For decades we have been at an impasse: No matter how many children are machine-gunned, we can do nothing about the spread of gun violence. The impasse is partly because of the money the NRA can spend in Washington to defeat reforms, and partly because of a Supreme Court that believes that a few 18th century white gentry couldn’t make a mistake. The Second Amendment isn’t likely to receive a serious critique during our lifetimes, so we’re stuck with it.
Relief from our impasse must come from elsewhere.
The old saying, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” is wrongheaded. It’s got to go. Here’s why:
1. Guns really are the problem because whatever harm someone might try to do to someone else, the damage increases exponentially if a gun is present. Armed with a knife or an axe, Adam Lanza might have managed to kill one person, maybe two, but never 26. A gun turns a problem into a catastrophe. I don’t claim we can eradicate the violent streak in human nature, but we most certainly can limit the amount of carnage. Limiting access to guns saves lives, namely the 24-25 lives Adam Lanza wouldn’t have had time to kill.
2. It’s wrongheaded to think that “people” kill people, as if shooters materialize from a cross-sectional sample of our society. No, the problem is white males. I’ll grant that murderous crimes have been committed by women, Blacks, Latinos, Russians, and Eskimos, but they murder a victim or two as a personal vendetta. Only white males go on shooting rampages, so white males are the problem. Here’s how we make a difference and curtail the most serious gun violence:
a. White males who own a gun must become social pariahs to the rest of us, worse
than if they were smokers. Those of us who wouldn’t go to a party filled with second
hand smoke must refuse to socialize with white male gun owners on the grounds that
it’s dangerous to our health. This is not a joke. You might go to a party where someone
was smoking, but think twice about going to a party where someone was drinking with
a gun in his pocket or his closet. Then don’t go. Our first step is to refuse to wink at or
socialize with white male gun owners.
b. You don’t need to be a psychoanalyst—although I am—in order to understand
why assault rifles appeal mainly to white males. They’re the ones insecure about their
masculinity. The fantasy of gripping that stock and barrel seems to alleviate their
insecurity, which is why white males don’t reason very well about limiting access to
guns. If they had limited access, their sexual insecurity would surface and become
recognizable. We must start treating white male gun owners as neurotically troubled.
We must start expressing concern for them and placing them at the top of society’s
priority list for receiving mental help.
c. A white male with an assault rifle believes he is prepared to protect our freedoms
against the day when the government comes to take them away. We won’t be
successful arguing with him about this, but we can recognize how quaint, useless,
and out of date these so-called militia are in the modern era. It’s probably true that
freedoms have been taken away, but this has been done by computers, not gunfights,
and it’s been done by banks and corporations, not the government. The white male
gun owner who’s itching for the day the government is going to arrive to shoot it out on
his doorstep is old-fashioned, irrelevant, and ignorant of the true battleground, which is
d. Gun owners argue that gun massacres would lessen if there were more people with
guns (to shoot the shooters). Really? This amounts to arguing that we’d be better
off going backward to the old days of shootouts in Dodge City, when everybody was
armed and everybody could shoot everybody else. This can be tested empirically by
establishing “Gun Zones,” i.e., neighborhoods, office buildings, movie theaters, and
elementary schools where everyone is allowed to be armed. When this has been
proposed as an experiment, gun owners actually don’t want to participate. This might
reflect Kant’s grasp of the elusiveness of a true ethic, because I end up arguing that it
should be OK if I carry a gun in your neighborhood but not OK if you carry a gun in mine.
Hopefully, it might reflect the NRA’s latent common sense, grounds for building bridges
and solving the problem of gun violence, as the NRA comes to realize that a society
in which everybody’s armed is way too dangerous—even for NRA members and their
children. Minor neighborhood squabbles that used to end with somebody’s black eye
would erupt instead into mass killings of mothers and children. Who wants this? The
NRA’s in favor of guns in theory, but nobody actually wants guns in their own children’s
schools and movie theaters.
Starting now, Rambo must become a comic figure. Schwartzenegger, who couldn’t hold on to Maria Shriver but who’s holding a machine gun in yet another movie, is not heroic but pathetic. Going to a gun show must become more socially stigmatizing than going to an abortion clinic, a dog fight, or a drug dealer. Video games that glorify the last man standin’ with his rifle a’ blazin’ probably can’t be erased from modern culture. Yet remember that sadistic comic books in the 1950s went bankrupt and disappeared in the ‘60s because the teenage males buying them were openly deemed mentally
troubled. Today’s white male who thinks the games and guns are cool is either mentally ill, insecure, or too stupid to realize that the important battles are not going to be waged on his front door. Rather they are being waged as we speak in cyberspace, board rooms, and universities.