? The first two friends I told begged me not to go. Did I know the owner carries a gun? If I went, they each cautioned independently, would I take a law enforcement officer with me. I thought this sounded ridiculous. “Just have the officer wait for you in the parking lot!” one insisted. When I arrived at the shop, without the police, I pulled in behind a grayish gold truck with a “Let’s Go Brandon” sticker on the back window, and sat there thinking, “I don’t belong here. What am I doing?” I left.

I think about guns because, later the same day, I made myself go back to the shop. The owner was not there, so I asked the woman behind the counter my questions. She was angry. She went in the back to get a man. What man? Would he be armed and angry? I left as fast as I could.

People here openly carry their guns. Whether I am stopping by Kroger to pick up ice cream, grabbing a coffee on Main Street or stocking up on household supplies at Walmart, I am constantly aware that there are people around me carrying guns.

Who are the good guys with guns? Who are the bad guys with guns? How do you know?

I think about guns because, in the March 23 issue of the Anderson News, our weekly newspaper, there was a front-page story about a Republican state senator, Adrienne Southworth, who lives in my town, headlined, “Southworth bill would alter guns in school law.” Southworth’s bill proposed that citizens be allowed to carry guns in school buildings when students are not present.

I think about guns because I believe the Southworth bill was in response to the man who came to our school board meeting a few months earlier wearing a gun on his person. I was the citizen who pointed out the gun to the superintendent, after which the man was led outside to put his gun in his vehicle before returning to speak during the public comments section of the meeting.

I think about guns because the editor of our weekly newspaper regularly voices his full-throated support for guns. On June 14, he wrote, “Even in a nation so thoroughly divided by the 2nd Amendment, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone who doesn’t think schools need to be protected by trained professionals with guns and hardened as well as possible against intruders.” Nearly impossible? Really?

I think about guns because, in the previous week’s newspaper, the same editor wrote that when we reelected our county attorney “in last month’s primary, there isn’t a question that his pro-gun campaign messaging had something to do with it.” The county attorney won his primary handily. He will face no Democratic opposition in the general election.

Gun culture in the United States is like kudzu, often called “the invasive vine that ate the South” because of the way it systematically, over time, suffocated and destroyed native grasses, trees and plants until they became extinct. We can no longer go to school, parades, shopping malls, restaurants, concerts, night clubs, the grocery store, without wondering whether this is where we will get shot.

Guns culture is destroying our lives. And the solution most often proposed? More guns.

I have been waking up thinking about guns because, suddenly, there is a suspicious man hanging around the park trail where I jog. One day he drove up to talk to me. I thought he was trying to sell me drugs. A few days later, he tried to get a woman to go home with him. One morning I was running my last lap and spotted the man in a dark corner of the park, under some trees, as if he was lying in wait for me. I called law enforcement. As I stood next to the police car giving a description, I wondered, Would I feel safer here with a gun?

I think about guns, because thinking about guns in 2022 America is part of our all-day, everyday lives. When I warned a woman who often walks her dogs at the park about the suspicious man, she said as casually as if she were offering me a mint, “Oh, I’ll start carrying my gun. Do you have a gun?”

The aphorism about the psychological power of terrorism — “few victims, many witnesses” — applies to things like mass shootings with AR-15s that pile up enough of a body count to get some sort of national attention (the current minimum total for this appears to be around five murder victims in the same incident).

But gun culture is killing close to 50,000 Americans per year right now. More Americans are killed by guns on a typical day in a large American city than are killed in Japan — a country of 125,000,000 people — in an entire year.

Beyond the statistics, what this piece captures is the growing sense of foreboding that the gun culture is generating. The USA is home to about one third of all the civilian-owned guns in the entire world.

The fetishism about guns in American culture is reflected in this frankly weird and disturbing fantasy from self-proclaimed arch-rationalist Sam Harris:

Like most gun owners, I understand the ethical importance of guns and cannot honestly wish for a world without them. I suspect that sentiment will shock many readers. Wouldn’t any decent person wish for a world without guns? In my view, only someone who doesn’t understand violence could wish for such a world. A world without guns is one in which the most aggressive men can do more or less anything they want. It is a world in which a man with a knife can rape and murder a woman in the presence of a dozen witnesses, and none will find the courage to intervene. There have been cases of prison guards (who generally do not carry guns) helplessly standing by as one of their own was stabbed to death by a lone prisoner armed with an improvised blade. The hesitation of bystanders in these situations makes perfect sense—and “diffusion of responsibility” has little to do with it. The fantasies of many martial artists aside, to go unarmed against a person with a knife is to put oneself in very real peril, regardless of one’s training. The same can be said of attacks involving multiple assailants. A world without guns is a world in which no man, not even a member of Seal Team Six, can reasonably expect to prevail over more than one determined attacker at a time. A world without guns, therefore, is one in which the advantages of youth, size, strength, aggression, and sheer numbers are almost always decisive. Who could be nostalgic for such a world?

Where do you even start with something like this? Nobody in Japan has a gun, and nobody in Japan gets murdered (Obviously this is hyperbolic, but barely). Harris’s fantasies of armed self-defense make no sense at the level of social policy, as indeed he almost sort of acknowledges in the very same piece that decries the idea of a world without guns, but so powerful is the pull of those fantasies that they create a dare I say quasi-religious worship of these weapons among people like Harris, whose personal psychological orientation in regard to this issue is clearly epidemic.

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