Yet another attempt by a white male to put our gun culture in perspective . . .
Social change is difficult. Over the past 40 years, white males have yielded many unreasonable and unearned privileges, transforming society into one that is less racist, less sexist and less homophobic. Men still have to adjust to expectations of what "manhood" means. Women have more rights and more responsibilities, but white males losing opportunities and status, even in the name of egalitarian living and basic fairness, takes a lot of getting used to. This is especially true for younger white males, torn between images of responsible adulthood and rambo/warrior legends. Of course, women also have serious stresses and role changes, and some of these have empowered increased gun ownership and interest in martial arts, military service, etc.
Wars make it very difficult for young men to walk the line between literal warriors and peaceful warriors. I think that the war on drugs, the growing police state, our prison state and foreign military interventions throw men into fear and expressions of resistance. These give young white males the wrong message and cultivate violence. Men deal with the fear of losing friends and relatives to violence in different ways than most women. It is in our social nature to want to confront violence with violence. Biologically, we are more prone to violence than women, as women have sadly known for tens of thousand of years.
If, indeed, guns represent virility to men, this is no joking matter. In our society, men have yielded a good deal of power and control over the past two generations. The very concept of masculinity is changing, as is the concept of femininity. If less educated white males, especially, are clinging to guns for emotional security and status, this is not such an unreasonable or unpredictable result of our social change, especially during a transition time. Yet, it is important that society not encourage this practice, as collecting objects of death is not generally mentally healthy and is often not socially responsible. While the vast, vast majority of gun owners are responsible and solid members of their community, the ease with which guns are obtained and maintained in our society today, is alarming to them, also. Most gun owners know that the slope of gun ownership, given our emotional nature and the serious challenges many of us face at times, is slippery. It may not be mentally abnormal, but encouraging the personal possession of firearms is not something that a society interested in peace and cooperation is likely to promote. Unfortunately, gun ownership has become a political issue, and strongly encouraged through the lobbying of the National Rifle Association and the right-wing of the Republican Party, the Militia Movement and the John Birch Society.
It should not be surprising, then, that many young white males are drawn to gun ownership. People who are not supportive of equal rights for women and minorities are actively sponsoring and promoting gun ownership, in a massive, unregulated manner, with its implicit threats of violence and desires to regress society to a time when women and minorities were more oppressed. These anti-social forces are competing with our democratic society in dangerous ways that need to be repeatedly and thoroughly exposed. They are not loyal to the United States of America and have been itching to precipitate social unrest through the promotion of gun culture.
Our nation is grappling with this as a political issue. The side of equality and peace is winning. As the side of white male privilege is losing, we can expect some backlash. These are decent people, though, caught in the confusion of social change. They may not have the emotional resources to deflect the unreasonable and hostile expectations of extremists. So, we need strategies that are not going to seem hostile to these men and women who have taken to collecting killing objects. Also to be considered is that many people are in occupations or neighborhoods that are dangerous. The response of carrying a concealed weapon is not always unreasonable.
Public education efforts are needed. The second amendment needs to be explained to people who have come to believe it is something that it most certainly is not, encouraged by the extreme elements of the Republican Party. There can be more easy avenues for governmental and other organizations "buying back" weapons from citizens who are ambivalent about owning them. Gun storage facilities through which people can own guns but not need to possess them can be available as a public service, or through gun clubs, perhaps through the local police departments. In some areas, we might end up with the creation of governmentally supervised State or local Militias as a mechanism for permitting gun ownership. One would need to belong to the militia and adhere to its regulations in order to retain a gun at home. Or, there could be a gun permit system with six month checkups for gun owners to come in and convince local officials that they are still safe to possess a weapon at home (Israel has this kind of system, and it seems to work. It has drastically reduced the incidence of suicide among soldiers).
To be sure, it will take time to develop and implement reasonable safeguards against gun violence. A whole lot of restraint and patience will be needed. Some changes can be enacted with 3-5 year delays, to give an opportunity for people to adjust their expectations. It is important change we seek, but these guns are as powerful as images of security and protection as they are as machines of death which do not at all live up to their promise of safety and effectiveness. We must go slowly, but firmly, and build a solid informational and cultural infrastructure to explain where we are going and to address the ideological forces that are encouraging the destabilization of our social order.
Above all, we need to engage in this process together. It is not a fight between gun owners and non-gun owners. I don't like the odds in that battle. But, together we can build a safer and more sane country in which we all begin to realize that the government is not the enemy - because the government is us. We are a democratic society, much as it is fashionable today to ignore or deny that democracy is our heritage in the United States of America. And, in a democracy, we can disagree and we can protest and we can mobilize our voting power. But let's leave the guns out of this, safely locked up.