... that's when I reach for my revolver

Chris Lowe

When I hear the word culture, that's when I reach for my gun -- attributed to Hermann Goering

Guns don't kill people. People with guns and psychologies shaped by a sick gun culture do.

We all know the famous NRA slogan, quoted by Charlton Heston, "I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." Well, that's what the police did with Jacob Tyler Roberts at Clackamas Town Center, and with Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut. Took their guns from their cold, dead hands. I believe the paranoid fantasy behind the NRA/Heston quote has a great deal to do with how the police ended up needing to take their guns.

American culture, and more particularly, American gun culture, promotes and supports a delusion that guns make individuals powerful and that guns represent effective means of resolving disputes and solving problems. The culture promotes individual gun ownership as a form and symbol of resistance to forces that often put even the basic conditions of our lives beyond our control. It promotes fantasies that individual gun owners will be able to use guns to overcome tyrannical forces driven or controlled by power lust, greed, profit or corruption, forces blamed for making life hellish in one way or another.

But underlying that show of bravado is weakness, not power. The final fantasy is the one articulated by Heston, the suicidal last stand to the death, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo, going out in a blaze of glory.

Except the truth is, the forces we face render themselves nearly impossible to get a grip on. They melt or slide away, evaporate into mist and less, confront us with steel and glass fronts that mirror externally the impossibility of getting any kind of purchase on those within, to struggle against their abuses of power. So in the end, we get not glorious last stands, expressing indomitable will to be free, but grotesquely pathetic horrific slaughters of innocents, embodying only lack of power, distorted perspective and understanding, isolation and despair in the shooters.

The irony is that the NRA has great power, not because it has guns, but because it has organized collective action, exactly the thing that gun-culture individualist fantasies point us away from.

Resisting potential tyranny in the U.S., getting hold of the forces that ruin so many people's lives for the benefit of a few, or simply pulling together the resources to support one another better in our struggles in life, requires organized collective action, not individuals with guns.

In The Portland Tribune's coverage of the Clackamas Town Center shooting, the paper said it was the first mall shooting in Oregon in many years, except those connected to gang violence. I think this distinction is spurious and ultimately supports racist discrimination in policing and public safety, and in valuation of human lives. Gang organization differs from lone wolf use of guns. Gang members mostly target one another in known relationships, rather than targeting by-standers who are abstract to them. But both kinds of shootings rest on fantasies that guns create power, when their use actually reflects lack of power, and does nothing to change the conditions that give rise to the motivations for shooting.

Today I noticed that the imagery of the Blue Steel Democrats, the DPO's Gun Owners Caucus, includes a political button with a picture of an AR-15, the type of gun that Roberts stole and used to commit his murders in Clackamas Town Center. Possibly that choice reflects military or veteran affinities. It also echoes revolutionary left-wing fantasy iconography involving AK 47s, and pacifist anarchist variants showing broken AKs or M-16s. It appears to express an ambition and intent to defend if not promote the ownership of military-style weapons. To me that carries at least a tinge of the same kind of illusory fantasy referred to above.

My purpose in writing this is not to take away anyone's guns. I don't have any immediate policy prescriptions to offer. Gun rights advocates have made me think that some easily available proposals would not have much practical effect. To their views I add my own concerns, that they do nothing to address our sick gun culture.

But I am also fed up and sickened by many gun rights advocates' refusal to acknowledge that there is a systemic problem around gun violence that we must face, that is distinct and peculiar to guns, due to their capacity to project violence with rapidity, distance and breadth. Gun rights advocates who agree with that need to say so.

The answer to hate speech may be more speech, but the answer to murderous gun violence is not more guns. An armed society is not a polite society. It is an intimidated, violent and dangerous society.

If gun rights advocates refuse to step up to the problem, and try to insist that the rest of us must tolerate raised risk and fear, just to support paranoid fantasies and desires to possess dangerous fetish objects, if they refuse to enter into a community of mutual accountability with the rest of us that protects everyone better, then the rest of us will just have to figure it out a way forward on our own.

Much better cooperate. Gun owners can provide knowledgeable guidance about things that might work, and what are feel-good ideas that won't work. But we have to agree that there's a problem. And the gun owners who want sensible gun safety systems that are community safety systems will have to raise the priority on the actual violence that is happening now, killing nearly 9000 people per year, and lower that on abstract and fantastical potential threats. That might mean splitting with other gun owners unable or unwilling to abandon a commitment to focus on the theories and fantasies.

We need to do something different. If the answers current gun control advocates are coming up with are wrongheaded or ineffective, gun rights advocates should propose alternatives. But enough is enough. The denial has to stop.

How do we cure our sick gun culture?

Once I had my heroes
Once I had my dream
But all of that is changed now
They've turned things inside out
The truth is not that comfortable, no


That's when I reach for my revolver
That's when it all gets blown away
That's when I reach for my revolver
The spirit fights to find its way


Tonight the sky is empty
But that is nothing new
Its dead eyes look upon us
And they tell me
We're nothing
But slaves (That's when I reach for my revolver)
Just slaves (That's when I reach for my revolver)

-- Mission of Burma (1981)

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