America today is caught in a plague of gun violence. It wasn’t always this way. Americans used to own guns without engaging in daily massacres. Indeed, it always jumps out at me that the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when members of one Chicago gang set up and killed seven members of a rival gang, was so shocking it led to legislation that prohibits automatic weapons in the U.S.
What a coherent summary of the gun evolution in our society. I’m in my early 70’s and grew up at a time when girls had dolls and boys had toy guns. We watched Davy Crockett and Gunsmoke, wore coonskin caps and advanced to BB and pellet guns. I joined the NRA while still in my teens and served both in the military and later the FBI.
Somehow, despite all this I must have had a different belief system; as I haven’t owned a firearm in decades, despise the NRA and am both embarrassed and afraid of what the gun lobby has instilled in our Country. Assault weapons in private hands? Lack of background checks? Little or no comprehensive gun registration or regulation? What a tragic situation which Americans overwhelmingly want corrected yet lobbyists and self serving politicians continue to block. It sickens me and I will do my best to support Gabby Gifford and others in their efforts. Thanks HCR for presenting this and keeping the dialogue going. We are better than this and deserve better from our elected officials.
This is an excellent summary of the cultural magnet holding the pieces of obstruction together.
I honestly believe that these men want so badly to have an enemy to fight. Their sense of masculinity is inextricably bound to movies where the rugged, masculine, white hero faces down evil with firearms.
As you so deftly made clear here, it goes far beyond a gun crisis. We have a crisis of masculinity in this country. Tens of millions of grown men--to say nothing of boys--who have been conditioned to believe that their only worth as men comes from violently defending their families, their homes, or themselves against a vague evil that so often takes shape in the form of their worst bigotries.
Insecurity in manhood drives the bulk of this.
As an immigrant, I have never understood the American love of the Second Amendment -- to me, it represents the worship of a weapon of war and of death.
I remember in 2000 when The National Rifle Association's president, Charlton Heston, holding a rifle, said that if the government ever tried to take away his gun they would have to wrench it from his "cold, dead hands." That sent shivers down my spine! To this day, when I think of it, I cringe! It was and is an ugly, distorted image of a man willing to die for a weapon of death -- one that should not be sold to any human being in times of peace.
Our national discourses on gun ownership are so skewed and distorted, it's difficult to enter into them. Almost 50 years ago, I wrote my senior thesis on cross cultural murder patterns. The murder pattern in the U.S. was dominantly of people being murdered by people who knew them, not being murdered at random or by strangers. Mass murders in recent decades have put a dent in those statistics, no doubt, but people in the U.S. are still far more likely to be murdered by someone who they know. For women, this is most often, by their intimate (male) partner. The idea of gun ownership for personal protection appeared to be more of a myth than a reality. I did find one statistic that has stayed with me for the rest of my life--an armed home owner who attempts to stop an armed criminal in their house is six times more likely to be killed than an unarmed householder. Gun ownership leads to more murders. All I have written so far in this reply is about ownership of guns, like rifles and hand guns, which is what U.S. homeowners owned in the 60's and early '70's. The automatic weapons that have proliferated in recent decades have the sole purpose of killing many people quickly. They are weapons of war, developed by the military. How they ever became legal is a crime against the people.
There are two reasons why I like Letters from an American so much. Heather Cox Richardson is brilliant in being able to combine history and current affairs into a narrative that is compelling and of the moment, and the people who comment add many individual insights that also add a lot to the original idea. Great reading all around!
Morning, all!! Morning, Dr. R!! Today's Letter provides a clear history of where we are today as a nation. "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." One sentence ratified 230 years ago (1791) now makes me think twice before heading to my local grocery store.
HRC did in 1,202 words what would take Ken Burns 8 1-hour episodes. ;-). Damn!
There was a time early in the pandemic when I thought that it might be possible we would culturally redefine what it was to be a hero. The qualities exhibited by selfless healthcare workers who against overwhelming odds sacrificed so much, including their safety and potentially their health, physical and mental, demonstrating enormous compassion daily caring for others. All celebrated that care, compassion, competence, and dedication. The term healthcare heroes was on everyone’s lips. People daily demonstrated their support for those sacrificing so much in service to others. Despite all the tragic consequences of the pandemic I thought perhaps that redefinition of the image of what it meant to be a hero was a positive.
But I found those hopes dashed by a President and his millions of supporters who celebrated all those toxic masculinity characteristics unhelpful to the redefinition of hero I hoped for. He used the word strength in almost every sentence never pairing it once with the word character. He demonstrated no respect for the heroes fighting the pandemic and it's consequences, instead demeaning and belittling them. Rather he celebrated those pushing against science, truth, and knowledge. The cowboy hero was again celebrated pushing out the healthcare hero. Instead of making a sacrifice for others being celebrated, millions celebrated toxic individualism.
Yet one more hope for a better future crushed under the feet of the Trump masses by their ignorance and selfishness.
Here in Texas the state legislature is about to pass what is called the Constitutional Carry law allowed people to carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit. Don't you love the name they tagged this with. Sort of like "Voter Integrity" as a euphemism for voter suppression.
So lets link yesterdays HCR letter to today’s. Yesterday she detailed the progress of the Republican party which we see as circling the drain and today the notion that we are in a gun battle for the country that the Republicans have designed with the help of the Cowboy myth, western independence, and state’s rights over national efforts to reform. Or something like that.
Both of these letters are dealing with trends in the country that are founded on the slight of hand that says ‘if you are accused of something the best defense is to accuse your accusers of the same offense.’ Oddly this works. There is a psychology that says the thing that upsets us most in others is when they mirror a problem we, ourselves have that we are actively trying to deny. In this case we can get strident, obstreperous, and escalate any situation toward violence just to keep ourselves from having to recognize our problem.
Have you ever held a gun in your hand? A loaded gun? How about a loaded gun in your living room? Or a loaded gun when you are angry? How do you think a teen-ager or now we are talking about pre teens, feels when holding a gun and having the emotions of that time of life? When I hold a loaded gun I feel fear. I think this is what a lot of us would feel but others feel power, empowered rage, and a turn from impotence toward capacity. This is the same myth that the cowboy rides on. The cowboy pointing at the fearful liberal holding their gun with two fingers is the same picture as the state’s right’s small government advocate pointing at what they see as the socialist.
Thing is, none of this analysis matters. Our system is so complicated, so entrenched, so encumbered with personality on both sides and so enslaved to profit that any level of comprehension is just for the comfort it might or might not bring the individual.
In many cases I have come down to contemplating the question of whether incremental change can bring about the transformation required. In Medicine, in politics, in law enforcement, in finance I have a hard time seeing the needed changes happening by even steady small incremental steps because it is the special interest group against the necessarily distracted majority. Special interest energy is basically what has gotten us here. It seems to be the bane and downfall of democracy.
At this point we are reduced to writing letters against those who are sending checks. We squeaked in a president while states representatives feel comfortable acting against a clear majority of their constituents. They are loudly aligning with their source of funds confident that this will enable them to remain in power. They are supporting states moves for voter suppression while tangling up and diluting the For The People Act that we may never see an actual vote on. In my opinion this is the only business that is before the country. But there is this idea that persistent reasonable government is going to change what? The underlying manipulative intent of a minority empowered by the systematic entrenchment that they have taken decades to build? Really? That is what we think?
HCR yesterday, asked where to the repubs think this is all going. It is still a good question. The only context where this makes any sense to me is that of addiction. Within the twisted logic of addiction it all does actually make sense and where it is going is one more day of addiction. Having personally witnessed addiction and recovery and relapse and recovery day to day I know the difficulty of arising from this insidious posture of self-destruction. I also know the instinct that modeling reasonable behavior hoping it rubs off is a hopeful but laughable misunderstanding of the addicted reality. It is vastly easier to spread the addiction than to confront it. And enabling through tolerance in any form is just playing to the disease.
Summarizing the 9000 ft. view must give me some comfort I guess. It sure doesn’t reveal a new path that can be followed.
This letter was a doozie!
It made me want to put up one of those big cork boards,get some push pins and colored string, and start tying everything you wrote about together. Barry Goldwater, Brown v. Board of Education, Socialism, and cowboys. Now that's some historical bouillabaisse!
Your way of looking at history is fascinating and unique. Brava professore!
This is a solid historical summation as far as it goes. This is about politicians, guns, and laws. What isn't mentioned is the effect that media has played in this historical thread. Starting in late 1930, mostly, up until today there has been a constant glorification of antisocial behavior. Not only are guns glorified but those who use them for good or evil are as well. In order to attract bigger audiences and advertising revenue TV and film, primarily, have gotten more and more graphic showing explosions, blood splatter, torture, revenge, and mayhem constantly numbing audiences to the horror of violent death. Hell, cartoons blow up kittens, anvils crash on coyotes, eyes get poked, noses bloodied, and everyone gets blown to bits...and we have put our children in front of these things to babysit while we make supper, sip wine, and talk on the phone...or, just chill out because we have been working all day. We can't send our kids out to play anymore because of the predators we have allowed to roam our communities, so they sit home and swill violence and grow numb. Death and blood has no meaning until it is in your town, house, school, church, synogogue or mosque. Then it's real but nothing can be done because the people who make our laws...hell, who inhabit our executive branches...are also numb to blood, guts, and mayhem. And, of course, corporate irresponsibility and greed complicate this path. Tougher laws and enforcement are needed but they are not enough. We need to deal with the effect that media glorification of violence has on this unique American cultural characteristic.
Heather MacLean in her book Democracy in Chains makes a compelling case for her argument that the Republican Party is under the control of wealthy corporations and wealthy individuals. She notes that the intellectual framework for the guiding principles of this ‘movement’ comes primarily from the ideas and vision of James McGill Buchanan an economist who won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science in 1986 for his work on “Public Choice Theory”. To oversimplify the “Public Choice Theory” amounts to the balance between private interests and public interests and, to oversimplify even further, the conflict between the ‘makers’ and the ‘takers’.
She notes that this vision has evolved over the last 70 years but took root in its current form during the 1970s and 1980s when Charles Koch reasoned that the vision properly financed and given enough time would suit his purposes of creating a political environment that had no regulations whatsoever and allowed for a totally unfettered market. He managed this by developing intellectual command posts through the funding of ‘think tanks’ like the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute and program chairs at George Mason University that espoused the neoconservative view. Most importantly, though, was his funding of the right-wing political infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). ALEC was founded in 1973 and SPN was founded in 1980. These organizations are the most important political influencers in our nation today as evidenced by the incredibly rapid response by so many states to submit voter obstruction bills following the Georgia senate elections in January.
I think that MacLean’s argument connects dots and the connection is that Republican politicians can do whatever they want regardless of their constituents’ preferences because they are beholden to the plutocrats whose only interest is in a free market and a continuation of their personal wealth. The means to achieve this does not matter as even though they are in the minority it is the minority interests rather than minority rights that they are committed to protect.
They now have 40 plus years influencing state politics which in effect has significant control over what takes place in local and national politics so they are firmly entrenched in our political future. The 2020 election was a close call as, in my view, it represented a tipping point for our democracy. Buchanan’s view was not to change who makes the rules but to change the rules themselves. This vision was not a support of our constitution or our democracy. To fulfill the view requires only that the interests of the elite and ‘qualified’ individuals are protected and that could be accomplished more easily by an autocracy or plutocracy rather than a democracy. In 2020, incredibly, the Republican Party had no platform! That meant that the substance of their policies were dependent only on the wishes and whims of Trump. Trump’s wishes and whims were substantively consistent with the plutocrats as his actions (reduction of personal and corporate taxes, reduction or elimination of regulations and federal agencies, weakening of the public school infrastructure, ignoring public health restrictions to maintain an open market) were perfectly aligned with their interests. His racism, misogyny, xenophobia and authoritarian actions mattered not.
As Dr. Richardson points out the majority of Americans do not support the political actions taken by our representatives over many issues including gun control, voters’ rights, immigration, public health requirements, infrastructure, police reform, etc. There is only one solution to this problem in my view and that is we must ensure one person, one vote. We can’t expect this to occur through our political system (as exemplified by the controversy that is erupting over H.R.1 (For the People Act) so we must actively support the on the ground efforts by organizations like Stacey Abrams Fair Fight Initiative. These organizations are knocking on doors to encourage people to vote and providing guidance as to how to inform themselves in determining what is important in that decision.
The 2020 election saved us from a tipping point but the reality is that it is only a temporary escape. The fundamental forces that have no concern about our nation retaining our democracy are firmly in place and will be very active in the 2022 election to right their cause. We do have much to be optimistic about with an administration that is promoting a role for our government that is making it a part of the solution, with the many grass root organizations that have sprouted nationwide to address the need for people to get out and vote and for the emerging intellectual framework that is supporting the values of our democracy through historians like Dr. Richardson and Dr. MacLean and economists like Dr. Jeffrey Sachs (sustainable development) and Paul Krugman (economic development) and scientists like Dr. Johan Rockstrom (planetary boundaries).
We once took our boys to a hockey tournament and there was a gun show nearby. The hotel forbid any hockey sticks on the property for fear of potential damage - yet people were walking around the lobby with all sorts of guns...
Before LFAA I never realized the depth of racial hatred in this country ...
Here in TX, a state legislator has proposed open carry -- no permit required. I know people who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon, because they think that they will be the "good guy with a gun" in a shoot out. Are there any examples of that? I recall an instances of a supposed "good guy" shooting a bystander and fleeing the scene.
Over the weekend, I drove by flags at half mast. I couldn't think of anyone famous (except Prince Philip) for whom the flags would be lowered ... then I recalled the multiple shooting events of the previous few days....