Frank Rich says America’s love affair with guns is something that will have to be chipped away at; that guns…
…have always been intrinsic to the very idea of America and “freedom” – enshrined in our Constitution’s Second Amendment (however one chooses to read it), romanticized in our glorification of both our revolutionary and frontier past, and a staple of our popular culture not just in this era but every era: from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows through The Birth of a Nation, Zane Grey, Stagecoach and The Wild Bunch, gangster movies and gangsta rap, Bonnie and Clyde and Zero Dark Thirty, The Untouchables and The Sopranos…
Exactly. One of my favorite movies is Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, because it’s beautifully filmed, features some great old actors, and is imbued with a healthy contempt for big business and its role in corrupting American government. I know Peckinpah’s gun-slinging outlaws are romanticized, but I prefer them to the so-called captains of industry who ended up owning this country and exploiting most of its workers.
Rich used the phrase “gun-worship” at one point, so I wasn’t surprised when, a few sentences later, he referenced the excellent column in which Garry Wills explained why it is so hard to get through to the “guns don’t kill people — people do” crowd:
The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?
Its power to do good is matched by its incapacity to do anything wrong. It cannot kill. Thwarting the god is what kills. If it seems to kill, that is only because the god’s bottomless appetite for death has not been adequately fed. The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.
Wills is right, of course. Gun zealots are death-obsessed and paranoid. On the other hand, it’s hard to explain away their contention that government for the rich and powerful, at the expense of the rest of us, is no good.
If we are going to start to find our way out of gun-worship, it’s going to take many leaders over time to affect that change, just as in, say, the abolitionists’ movement or any other major political or social movement that changed our country and helped it grow up.
Right, Frank, but where are those leaders? Arguably, gun-worship in contemporary America is mostly about feelings of impotence; an admission that all our other gods — democracy, the free market, the justice system — have failed. So far as I can see, the leaders in our dismal two-party system, whether for or against gun control, merely reinforce those feelings.