Chan Lowe: The real reason we're so gun crazy


PITTSFIELD — If you don't willfully ignore the opening clause of the Second Amendment — the part about the well-regulated militia — the way the NRA does, the whole thing makes sense in an 18th century, single-shot musket kind of way. The gents who wrote the text were still smarting from the oppression of a distant government and wanted to make sure they had a way to stop the one they were concocting from resorting to the same shenanigans.

To foreigners, especially those from developed Western countries that do not view their governments as potential enemies, owning weaponry for personal protection or other reasons is irrelevant to their lives. They don't discuss it often except to marvel at the American addiction to it.

Thanks to technology, guns have developed into killing weapons unimaginable to our forefathers; similarly unforeseen was their staggering availability. What hasn't changed, however, is the symbolism of the gun. To many, it still represents the last bastion of freedom and a tangible reminder that the bearer of said weapon exercises a measure of control over his existence and destiny. The beautifully machined piece of equipment is more than a mere firearm; it is a rod of steel that reaffirms his "liberty" — a word often used by gun advocates who contend that this concept can only be protected from dark influences by force of arms.

Then there is — sorry to bring this up — the potency of the weapon. It's sexy in its curves, its weight, and the way its function mimics that of the male sex organ. The technical word "ejecta," which describes the bullet and gases emitted from the muzzle, underscores this metaphor. Rape and other forms of sexual harassment are viewed as acts of aggression, and if you consider the open carrying of a firearm as a tacit demonstration of virility, it isn't hard to see why the carrying of such a talisman feeds aggressive instincts in the carrier.

Clinging to guns

So now we're talking about matters that go much deeper than mere self- protection. We're talking about dignity, affirmation, self-esteem, sexual prowess; we're drilling down to the very core of how people view themselves individually and how they interact with neighbors and their community.

Remember then-candidate Barack Obama's unartful quote about working-class voters facing job insecurity — "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations"? His primary opponent, Hillary Clinton (of all people), pounced on it not because it wasn't true, but because she thought it would offend many Americans, which it did. Two election cycles later, candidate Donald Trump refined and focused the sentiments described so deftly by then-Senator Obama into a winning presidential election strategy.

All this is to say that arguing for gun control regulations from a logical perspective — for example, asserting that the presence of more guns creates a more dangerous environment — doesn't really cut it with people who have managed to conflate their gun ownership with their self-identity. The fact that "lone wolves" with a grievance against society work out their problems by discharging a firearm at defenseless targets demonstrates what a powerful weapon an assault rifle is, not just for the victims but also for the shooter.

One can argue that the willingness of our politicians to accept money from the gun lobby and fear of retribution at the polls are the reasons for the affliction of gun violence in this country. But that is really only part of it; there is a very good reason certain gun rights zealots are such committed single-issue voters: when you talk about restricting guns, you're talking about robbing them of their very essence.

Chan Lowe is the deputy editorial page editor of The Eagle and a syndicated editorial cartoonist.


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