“The guns and the bombs, the rockets and the warships, are all symbols of human failure.”
– Lyndon B. Johnson
It is difficult to envision a scenario where a gun could be used effectively and not destructively. In fact, it’s almost painfully easy to conjure up countless accidental shootings, purposeful shootings, suicides and so on, where the presence of a gun proved catastrophic.
Just watch or read any domestic or foreign news, and it is clear that guns are literally in the right hand of all who oppress, whether it be a delinquent harassing anyone in his path, a policeman maintaining the status quo or a military protecting the economic interests of the powerful. The gun is the principal tool for all who oppress and destroy.
There is always the romantic, deluded notion that guns are our last holdout against takeover by some unspecified tyrannical regime, which we should recognize as a facet of American fear and paranoia. But what kind of tyranny are gun fanatics trying to prevent? A society where people are afraid to walk in the street because they might get shot? Where parents do not feel safe letting their kids go play at a friend’s house? Where university libraries, elementary schools and movie theaters are not safe?
The sobering reality is that the fanaticism of guns is its own tyrannical regime. It has embedded itself deeply in the U.S., and we are all victims of its will. The first to suffer were those who tricked themselves into thinking violence was the answer. And the rest of us are victims too, as we live in constant fear for our safety because we live in a militarized, violent country.
But what kind of tyranny are gun fanatics trying to prevent? A society where people are afraid to walk in the street because they might get shot? Where parents do not feel safe letting their kids go play at a friend’s house? Where university libraries, elementary schools and movie theaters are not safe?
This unfortunate reality stems from two main sources: a material culture that proliferates guns, and an ideological culture that glorifies and encourages the use of violence. Because guns are especially effective as tools of destruction, they tend to be the weapon of choice.
We would hope that in the wake of X shooting, our society might take a step back and try to prevent the next one. But that is wishful thinking: The predominant narrative insists that guns are not the problem, and whatever the problem is, the obvious solution is more guns.
Every year, up to 2 million guns are produced in the U.S. By government estimates, there is nearly one gun for every person living in the U.S. This in itself is terrifying, but what is even more revealing and infuriating is that the U.S. is responsible for more than three-fourths of the global arms market, raking in at least $66 billion in 2014 alone. Democracy is not our only export.
Of course these weapons would be useless without an ideology that idolizes them. The implicit message of our society is that violence is an effective tool for securing and maintaining control. When we perpetuate the status quo, we by extension praise its underpinning: violence. Would our country even exist absent lethal force?
When we perpetuate the status quo, we by extension praise its underpinning: violence.
Beyond the implicit message, we are also raised with the explicit doctrine that guns are sacred, which is a central tenant of fanatical organizations like the National Rifle Association. Their belief is that even if guns do wreak havoc, the Second Amendment supposedly grants us the right to bear them. This is a deceptively simple interpretation, and in fact counters the legal precedent of the Supreme Court, which retired Justice John Paul Stevens highlighted in his book “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.”
Read the amendment for yourself and you can see that it does not spell out the right for private citizens to own arms. Nonetheless, laws, such as Florida’s notorious “stand your ground” law, create a collective mindset that emboldens people to shoot to kill.
Part of the rabid ideology of gun ownership is the particularly totalitarian phrase “law-abiding citizen,” which is employed as a euphemism for the privileged white. These “law-abiding citizens” inhabit an approaching apocalypse reality where their only salvation is their weapons, which they will brandish at just the right moment and use appropriately and heroically, because that’s how it plays out in movies, and by extension, in the sick imaginations of those who own guns.
Disarmament is the ideal to which democratic, civil societies must aspire, though it can only be accomplished when we find a means of addressing both the material and ideological roots of America’s violence. To collect all the guns and melt them down is a tantalizing idea, but then the ex-owners of guns would simply look for new implements of destruction. The first and most crucial disarmament that society must enact is one within the human spirit.
Hollywood and corporate media’s narrative that violence equals glory must be replaced with the reminder that violence only ensures destruction. And the historical narrative that asserts that violence somehow begets freedom must be countered by the sad fact that violence is the chief obstacle to human liberation.
The first and most crucial disarmament that society must enact is one within the human spirit.
When we reject violence as a laudable end, its implements will seem even more absurd, and the gun industry will be exposed for what it really is: an immoral capital venture. Honestly, what role does a gun play in the hand of someone who does not intend to destroy? What purpose does a gun serve in the hand of the someone who respects the dignity of all human beings?
Until the day of disarmament, I have one parting thought for those who resort to violence and are not troubled by the ongoing assault on civil society:
Live by the sword, die by the sword.