When did guns become such a emotionally charged issue? I grew up in the suburbs, not out on the farm or ranch. Nevertheless, most every home had firearms of one kind or another. They were used for sport, taken for granted, and not as items of worship – idols of self righteous defense and retribution. My farming friends and relatives used theirs against varmints and livestock predators, as well as hunting. Friends who spent time in the mountains often carried theirs for self protection against bears and cougars. The NRA provided firearms safety training, and probably a few other services, but that was the only one I knew about. And all of this was during the height of the Red Scare tactics of Sen. McCarthy, and the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, when war and the threat of internal insurrection was the hysteria of the day. Even during the race, civil rights and anti-war riots of the sixties and early seventies, there were very few who felt the need to be armed for self protection.
The Sunday paper always brings out the best in looney letters to the editor. They can go on for pages. This week’s gem was from a man in a nearby town fulminating about the fringe lunatics and their rabidly hysterical demands for gun control legislation as they trample the second amendment underfoot.
So far as I can tell, the only rabid hysteria around here is coming from guys like him. They appear to have been incited by a move underway in Washington (state, that is) to get an initiative on the ballot that would require mandatory background checks for all gun sales. I’m not a fan of legislation by initiative, but It seems like a reasonable idea to me. The gun lobby has reacted as if the sky is falling, the earth quaking, the volcanoes blowing, and the end of civilization as we know it on the horizon. They could be right about that last point.
When and why have so many gone nuts about concealed carry, open carry, stand your ground, and the need to be armed for self protection against others who are armed for self protection, all shrouded in hyperbolic second amendment faux patriotism? I have a couple of guesses. The first has to do with the immediacy of repetitive sensationalized news coverage that brings every violent death into our field of awareness as if it happened next door, and then pummels us with it for twenty-four hours. That same sensationalized coverage also gives the impression that half the world carries AK47s and bandoliers of ammunition while chanting death to Americans. Persons inclined to be frightened of imaginary enemies behind every door can be spooked into a guns for self defense mentality by that kind of stuff.
Who would engineer such a thing? Well, since conspiracy theories are all the rage these days, I’ll offer one possibility. The gun industry saw a golden opportunity to prop up sagging domestic sales by taking advantage of sensationalizing news casts, tweaking the fear factor, and moving the NRA into the role of frontman for a campaign to arm every citizen. Of course I have no facts or proof of such a thing, but good conspiracy theories don’t need them because they’re not really theories in any scientific sense of the word.
My final guess is that the popularity of revenge movies,television episodes, and video games has something to do with it. We learn our morality from something somewhere. Movies and video games give strong, emotionally powerful, portrayals of morality in which vigilante justice and deadly revenge is celebrated. That has to have some influence on what our personal moral values and standards are.
For Christians, I wonder when the gospel will take over. For all of us, I wonder when common sense will take over?