GUNS, GERMANS, AND STEAL: THE FATE OF AMERICAN SOCIETY
“Don’t fence me in,”… just give me a gun…
The current debates over gun control in the US are nothing new, of course, and, in a way, have nothing to do with guns or murders or bullets or magazines. It has to do with control. We Americans don’t trust control of any sort, especially when it emanates from above or from the center, the central government, that is. Nor is this predilection entirely an American thing, though we’ve certainly carried the argument to its logical conclusion. It should be noted straight away that this is the same debate—not similar, analogous, or metaphorically mellifluous—that operates in any and all discussions of economic, health, welfare and other forms of policy.
Do we practice laissez-faire cowboy politics or does the government regulate and control it? In Europe they tend to control it, directly proportional to the distance from Rome, from which the concept of Big Government has emanated throughout the ages. We Americans—and to a lesser extent the Germanic Brits and other north Europeans—with almost exactly the same DNA, reject the concept totally. The dichotomy even got formalized philosophically once upon a time with the rift between the British Empiricists and the Continental Rationalists, the Brits arguing for hodge-podge experiential forms of knowledge, while the Rationalists favored more centralized logic-based mathematical syllogisms. Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am, simple; everything else follows.
Now the average American gun-owner probably doesn’t consider himself a British empiricist any more than the average Mexican considers himself a Continental rationalist, but the result is the same. The American has a gun in his cupboard ready to open fire on the first person he catches breaking into his house—and gets bragging rights about his rights and responsibilities. The Mexican just puts up a fence—a big fence with a gate that locks; done deal. Nobody gets hurt. The biggest crime wave in southern California right now works so simply that a baby could do it: a guy or two walk up the path to the house, knock on the front door, nobody answers, so they break in and clean the place out, easy. The solution is just as easy: build a f*cking fence, and lock the f*cking gate. Most people who live in the city of LA already know that; not all the bozos out in the counties do. If we Americans want to solve our problems we just might have to consider some options that call for some simple changes instead of more firepower.
I can understand why people fall in love with their guns. They’re beautiful pieces of equipment—sleek, stylish, meticulously engineered for force and accuracy, with a faint smell of machine oil pervasive. They come from a long line of Western precision mechanics and engineering. The technology that produced cannons also produced pistols and engine blocks and made possible the (first) Industrial Revolution. The pre-digital technology that produced a Webley revolver and a Porsche car or the battleship Potemkin was—and still is—a beautiful thing to behold. This is Newtonian physics at its finest, irresistible force meeting immovable object—subject to the laws of inertia—with fairly predictable results every time. Still, in the digital age I’d have to say that the machinery—and our attachment to it—seems a bit dated. Maybe that’s why we love the old “classical” technology. It’s so physical, whereas digital technology is… well… so virtual, if not virtuous.
I used to be a NRA shooter at the marksman level myself, a part of my Eagle Scout training. It was enjoyable, bloody good sport, pun intended. I only killed one animal, though (roaches don’t count), a poor defenseless little songbird, with a BB gun, just to see if I could, I guess. When I realized what I’d done I felt pretty sick about it. People think I’m squeamish at the sight of blood, but I’m not. I just feel a profound sadness at the act of killing. I prefer happiness. Still I hold no grudge against those who hunt… as long as they eat what they kill. I’ve only been a vegetarian a couple years now myself, and less than strict about that. It’s easy to ignore the act of killing involved in meat production when the butchering is out far away in the business end of some fat farm. Murder, of course, is something else entirely, as is war. War is sometimes as necessary as murder is almost always unnecessary. Yep, it’s true.
I even find some comfort in the theory that the smartest people will have the best technology, hence the best weapons, so therefore will rule the world. The smartest people should rule the world. The smartest people are most likely to have everyone’s best interests in mind. Smart people tend to be motivated by things other than greed and lust and vengeance. That’s the stuff of government, full of checks and balances. Personal weaponry is another matter. Assault weapons should be illegal, no question. Hunting rifles—normal ones, that is—should be legal, no question. Pistols are negotiable, maybe in the privacy of one’s home for self-defense? Works for me. Gun enthusiasts like to say that they “make good neighbors.” I disagree. Fences make good neighbors. Guns kill; fences don’t. Now go build a fence. Western culture is nothing if not individualistic, but who said that guns are American and fences aren’t? Are you really going to miss those door-to-door salesmen? Think about it.