The late great Joe Bageant on guns
for an American, assessing gun ownership is spongy ground at best. It's a matter of trying to asses the color of the bottle from the inside. None of us do it well. Objectively speaking, I don't believe any American needs to own a gun. But as long as so many Americans believe they do, we're going to have the ongoing debate, not to mention the total bafflement of the outside world as it watches. To an American, guns represent an entirely different thing -- several of them actually -- than they do to other nationalities not steeped in gun ownership.
Somehow though, I believe the gun ownership debate detracts from the real issue of America's interior psychic violence, which manifests itself in so many escalating ways these days. Said violence is very deeply ingrained. Every day I watch a hundred little social and interpersonal brutalities and attitudinal cruelties, which seem to go unnoticed by the public at large (though not unfelt,I am sure). And they seem to be growing.
To me, even the school shootings and the attending meaningless discussions about gun ownership are a distraction from the real problem. And that problem is a complex one having to do with such things as the decay of our social support network and families, the unacknowledged fear permeating this collapsing empire, the exploitation of the citizenry by telling them there is danger at every turn -- Muslims, crime, etc., and the vast unarticulated rage and insecurity that lies just beneath the surface if everyday life here. It's hard to see it if you are a visitor, but even harder to endure if you happen to be a citizen of a country that holds a quarter of the world's prison population, yet represents only six percent of the world's population -- a system that teaches us to value punishment and revenge over keeping our common society in good repair.
Consequently, a great many people own guns out of pure fear of a worst case scenario which varies according to the person's anxieties. These include government intrusion by a hardening totalist state; crime activity generated by wealth disparity and a growing and increasingly desperate underclass; sexual violence perpetrated upon women (fear of which has been inherent in urban women for a long, long time); and plain old American distrust of authority and its abuses. And finally there is the mundane familiarity with guns on the part of so many Americans, built over generations of everyday exposure, among which I number -- people who understand that guns don' t pull their their own triggers.
In a country where high background stress and insecurity is the norm, and where greed is purposefully stimulated and misnamed "personal drive," and especially one in which gun ownership is protected by the nation's most esteemed founding document, I cannot imagine Americans asking anytime soon just what national disease is causing so many of its men and boys to pull that trigger. The answer is just too horrible to face, because we would all have to take responsibility for our failure as individuals and as a society.
So we delude ourselves that we can legislate and/or criminalize behavior as a substitute for asking that national question. Perhaps if we suffer the consequences of our national long enough, perhaps with a dozen more school shootings, we will find the balls to ask that question. But I doubt it.
Could be. Bageant puts his finger on what's been bugging me about the career "progressive" discourse on "gun control." It seems, as does almost everything they do (at least to me) "well meaning," And it does seem that a ban on assault weapons is a basic form of amelioration that a functioning polity ought to be able to get behind (well....). To say that a problem is "complex" isn't at all the same as "[shrug]" and might even be "the first step" to addressing it.
NOTE Adding: Chart fans: I wonder if there's a chart that shows gun-related statistics taking on the shape of a power curve starting in the mid-70s. That would be an interesting data point...