In the wake of the mass shooting in Milwaukee at a Sikh temple a few weeks ago, the massacre in Aurora last month, and the shooting of Trayvon Martin in February, the media and certain pundits have taken a renewed interest in America’s gun culture. However, until this morning, despite demands from New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, candidates for the Presidency stayed aloof of the gun control issues. Today’s statement by Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is hardly detailed, but it’s quite punchy:
Ryan said this is in Pennsylvania, where he’s in good company according to President Obama.
Outside of, perhaps, the ATF’s Fast and Furious operation, I still don’t expect gun control to reemerge as a national issue this election cycle (or for many to come), but as journalists continue to show interest in gun culture—bringing many anti-gun prejudices along with their reporting—I believe it’s prudent to provide balance. In a previous post I addressed an article by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker, and recently countered an anti-gun tirade by Lawrence O’Donnell. Returning to print journalism, this month Jeanne Marie Laskas has an article in GQ entitled “Guns ‘R Us.”
Laskas goes well beyond visiting a gun shop (as Lepore did in her piece) and actually works behind the counter at Sprague’s gun shop in Yuma, Arizona. Laskas acknowledges a certain progressive sensibility toward firearms: “Nobody in my circle back east had guns, nobody wanted them, and if anybody talked about them, it was in cartoon terms: Guns are bad things owned by bad people who want to do bad things. . . . If an armed citizenry is a piece of our national identity, how is it that I’d never even met it?” (Emphasis added.) Unlike Lepore, however, Laskas spends enough time with the subject to have some surprising revelations, and I highly recommend reading the piece before my commentary.
Although I am a staunch gun-rights advocate (with some big legal words to back up that claim) and a gun owner, I am not a hunter nor do I frequently go shooting. So, along with my Midwest upbringing (that is in a state with waiting periods for handgun purchases and permits for concealed carry), I understand Laskas’s shock: “‘I guess the most surprising thing is that everyone thinks guns are so normal.’” I also appreciate that Laskas recognizes the various types of people, mostly good, found at local gun shops: “This was one of the things I liked most about Sprague’s: the general-store feel. Groups would form, strangers becoming neighbors, sharing stories.” A far cry from what Lepore describes as “not quite licit, like a porn shop.”
Laskas raises questions, but their premises are idealistic, and unreasonably so. One focus of her article is on the responsibility of gun sellers: “So these are the people who stand at the front lines, guarding America against its lunatic mass murderers? Clerks at Walmart. Clerks at sporting-goods stores. Minimum-wage cashiers . . . .” This presumes that there is a process that can prevent mass murder. She fails to address the ultimate deterrent: me and every gun owner. In fact, while emphasizing the mass murders in Tucson and Aurora, and even in Yuma, at times Laskas portrays gun owners as baselessly paranoid, or “stupid-scary.” Yet everywhere these mass shootings have happened—be it Virginia Tech or Littleton, Colorado—things would probably have turned out differently if one of these stupid-scared gun owners had been around. In fact, in April an armed citizen stopped what could have developed into a “stabbing spree” in Salt Lake City.
Laskas’s is certainly one of the best gun articles I have read recently in a major publication, and I give her credit for her diligence. She closes by recognizing the gap between gun owners and her friends back home as a divide that may never be breached. I agree that this is a tall order, but I do not believe that this is merely a misunderstanding. Although Laskas travelled from her home in Pennsylvania (not all guns or religion after all!) to Arizona, found largely good people and had an enjoyable experience, I’m not sure gun owners would have the same experience in heavily restricted cities like Chicago, New York, or Washington, DC. When it comes to cultural differences, our positions on gun rights are really just scratching the surface—beneath that are the role of police, the state as a whole, and individual rights and responsibilities. Without guns to talk about, I think the conversations would be even less pleasant, and fundamentally divisive. These conversations must happen, but in the meantime thank God for federalism.
On a related note, next month is LibertyFest in Lander. I will be there along with Regina Meena and Ben Barr. There will be target shooting, so bring your guns.