facebook twitter tumblr newsletter
By Aaron Bady
Anyone claiming to be an expert is selling something. I brandish my ignorance like a crucifix at vampires.
rss feed

it’s not surprising that we get bitter, that we cling to gun control

I’m pretty okay with any kind of gun control that our political process can produce. Sure, let’s do it. Let’s try doing something instead of doing nothing. Unrestricted gun ownership is, like the second amendment, a wildly anachronistic relic of a very different period in this country’s history, and I’d be down with scrapping it. And if you think you need a gun to protect your farm from coyotes or shoot deer, calm down. Those guns are safe. There is no possible scenario in which it will ever become difficult for you to purchase the kind of firepower you will need to kill deer and coyotes in Montana. If you think jack-booted thugs are going to come for your shotgun, you are wrong. They don’t want your shotgun.

A handgun, on the other hand, is a gun which is designed to shoot people, and an assault rifle is a gun which is designed to shoot lots of people, very fast. In what circumstance would it actually be desirable for anyone to own these things? Why do you need a gun that’s small enough for you to carry and conceal everywhere you go? You don’t need a handgun to shoot squirrels, and you don’t want one; I’ve eaten squirrel meat, and you have to spit out the occasional shotgun pellet, because you need a shotgun to shoot squirrels, because they’re really darned small. You also don’t want a handgun to shoot deer or coyotes or anything else; you need a long barreled gun that you can easily hold steady enough to shoot accurately. And you don’t need or want an assault rifle for hunting animals; hunting animals is a matter of being quiet, waiting, and being quiet while waiting, and then shooting accurately at the single moment when you have the opportunity. The ability to fire dozens or hundreds of rounds in a matter of seconds is not useful. It’s hard to get close to animals because there aren’t many of them around; you don’t need a hundred rounds to kill one deer.

Killing animals gets our foot in the conceptual door, though, because a lot of people who own handguns and assault rifles imagine that they will use them to kill human animals. Jack-booted thugs, rapists, muggers, black people… whoever it is that the owner of a hand-gun imagines themselves shooting—or the owner of an assault rifle—chances are good that they’ve found a way to think of that human being as less human than other humans beings. Killing white kids in Connecticut is not okay; we can all agree on that. Killing a black teenager in a hoodie, in a white suburb? Killing an intruder in your home? Killing a racist police officer? Killing an ATF agent who has come to put a microchip in your brain and take grandma off to a death panel? We have a whole range of aphorisms that naturalize these acts of homicide. Stand your ground. A man’s home is his castle. By whatever means necessary. The tree of liberty is watered with the blood of tyrants. Etc. Thou Shalt Not Kill, except when an aphorism tells you it’s okay. The suspect made a suspicious movement, and I discharged my service weapon five times

After all, I suppose there are situations where the use of a gun to kill another human being is defensible or socially necessary, just like there might be situations where we need to use torture to find out where the ticking time bomb is. Maybe. Mostly, though, there really aren’t. Mostly we tell these kinds of stories because we want the guns for other reasons, just like “torture” is almost never really about getting information. And while there might be these isolated occasions—even if we concede their existence—it’s pretty clear to me that the occasional example, the occasional justified need for using a gun to kill another human being, is no basis for a generalized social right to have guns all the time. It just isn’t. The argument makes no sense at all, but people who use those lines aren’t making arguments. They are invoking the magic spell that licenses them to be able to kill. “Oh, he had a hoodie on. Oh, ok then…”

I think we mostly already know this. We know that the rhetoric is mostly all bullshit, and that most gun owners just like the feel of a metallic cock in their hands. Deep down, even gun owners know it. Having that desire doesn’t make you a bad person; it just makes you what you are, American man or whatever else. But being ashamed of that desire, and taking refuge in something that someone else said that sounds good, well, that’s all it is: masking a real but shameful desire with a socially acceptable rationale. And I’m not speaking for “other people,” here; I’m speaking about me, what I know about myself, and what I know about the people I went to high school with.

The problem is that understanding that it’s all bullshit doesn’t actually accomplish very much, does it? We are built out of bullshit. We lie to ourselves and about ourselves all the time; it’s bullshit all the way down. And those people that “cling to their guns,” as Obama carelessly put it? Well, that’s just another phrase we can use to misunderstand the problem, and lie to ourselves about what it is. Those people cling to their guns in the same way I cling to bad television when I’m stressed out, the same reason a former smoker chews gum, the same way a scared liberal clings to the notion that a good control law would do the trick. Our desires are powerful, and our fears are big and scary things that we don’t control, can’t even begin to regulate. We can only respond, and try to respond in healthy ways, but we shouldn’t pretend that we’re more rational than we are. Especially the day after a bunch of kids died and we thought about that happening to our kids, or to the children of people we know, people like us.

Two days ago, I was pretty okay with any kind of gun control that our political process could produce. Fuck guns. I don’t want one. I’m afraid of them. I’ve fired a few guns, a few small ones, and I was afraid of those guns.Lili and I went to a gun range, once, before we were even dating, and it was an interesting experience, one that I don’t plan to repeat, but one that I’m glad I had. My dad has a .22 rifle, and we used to shoot beer cans on Thanksgiving. I might do that once or twice more in my life. But the shootings that happened yesterday didn’t make me more scared of guns, nor did they make me more optimistic about our government’s ability or desire to thwart the weapons industry’s ability to sell weapon-products to consumers. Guns are scary, and there’s no good reason for them to be all over the place, and neither of those facts is relevant in understanding why they are. As Sven Lindqvist put it, “It is not knowledge we lack. What is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.”

Guns are a fetish object, a social relation crystallized into an object you can hold in your hand. Holding a gun makes me a man. Holding a gun makes me Clint Eastwood. Holding a gun makes me a hunter. Holding a gun makes me an American, a patriot. Holding a gun makes me a white man who can kill black people. And my desire for all of those things gives the gun that kind of power. My fear makes me need a gun, my desire makes me want it.

“Gun control” is also a fetish object. That’s why so many of us reached for it as soon as we heard about what had happened. We were scared, and it’s reassuring to hold it in our mouths. Doesn’t make it right or wrong; it has nothing to do with that. And if I could wave my wand and make them all disappear, I would; when there’s a candidate that wants to ban them, or tax them out of existence, I’ll vote for her. But if you’re with me on that, you probably already were too. And as Matthew Cheney pointed out—the last time this happened—gun control is a kind of utopianism, the idea that if we got rid of the objects themselves, the desire for them, the need for them, and the culture that is built around them and makes them necessary, that all of that would go away.

But it won’t, will it? The problem is so much bigger that that. You don’t end hunger by banning food. You might eventually end nicotine addiction by banning cigarettes, but that won’t do much for the cravings in the short term. I feel like sometimes it’s the bigness of the problem that scares us the most, and so a solution that feels practical becomes the only response we can imagine. But when people have guns to protect them from black people and the government, a black president is not going to have much luck trying to repeal the 2nd amendment.As Timothy Burke puts it, Don’t Bring Policy to a Culture Fight: [W]hen a particular practice gets deeply, powerfully written into culture, identity, consciousness, you generally cannot force it back out again through government or civic dictate. The harder you try, the more you provide thermodynamic fuel that makes your target stronger and more resilient. Especially when our response to a white guy shooting up a school is to tell people to be on the watch for “suspicious characters.” If there’s a solution, the law might be part of it, and the people who were demonstrating in front of the White House yesterday, good for them. I’d have joined them; I’m all for taxing the living shit out of anyone who wants to own a gun in a big city, for example. I’ll sign that petition, why the hell not. But as long as there’s a loophole, as long as some people are more animal, more killable than white kids in Connecticut, there will still be people killing people, and people who are crazy enough to want to do it are crazy enough to find a way. And we should be aghast about every single one of the dead kids, and adults, not just the white ones who were killed by automatic weapons in a school.

Previously by

14 Responses to “it’s not surprising that we get bitter, that we cling to gun control”

  1. John Seal says:

    Aaron, I agree with almost everything you’re written here, but I think the ‘gunless utopia’ argument is really a straw man. The facts are clear: countries with strict gun control laws have much, MUCH lower rates of gun deaths than the US. They also have lower murder rates overall than the US, so though the desire to kill may still be there, the opportunity and ability to kill is massively decreased. Of course utopia won’t begin the day after guns are banned–but many lives will be saved.

  2. Will QC says:

    I have a really hard time thinking through this issue. On the one hand, I agree that guns are set up to take the blame for our larger culture of violence. Looking to other countries with stricter gun control and saying “See! They have lower death rates!” ignores larger cultural currents and downplays the extent to which our culture of violence is distinctly American. It’s also, as usual, impossible to overstate the role that race plays in American violence and the culture of gun control. Turning to gun control as a solution to these tragedies turns a blind eye to their racial underpinnings in a way that makes most people find comfortable. (For what it’s worth, I think that’s where your argument is most vital.)

    But I also think that labeling guns as a fetish object mostly overlooks the role that guns and gun culture play in creating America’s culture of violence. Isn’t out proximity to and desire for violence sharpened by the availability of guns? I wonder how much the fact that holding a gun will make me a man influences my desire to be one in the first place. We fetishize guns, absolutely, but I think we also fetishize other things because of guns. The desire is a little more multifaceted than you’re arguing, and to that end I keep coming back to the idea that decreased gun presence might actually make us less violent. I dunno.

  3. Burton Dow says:

    Sure. Ban guns. Worked with drugs. Worked with booze. Oh, wait. Those didn’t exactly work. In fact, they both led to the creation of huge criminal enterprises that didn’t previously exist. Can’t wait to see what will happen when law-abiding citizens can’t have guns to deal with thugs who get theirs from Mexico.

    Personally, I don’t have a gun. But there are parts of the Big City I live in where – if I had to live in those parts – I damn sure would own one.

    Oh, and BTW, where I live, black people have guns to protect themselves from black people. Unlike you, they aren’t racists. They just live in the real world.

  4. The Modesto Kid says:

    Your link to Keguro Macharia’s tweet is broken — it is missing a colon after ‘https’.

  5. Anonymous says:

    “I’m pretty okay with any kind of gun control that our political process can produce. Sure, let’s do it. Let’s try doing something instead of doing nothing”

    If y ou really think we do “nothing” in this area you are simply blood simple and ignorant down to the bone. Try and read up on a subject before a core dump. It just makes a mess.

  6. Rick says:

    The people should never be afraid of the government, the government should be afraid of the people.

  7. chase says:

    …That’s it?

    I got to the end of your…article? essay?…and found myself looking for the button to click for page two, because I was sure you had to be going somewhere or coming to some sort of point, but it turns out, you weren’t. If all you have to offer is the statement that this debate is going nowhere and won’t accomplish anything any time soon, next time just gripe to your spouse or your cat or whoever and leave the rest of us out of it. Your perspective is not cynical or jaded or in any way wise — it’s pessimistic, whiny, annoying and unproductive. Come back when you have something useful to share.

  8. SeanLM says:

    If your overall take-away from this article was, “a gun prohibition will totally work,” you need to work on your reading comprehension.

  9. Ophidia Matsumoto says:

    Did we read the same article? His point was that although he’d be fine with gun control, he doesn’t think it would change anything.

    Also, I think you’re confused: Mexico gets guns from us, not vice versa.

  10. Ophidia Matsumoto says:

    Guns prime for violence and aggression, though:
    These are obviously laboratory studies, and so might not be valid in the real world, but if short-term exposure to gun can have such a dramatic effect on the behavior of research subjects, it seems reasonable to expect that the behavior of those who are around guns more regularly, or who spend a great deal of time holding or looking at guns, would be affected as well.

  11. zanzibar says:

    Speaking of reading comprehension, Im pretty sure your takeaway from the above comment was not what that statement was arguing. While the article is not stating “gun prohibition will totally work” it is stating “gun prohibition: sure, why not?” and the answer to that question is laid out in the comment. Because gun prohibition might not solve the culture of violence we live in while almost certainly creating another tool by which to persecute and incarcerate people, as per drug prohibition. And the article does seem to be disturbingly white-centric. I understand that the stereotypical image of a gun rights supporter is some white hick, but there are plenty of instances of guns being used outside of the ‘scared of black people’ hickishness. People living in dangerous neighborhoods is one example. Black people living in the Jim Crow south (and still living in areas where they need to be aware of the risk of hate crime) is another. The fact that the writer of this article cannot imagine any instance in which one would actually need a gun aside from phallic or racist fantasies says something about him and nothing about the world about which he is attempting to make an argument. In short, there needs to be a better argument than “sure, why not?”

  12. Spiny Norman says:

    There are a few reasonable arguments to be made for civilian ownership of firearms. But you haven’t made one of them.

    By your illogic, prohibitions against murder don’t always work, so we shouldn’t bother to prohibit murder.

  13. Toni says:

    So “guns are a fetish object” that you sum up saying make “me feel like a man.” and make white people feel good about killing black people.

    Let’s set aside your obvious bigotry for a moment, shall we? Now explain some things for me. Explain female gun owners in that context. Explain minority gun owners in that context. Please explain to a competitive shooter, even an olympian that her handgun is intended only to kill and that makes her guilty, guilty, guilty.

    As for your “it’s anachronistic” argument, is free speech anachronistic? Is freedom from illegal search and seizure anachronistic? Why should self-defense be anachronistic?

    Truth is, by attacking law-abiding gun owners and simultaneously wanting to be soft on criminals, it is Liberals that have fetishized the gun and gun control.

  14. Toni says:

    Do you actually even know any real gun owners? Not the stereotypes your liberal masters tell you about, but real gun owners? A female gun owner for example? You make several bigoted assignments to their nature that as a “tolerant” person like you imagine you are, you OUGHT to be ashamed of. Really quite hateful, and I pity your narrow mindedness.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.