I almost used the words “gun culture” in last week’s column to describe America’s relationship with firearms. I refrained because using those words means I have a lot of unpacking to do.
Understanding what I mean by “gun culture” is to understand the overarching tones of rural America. The spirit of rural America is filled with notions of self-sufficiency, freedom from the imposition of large government, and the ability to generally do as one pleases under the umbrella of natural law, not government regulation.
Guns are a piece of a way of life for many people. They represent the notion of American freedom, in a way that is hard to understand for those who haven’t experienced it. This is something I have seen firsthand in places I have lived, including rural New York and Louisiana.
Gun ownership is seen as a keystone that points to self-sufficiency, the ability to protect things loved, the ability to fight off the unwanted, and the ability to own a powerful piece of insurance that many in other countries cannot.
Guns, as Politico points out, are sources of community for millions. The gun is not a static object that sits in someone’s home, but rather a conversation piece and collector's item. They are also a rallying point for community via gun shows, shooting contests, and hunting.
A gun can be something passed to your kids - perhaps in the way your father did - and something to instruct your coming-of-age children how to use.
I have a brother who bonds with his father on the shooting range. I also have friends who love gun shows, and see guns as family heirlooms and important pieces of a larger collection. I have seen the passion people have for guns, and have heard the fears my friends have of encroaching government and how left-leaning folks don’t understand the importance of armed citizenship.
Make no mistake, this does not change the reality that guns are weapons designed to kill. It is easy for me as a non-gun owner to remove the weapon from its sentiment and place in the community. The question, "Why are people in this country hesitant to enact gun laws intended to change lives?" is not as simple as "those gun-freaks just don’t want to disarm."
Rural America, conservatives, and the blue-collar workers typically associated with gun ownership appear to feel threatened by a government that only seems to grow. Drugs, urbanization, and dwindling rural jobs do nothing to help the tension.
The government wants to take or tell its citizens how to use these sources of community and power for those who feel increasingly powerless? It is under this lens that gun regulation seems to infringe on someone’s way of life.
Again, the right to these weapons is in the Constitution. Since "District of Columbia v. Heller" in 2008, the Supreme Court finally recognized that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of gun possession to the individual, not just the right of a well-regulated militia to its guns. As badly as I want to see gun control and potentially even the rewriting of the Second Amendment, its current interpretation gives little wiggle room for banning something like the AR15 or the AR10.
So what options are there? A Constitutional amendment is essentially an impossibility, and the idea of banning certain guns outright appears far-fetched in times of increased partisanship and a powerful National Rifle Association.
For now, I think gun owners and gun skeptics alike should agree that background checks, required training courses, mental health checks, and firearm registration achieve what both sides want. These measures will help, however much, to keep killing tools from the wrong hands; all of this without banning a single attachment, ammo-type, or gun model.
Perfection cannot hinder progress. In my mind, this is not an ideal solution to America’s unusual gun violence. However, it’s a compromise that helps both sides move closer to appeasing the other.
Overall, we must begin to understand each other. The left is not a zombie hive-mind of bureaucrats looking to take your guns. The right is not a cult of disdainful lovers of violence, who cling to weapons out of pure fetishization of weaponry. The sooner we try to understand the motives behind gun control or the lack thereof, the sooner we can begin to clean our streets of blood and empty casings.