The Mythos of Gun Gulture

  • Posted: August 28, 2019
  • Category: Blog
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In a not so distant past, before the cacophony of cackling fertilized by the manure of grievance studies buried our past in a miasma of poisonous fumes, a common mythology shaped the culture of our beloved country. Rather than the newly fashionable myth of a slave holding land speculator, we once learned about the George Washington who could not tell a lie, confessing to cutting down a cherry tree. There are grains of truth in both myths, but which myth would you rather believe? Which myth uplifts us and challenges us to be better than we are?

The myths we hear as children mold us and shape us. Myths are not recitations of the dreary contradictory facts making up real lives but pictures of the essential truths about those lives. The dreary contradictory facts are that George Washington was a man of his place and times, as well as a sinner in need of grace.

But that niggardly view hides the essential truth about George Washington. That grab bag of factoids offers no explanation as to why he did not go down the totalitarian path trod by Napoleon Bonaparte or V. I. Lenin, though they were three of a kind. The myths that grew up around Washington’s integrity and honesty explain that truth, as well as encouraging young Americans to emulate a truly remarkable man.

Another of those unnaturally perceptive Russians wrote, “All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. The once happy American family seems determined to become unhappy in it own way. Despite the universal experience of slavery’s chains by all countries and peoples over the millennia, the United States seems to seek a unique penance. Or maybe Leo Tolstoy got it wrong. A brief look at the unhappy families and countries in the world today reveals them all to be trapped in the grip of misremembered ancient grievances.

Happy families, unhappy families, they all have their myths. Their myths, no matter the truth in them, reveal their truths. One of the myths in my own family is about me, and about guns. As a little boy, even a very little boy – not that I was ever of even average size – I was very much into guns. Perhaps I, in some unconscious little boy way, sought to compensate for my small size.

On my 7th birthday, I desperately wanted a BB gun for my birthday – think that perennial holiday favorite, Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story”. Ralphie Parker is my doppelganger, much much too close for comfort in so many ways, none of them flattering. When faced with my birthday wish, my parents being rational reasonable people said “Absolutely not. You are way too young”.

But then a puzzling and mysterious thing happened, something common to myths. What is the magic in a myth where only the rational and reasonable are allowed to exist? My Grandpa intervened. He let it be known that, “If my parents wouldn’t buy me a BB gun for my birthday, he would.” In attempted explanation I must say I can’t remember any real interaction that I ever had with my Grandpa. I remember wondering back then how Grandpa knew I wanted a BB gun, since we never talked?

But – I did get a BB gun for my 7th birthday. As I remember growing up on the farm, that BB gun and its increasingly powerful replacements were my constant companions. Cats loved me, birds feared me – just so you know, only sparrows and blackbirds fell before my eagle eye. This memory growing out of a family myth is practically my only real memory of my only Grandpa, my other Grandpa having died in a farm accident five years before I was born.

I have no idea of the “real story”. I have no idea why my Grandpa acted on this one occasion in what seemed to me, both then and now, a totally out of character manner. It was said that Grandpa was a Cossack, a wild man of the steppes back in the old country. It was also said that he doted on my younger brother, often taking him out for a soda or ice cream, leaving me to pursue my more introverted activities. And so the myth about my Grandpa goes, what to make of it, nobody knows.

But the myth captures my connection with guns. A special memory much closer in time involves the sporting goods store next to our office in Rifle, CO. The store displayed a Barrett M107 sniper rifle on the wall above the counter. This rifle was as long as I am tall, or so it seemed, firing .50 caliber bullets almost 5 inches long with an effective range of over a mile. It was just so cool to just stand there, unnoticed, imagining myself on the rooftops of Fallujah. On my trips to the Rifle office, I always stopped in to see the rifle (no pun intended).

But long before my occasional trips to Rifle, I had married a woman who, for good reasons, was and remains very uncomfortable with guns. And along the way in our life together, as I have haltingly and painfully learned to respect the views and feelings of others, I have backed away from my guns. Not sold them, as I make no claim to sainthood, but I have backed away from them.

And so it was that my wife and I were recently listening to CPR on our way home from church. One of Colorado’s political class was making the case for “common sense” limitations on firearms. Unlike the prayer warriors of Adorable Colorado, the man being interviewed lives in the real world, seeking common ground and the common good. He is a prosecuting attorney of long experience and knows of what he speaks.

As we listened, my wife agreed with his points about background checks, assault rifles, red flags, etc., adding in familiar exasperation “I don’t know why we need all these guns. Something needs to be done”. A bit to her surprise, at least I think very much so, I agreed with her and the man on the radio. Everything being said made a lot of sense and was very reasonable, at least in my opinion.

But then I broke the spell by adding, “Even if it is a good idea, I think it’s a bad idea.” Even though she knows I have a problem with authority, actually against anyone anywhere telling me what I can’t do, she looked at me, thunderclouds swirling into existence on her brow, “Why?” Throwing caution to the winds, I embarked on a long wandering explanation making no sense to anyone but me. Luckily our time in church that morning had softened our hearts allowing us to give each other a more than normal measure of grace. We moved onto other conversation, rescuing our pleasant morning’s tete-a-tete from going any further downhill.

How does one explain a lifetime’s experience? How do you prove the truth of a lifetime’s lessons? My entry into the world of engineering and construction began in 1972. That year also saw the enactment of the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act (CWA) was a straightforward piece of legislation, the product of sensible and responsible legislators aimed at limiting and controlling major pollution sources dumping into the Navigable Waters of the United States, Navigable Waters being defined as:

“those waters that are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide, and those inland waters that are presently used, or have been used in the past, or may be susceptible for use to transport interstate or foreign commerce”

Fairly straightforward, perhaps a little boring, but then who said legislation made for interesting reading? The Clean Water Act required anyone or anything discharging into the oceans bordering the United States, or the inland rivers large enough for barge traffic, to receive a permit from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

Simple enough, but fast-forward forty five years. The EPA now, with no further legal foundation of substance beyond the CWA, claims total and non-negotiable jurisdiction, requiring increasingly onerous permits, over the entire land mass of the United States, including land hundreds of miles if not thousands of miles, from any water capable of transporting interstate or foreign commerce let alone “subject to the ebb and flow of the tide”.

Let’s not forget all that water hiding under the ground. The EPA now claims total and non-negotiable jurisdiction, requiring those increasingly onerous permits, over all groundwater in the United States. Perhaps the EPA has determined Charon’s ferrying of souls across the Styx to be interstate commerce.

How did this happen you ask? The CWA provided the foundation for an aggressive regulatory apparatus. But regulators can’t do it all by themselves. It takes a village. The novel legal theories of entrepreneurial “activist” lawyers for the “public interest” and a compliant judiciary were instrumental in the execution of a truly jaw dropping exercise in the expansion of governmental regulatory authority. Last but not least by any means, we must give proper recognition to a media establishment ever ready to inflame passions with tendentious “news” and “entertainment”. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, government permits are now necessary for anyone to do anything on their land, legally.

Maybe this power in the hands of the Regulatory State is a good thing. In that unprecedented aggrandizement of power by the unelected and unaccountable over decades, “the people” and “the common good” were repeatedly invoked as the rational for that aggrandizement. Unfortunately, “the people” were never consulted as to their thoughts on “the common good”. Neither were their representatives, more feckless than not. People of good will might have differed or sought other means to provide for the common welfare, but were never given an opportunity to do so.

With the passions of the mob inflamed by the shootings in El Paso, Dayton and others, it might be useful to remember the public outcries that drove the Clean Water Act. It was an orchestrated public outcry driving Congress to pass the Clean Water Act back in the late and unlamented Nixon Administration. Perhaps the most notable event leading to that raging river of the mob’s wisdom was the Cuyahoga River Fire. For the benefit of the geographically challenged, the Cuyahoga River is a fair sized river flowing through the City of Cleveland, Ohio into Lake Erie.

Over the years, the Cuyahoga River, as was common practice of the era, became a dumping ground for residents, municipalities and industry. Oil slicks from derelict cars, city waste dumps and manufacturing plants regularly caught fire. The fires, mostly small flares quickly extinguishing themselves (river water doesn’t burn well), were so frequent that city residents took little notice. But one fire in 1969 was picked up by the national news and caused a sensation.

The Cuyahoga River Fire was a direct cause of the Clean Water Act of 1972. Once again we have national sensations, El Paso & Dayton being the most recent. Twenty eight people killed by two crazy young men with guns. As is its custom, the mob cries, “we need to do something about it”. The media, stepping into their well practiced role, breathlessly informs us that 512 people have died in mass shootings over the past 10 years, neglecting to provide context – approximately the same number of people in the US have died from lightning strikes over that same time period.

Slipping beneath the notice of the media’s foghorns are the 800-900 murder victims, almost all from gunfire, each year in Chicago alone. I guess the death of thousands of innocent people in the ghettos of an Adorable stronghold holds little interest in the safe and secure neighborhoods of our betters. No mob is going to be roused to action by the drive by shootings of nameless children of color by gangsters of similar color. What would be the point? Whose narrative is advanced by that?

So the mob’s cries for action force a law, perhaps even a law that reasonable people would think a sensible solution to the problem of deranged and aggrieved young men having access to military type firearms. What will happen? Have entrepreneurial activist lawyers in the public interest become extinct? Have compliant judges seeking an umbra within the penumbra gone the way of the dinosaurs? Has the media meanwhile become responsible and fair? Does anyone think a “Red Flag” law will not morph into something totally unrecognizable within a decade?

The mob is not wrong. There are problems in our country involving guns that demand action. But then – there already exist laws beyond counting about guns, about murder, about all the issues in question more or less respectful of the basic rights of our citizens – in the land of the free and home of the brave.

What is it about guns that arouses such passion, pro and con? More to the point, why do I care? It’s probably been five years since I actually fired a gun. The dust lies thick on the guns in my safe. This summer I pulled out an old BB gun to use against the troublesome magpies and crows disturbing my peace. It turns out they had little to fear. In a sad turnabout illustrative of present circumstances, cats now tolerate me, birds laugh at me.

I think we all miss the point about guns. The arguments against guns exist on the potent fumes given off by a volatile mix of pathos and fear. The arguments for guns are the children of dispassionate logic, or simply a dumb refuge in the language of rights. Once one drills down to the essence of the arguments, pro and con, one comes to the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution.

The 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Well that is certainly clear enough. I am allowed to own an assault rifle because I might be called up for militia duty. What does the archaic concept of a well-regulated militia have to do with a 21st Century military establishment, dominating the world with an annual budget of $ 700 Billion? Lawyers, start your engines. Let the race to the courtroom begin.

It is not as if we demonstrate any great concern about our rights anyway, particularly when we think there might be some threat to our life or health – no matter how remote. Just look at the lines of patient cattle going through security at a sporting event or airport and ponder our commitment to our rights. The Founding Fathers were obsessively concerned with property rights, thinking the strongest possible guarantee of personal freedom to be made by any government was protecting the sanctity of private property. Then ponder the long and sordid history of the Clean Water Act in light of our commitment to our rights.

But while we dumbly endure the humbling degradation of the security line as well as accommodate the infuriating Inspector Clouseau’s infesting the permitting agencies, the threat to our gun ownership sets off the alarm klaxons. Appeals to the 2nd Amendment simply don’t explain the passion, for or against. In that curiously idiot savant way so characteristic of the cloud dwelling academic, former President Obama recognized the heart of the issue back in 2008:

“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion”

Yes we do. Former President Obama knows us well. But again, why do we cling to our guns and religion? In a way that is difficult to explain, even to myself, guns are a part of me. I grew up in a culture that owned guns. Gun culture in my part of the world was not something that went back for generations in time, it was a new thing, something that came with being an American. My Grandpa would have been executed for owning a gun back in the old country. But when he came to America, he could own a gun, and importantly, his grandchildren could own a gun. It was part of being an American.

There is no hiding the fact. It is obvious. Guns are about power. A building stands upon an invisible foundation, but it falls down without it. America’s freedoms also stand upon invisible foundations as well. My Grandpa understood this. Back in the old country, the peasant farmers, the shopkeepers, the craftsmen, they didn’t have guns. They were forbidden to have guns. And as a result, they suffered a thousand humiliating tyrannies from the petty officials, who did have guns, strutting through their farms and villages.

But now we are in America and all men are created equal. God created us equal, but it has been a long hard struggle to achieve that equality, an equality that still eludes us. Back before education ensconced us in cossetted cubicles and thereby blinded us to reality, there was a saying, a myth if you will, that might have answered Mr. Obama’s exasperated question about why we cling to both our religion and our guns.

“God created all men, but Sam Colt made them equal.”

God and guns are powers outside the manipulations of activist lawyers, compliant judges and fawning media. Guns are about power, but a strangely diffuse power. Paradoxically, owning a gun confers power but actually using a gun in defense of life or liberty takes its power away. Perhaps we might once more confirm the contempt of our betters for us by looking to our founding fathers for insight. Col. Christopher Gadsen of South Carolina designed our fledgling Navy’s first flag, an ensign of bright yellow background with a coiled rattlesnake and the words – “Don’t tread on me”.

I think Col. Gadsen’s flag captures the essence of gun culture, of the 2nd Amendment, of a prudent citizenry’s relationship with its government. An armed citizen embarks on a decidedly risky path by choosing to use that weapon. If the rattlesnake strikes, both the rattlesnake and its target lose, though the rattlesnake loses much more.

But the existence of the snake’s power to strike ensures the rattlesnake is treated with respect and caution. The existence of armed citizens changes the balance of power between government and citizen in profound ways. A brief survey of the oppressed people groups of the world clearly illustrates the point. It seems that it is well nigh impossible to oppress an armed population.

Myths explain what facts obfuscate. Former President Obama and the Adorables have a myth about guns. Those of us sympathetic to gun culture, mostly Deplorable, have a different myth about guns. Both myths explain much about modern America.

And so I, a Deplorable in the land of the Adorables, am left on the horns of a dilemma. I know people with guns, lots of guns. I know people with guns that quite frankly scare me. I spent hours in prayer and worry at the time of the Columbine shooting. Luckily, my high school daughter had made a timely decision to go out for lunch that day. I understand and sympathize with the urge to just outlaw guns. A pox upon them! I too would love to live in the land of the lotus eaters.

Someday the lion will lie down with the lamb. Someday the child will play with the rattlesnake and be not afraid. But I don’t think that day is here yet. I think there exist common sense laws and/or regulations that would do a lot to ensure the common safety, perhaps even calming the mob. But I remember the Clean Water Act. I have seen how the swamp grows.

“We are the Borg. Existence as you know it is over.”

I am a Grandpa now. I fear for the safety of my grandchildren and want a long full life for them. I dearly desire to make the world they will live in safer. But at what cost? A lifetime’s experience has taught it is dangerous to make deals with the Devil. He promises much for little, but delivers nothing at the cost of everything.

 

2 Responses to “The Mythos of Gun Gulture”

  1. Greg says:

    The shootings are a problem that can be mitigated but not solved. I noticed that when Obama was president, the issue was “mental illness,” and not guns. The media, with Trump, now feels guns are the problem. (I’m not dismissing mental illness)I noticed that Douglas County dropped a charter school (Ascent Classic Academy)for possibly allowing the teachers to carry a weapon-in most cases the police can’t respond fast enough-The answer is more weapons in the hands of the right people-

  2. Judy Hoxworth says:

    Excellent read! So much common sense and probably all of it would fall on deaf ears of the adorable!

    As I read this tonight after another mass shooting in Texas I know the refrain is going to come screaming back at us tomorrow. Sadly one day someone will sign something that will require God only knows but it will not help because mans heart is deceptively evil and it will very soon look like the clean air act you spoke of…and then what? One can only imagine

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