I was born and raised in a part of the country that refers to itself as “Sportsman’s Paradise.” In South Louisiana, people like to say that there are four seasons- football, Carnival, festival, and crawfish- but if you drive a few miles north, many folks would argue that the four seasons are actually deer, duck, dove, and Christmas. When I was in elementary school, during show and tell, kids would sometimes bring pictures of themselves sitting atop deer carcasses. Sometimes, the local newspaper would even print these photos. I’ll never forget when, in the fourth grade, one of my classmates, a boy who had been picked on for being scrawny and short, was sent home after he showed up with a dead squirrel in his backpack. He’d just wanted us to know that he’d shot that stupid squirrel, that he wasn’t a wimp; he was a hunter.
As a kid, I understood that people sometimes used guns to hurt and kill other people, but the people who I knew who owned guns, they were just hunters. They didn’t own the scary, shiny, metallic guns that I saw in the movies; they owned oak-paneled rifles that required deliberation, patience, and skill. And that was part of the allure of hunting: You couldn’t just indiscriminately fire out a hundred bullets a minute; to be good, you had to be patient and precise, a marksman. It was, after all, a sport.
But during the last twenty years, America’s gun culture has dramatically changed. Our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms somehow became a sacrosanct right to murder anyone perceived to be threatening; it became a right to possess and stockpile massive arsenals of weaponry designed, exclusively, to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Why would you use your dad’s old hunting rifle to scare someone away from your property when you could buy a high-powered semi-automatic rifle from the nearby WalMart?
I have some theories about why this change occurred, but I don’t think they entirely suffice. Part of the shift, I think, is because rural and suburban Americans became increasingly fearful of the epidemic of urban, inner-city violence that percolated in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When President Clinton, in response to this violence, signed a ban on semi-automatic weapons, many law-abiding gun owners felt unfairly singled out. Part of it, also, is that the gun lobby in America has successfully convinced people that guns aren’t just a part of our history and our culture; guns are our culture. Guns are just as American as baseball and apple pie, and anyone who seeks any restrictions on the manufacture and sale of any guns is somehow un-American. And part of it, I think, is that we’ve lived in a state of perpetual war for more than a decade; it’s no surprise to me that the perpetrators of the most recent spat of gun massacres have all been in their early twenties. Before we blame fictional video games and movies for promoting a “culture of violence,” we should first look at reality.
We are deluding ourselves. We are caving into the hysteria of a small group of angry people who promote their naive and dangerous beliefs about the need for and the constitutionality of unfettered gun ownership, while wrapping themselves around the flag and pretending as if they’re promoting Christianity– or, even worse, pretending as if any honest discussion about how we, as a country, can stop gun massacres is an assault on Christianity.
No one wants to take away your right to keep and bear arms. But here’s the thing: The Second Amendment has never been about protecting your individual right to use high-powered weaponry to murder your fellow Americans; it is, in very plain English, a way to ensure that Americans can form “well-regulated militias” to protect themselves against institutionalized invasions. And during the last few decades, this right has been perverted and desecrated by the profiteers of death, mayhem, paranoia, and destruction.
Rights carry responsibilities. If you want to hunt deer in Louisiana, you need a license. You can’t kill more than a certain number of deer in any given season. And this is a contract that all deer hunters must agree. The idea is: If you want to hunt, you must play by the rules and the regulations. Somehow, though, when it comes to owning weapons that are designed to murder human beings, we’re told that there shouldn’t be any rules.
Spare us all the self-righteous indignation, the equivocations about guns being no worse than cigarettes or drunk driving, the bizarre paranoiac fantasies about how you’re going to protect the country from a violent coup, the moralizing on Scripture, and the excuses about how this latest massacre was unpreventable because evil is unpreventable.
In my lifetime, we went from a country that understood gun ownership as a right to hunt and, secondarily, as a last resort for self-defense into a country dominated by an intransigent gun lobby that seeks to arm every man, woman, and child with an instrument of death. We are less safe, less free, and more fearful, as a country, because of those who refuse to acknowledge the need for sensible gun control. We are being terrorized, over and over and over again.
And our actual enemies are well-aware. If you don’t believe me, do yourself a favor and watch this video of Adam Gadahn, a member of al-Qaeda and the very first American charged with treason since the 1950s.
The sad reality is– particularly after the shootings in Newtown yesterday, it’s hard to imagine that al-Qaeda could use our gun loopholes to terrorize Americans any more than we terrorize ourselves.