As a quick glance at the Main Feed tells us, Ricochet these days looks not entirely dissimilar from say The Truth About Guns. Second Amendment politics is in the national conversation after the horror of Newtown, so that's one explanation. But we also have heavily commented threads on what gun to buy, the hypocrisy of the media, about the Second Amendment, about civil disobedience, etc. I've started a couple of those, and have participated in more.
One common thread across all gun-related discussions seems to me to be passion. We gunowners tend to be fairly level people in most areas -- if we weren't, we wouldn't trust ourselves with firearms -- but when it comes to gun rights, we're pretty passionate and fired up about it.
And on the other side, you have totally reasonable, rational people suddenly acting like absolutely unhinged ideologues when it comes to the eeeeevil gun.
Question is, Why? Why does this topic engender such passionate opposition and passionate advocacy on both sides?
As someone who navigated from the passionate anti-gun side to the passionate pro-gun side, I'm reflecting back and seeing if I can piece together a reason why. I have a theory.
Guns Reflect One's Deepest Belief About Humanity
The first is that one's attitude towards firearms reflect one's deepest, often unspoken beliefs about humanity.
The Anti-Gun People
The people who wring their hands about guns, about "gun violence", about the "culture of guns", are the same people who also wring their hands about rehabilitating criminals and treating them fairly. I know because I used to be one of them.
The theory is that while each criminal does bear the ultimate responsibility, one must take into account the tragedy of that individual and how society has done him wrong. There's a lot of focus on broken homes, poverty, lack of good schools, lack of jobs, etc. that led the poor young man into a life of crime, stealing hubcabs or becoming a runner for some corner drug crew and ultimately ending up as a cold-blooded rapist and murderer. Yes, he's to blame, but society as a whole stands condemned because we didn't do enough to create an environment where he could have become a Nobel laureate.
This is the exact flipside, by the way, of the "You didn't build that" mentality. Each of us, you see, owes our station in life partially to our own drive, initiative, decisions, and moral principles, but just as importantly, to the overall social structures that supported, educated, and created us.
The deepest belief here is that human beings are ultimately good. Peace, love, understanding, and joy are the natural conditions of human beings. Unhappiness, inequality, injustice -- these are products of the powerful, who manipulate things to get more than others, more than their "fair share". Things like religious bigotry, racism, sexism, etc. are put into place by the Powerful to oppress, subjugate, and exploit the People.
The natural extension of this outlook, amplified by ideas about class (see below), is that a community is safest and at its best when a group of people (the State, the military, the police) take on the burden of violence, and the rest of us seek to enhance peace, love, understanding, and support for one another. The agents of the community are pure-hearted heroes who make personal sacrifices the rest of us can't imagine, so that we may enjoy the peace, love, etc. (public service, you see, is a step down from making money in the private sector.) The real way to fight crime isn't with guns; it's with schools and jobs and hope.
Therefore, the gun is not only the symbol of violence, but its enabler. Without guns, criminals would not dare to oppose the law; without guns, gangbangers wouldn't be able to shoot innocent bystanders; without guns, and a culture that celebrates guns and violence, we would have far less crime, far less violence, and far more peace. Given its efficiency in killing, the gun is a wonderful tool for our better angels -- the public servants who brave danger every day so that we don't have to -- to have, but no one else.
The People of the Gun
The defenders of firearms, however, are also the people who are the strictest about criminals. To them, even if social and economic conditions are bad, the decision to commit a crime -- particularly a violent crime -- is an individual one, and that individual must be punished harshly and cut off from civil society. Society itself didn't pull the trigger; not having a daddy around didn't make you into a rapist and a murderer; and the botched bank heist isn't because you didn't have Head Start programs. Sin and crime are individual failings.
Again, this group of people (let's call them "conservatives" and the other group "liberals" -- although such labels are tough to apply to everybody, they help with the thinking/discussion) believe that they did build it. That even though family background, education, wealth, upbringing, etc. all played a part, the ultimate work, genius, risk-taking was individual.
The deepest belief here is actually that human beings are ultimately evil. Or, to use the Christian terminology, that man is fallen. The natural condition of human beings is war, violence, selfishness, greed ... and civilization is taught, not inborn. The powerful are corrupt and greedy, unless held back by written and unwritten codes of conduct; but then, no one is free from the taint of corruption and sin, because we are all human, all fallen, and all imperfect. The basic condition is one of evil and misery and suffering; good arises because individuals of good will, of religious beliefs, of civilization transcend their environments and actively build a society that curbs the worst instincts in us all, from the family to the church to the state.
The natural extension of this outlook, amplified by ideas about class, is that a community is safest and at its best when everyone takes personal and individual responsibility for violence, both for preventing it and for committing it. Soldiers, police, and government are all necessary, but they are necessary evils, and since they are human, subject to corruption and fallenness. If the soldiers, the police, and the state become tyrannical, the gun is the ultimate guarantor of individual rights and responsibilities.
Therefore, the gun is not a symbol of violence, but of freedom. It is the ultimate guarantor that there will be a cost to making you do something you do not want to do. Bad people, fallen people, will use a gun for bad purposes -- but then, they would just as easily use any other tool, from fraudulent bank accounts to machetes to those same bad purposes. The important thing, then, is for good people to be armed, to have the ability to resist and put down the bad. And it is especially important for people who are not agents of the state to have guns, to ensure that the state will not overstep its boundaries, as fallen humans inevitably will.
Guns Reflect A New Class Consciousness
Added to the above, I think, is a reality that is new to American society and American politics.
In every human culture, the distinction between the upper classes and the lower classes was martial. The monopoly on lawful violence is as ancient as chivalry and bushido, and possibly more ancient still, when the first caveman warlord decided that his health would be much improved if no one but he and his trusted people could have the obsidian spearpoint.
Being a nobleman meant having a weapon, and having been trained in using it; it still means that in many cultures. And pretty much every society ever seen on the face of the planet understood --and was indeed based on -- this fundamental difference between the armed upper class and the disarmed lower class.
America was unique there. As a revolutionary republic, filled with idealists and ideologues with Enlightenment ideals about the equality of man -- and one that threw off a monarchy with all of its attendant feudal echoes -- Americans held that they were all, in fact, equal. There was no upper class or lower class, even if there were vast differences in wealth, and even if, in practice, the class distinctions were as rigid as the court of Louis XIV. The old money families had to at least pretend to be like everybody else, and had to at least pretend to have the same values as the (white) shopkeeper who sold them trinkets.
Furthermore, the great bounty of the United States and the economic freedoms we put in place meant that, more often than not, social mobility was the norm, rather than the exception. One could actually be born a pauper here, and work his way to becoming a merchant prince, or even the Commander-in-Chief of the entire military.
Charles Murray in Coming Apart subtly expresses how even as recently as the 1960s, the rich and powerful didn't see themselves as a separate class, apart from everyone else.
The New Upper Class
There is, I think, in America today a nascent awareness of class differences. The rich and powerful and influential of today's America are rich and powerful and influential because of their intellectual ability. They're simply smarter than everyone else. As such, they disdain manual labor of any kind, unless it is an acceptable hobby, like gourmet cooking, the arts, or music. Every physical need of the new Upper Class is tended to by lower class professionals, whether they be cooks, nannies, housecleaners, plumbers, electricians ... or cops.
Having to "dirty one's hands" as it were with violence strikes the New Upper Class as terribly gauche. And as they mostly live in small urban enclaves with extremely heavy policing, and awesome personal security (check out some of the co-op buildings in NYC), they associate guns with the lower classes, whether those be Bible-thumping, inbred rednecks or blunt-smokin' ghetto hoodlums.
The truly rich, of course, have men with guns around them at all times as personal security. The hypocrisy of the Hollywood millionaires calling for gun control, when they live off glorification of gun violence in their work and then surround themselves with men with guns as bodyguards, has been noted. The hypocrisy of Diane Feinstein and the rest of the political classes, who travel with armed guards 24-7 (often paid for by taxpayers) is unnoticed by the media. And the list goes on.
The New Upper Class sees no hypocrisy there, since violence -- like cleaning the house -- is the province of "professionals." They simply cannot understand why these gun nuts insist on wanting to do the dirty work themselves, when the police -- all heroic, all public servants -- should simply be allowed to do their jobs.
But, at the heart of the identity is the unspoken notion that it's okay for one of them to have a gun, because they will be responsible, because they are smarter, because they are more capable, because ... they are noble. Not, you understand, that they would, but if anyone should, it's one of the New Upper Class ....
The Wrath of the Distrusted & the Distrusting
I think this new class consciousness is what gives an extra emotional frisson to the gun debates. It hearkens back centuries and millennia to when the nobles were armed, and the serfs were forbidden to own weapons or even in many cases to be taught how to use them ... except as conscripts for milord's militia.
The gun owners who begin with the belief that man is fallen, and therefore protection of life, limb, and liberty is the paramount individual right of human beings, understand the unspoken meaning in the efforts of the New Upper Class: you are peasants.
In a society like Korea, where the yangban-ssangnom distinction is 5,000 years old ... that is likely no real insult. In a society like America, founded on the radical notion that there are no class differences; that everyone is a nobleman, a free-born citizen entitled to all of the rights and privileges of feudal lords, disarmament goes beyond simple political argument: it goes to the heart of our society, to the heart of our individual understanding of ourselves as Americans.
The criminals are never the ones to complain about gun control. First, they know they would just break those silly laws, since they plan on breaking far bigger ones. But second, they know instinctively that they are indeed outlaws -- outside the law, outside civil society.
It is the law-abiding citizen, who has always considered himself just as good as anybody else, the equal of Presidents and CEOs, who cannot tolerate the idea that he cannot be trusted with a weapon. Suddenly, he feels not only the anger of the anti-gun people, but also their disdain for his lifestyle, for his beliefs, for him.
Conversely, the resistance by the law-abiding citizen, the New Middle Class, is an unconscionable reminder to the New Upper Class that no matter how much money they have, no matter how much they might know about French vineyards, no matter how many years of Ivy League education they've had ... they're not superior to their janitor as a person. Americans do not, yet, recognize the noble-peasant distinction. And that is equally intolerable for them. Because for them, as it once was for me, their own identity is intrinsically tied up in their superiority to others. They're not just smarter people, you see; they're better people.
What Say You?
I'm quite likely dead wrong about this idea, that gun control is such a passionate topic because of difference in deep beliefs about human beings, and because of class differences between our New Upper Class elites and everyone else. But then again, I don't know ... I feel like I've got something here.
What say you?