On the New York Times op-ed page today, Charles Blow looks at the way militia members and other right-wingers talk about guns:
That sound you hear is the sound of a cultural paranoia by people who have lost their grip on the reins of power, and on reality, and who fear the worst is coming....Meanwhile, Joe Nocera goes to a shooting range in Kentucky and gets sweet-talked by a local, the daughter of a friend:
These people, a vocal minority, have extreme fears -- gun confiscation, widespread civil instability, a tyrannical government -- from which they are preparing to defend themselves with arsenals of weapons and stockpiles of ammunition.
As we headed for the shooting range, I asked Gena why she liked guns. "In the Old West," she said, "the gun was the great equalizer. I think for women that is still the case." The first time she shot a gun, she told me, she was 8.When the vast majority of our conversations about guns focus on the pronouncements of these people -- even the crazy ones, the ones who think fascism is imminent -- what happens is that we always wind up on their rhetorical turf. They determine the debate questions. Resolved: Guns preserve noble traditions. Resolved: Guns are necessary for self-defense. Even when we're listening to the nutjobs, we're letting them set the terms of the debate. Resolved: Guns are necessary to prevent tyranny. We can argue that they're misguided or even delusional, but we give them credit for seriousness of intent.
Which means we completely ignore one of the main drivers of the gun culture -- possibly the most significant one: Guns are fun. Lots of people want gunsjust to have a rip-roaring good time. And if you deprive them of this fun, they bawl and whine like spoiled children
At Georgia Arms in Villa Rica, Ga., west of Atlanta, the ammunition business was brisk, with dozens of the yellow bins that usually held ammunition empty. The Rev. Laurence Hesser, a pastor at Memorial United Methodist Church near Knoxville, stopped by because he had been unable to buy ammunition on the shop's Web site, which halted sales because inventory was so low.The hoarding of ammunition is being done by people stupid enough to think all firearms are going to be banned, but certainly the hoarding of assault weapons and high-capacity clips is like the hoarding of Twinkies -- it's the satisfaction of a craving. Saying that these specific items are being hoarded because people have a fundamental need to protect themselves from crime or from tyranny is like saying that people are hoarding Twinkies because food is necessary for human beings to survive. Folks, other foodstuffs are available. And other firearms are available. But people want those foodstuffs and those firearms and ammo in that form because those things are fun.
He likened the current run on ammunition to the rush to buy Twinkies last year after its maker, Hostess Brands, announced it was closing. "It's the same thing," he said. "When you are threatened with the possibility that you are going to lose something, you get a bunch of it."
Recall the famous quote from former senator Phil Gramm:
"I have as many guns as I need, but I don't have as many guns as I want."[You can argue for a Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, but I'll argue that that's not a right to an infinite number of firearms of any and all conceivable kinds, available with the absolute minimum of muss and fuss, in a marketplace kept extremely underregulated because nothing is more important than your convenience. You have freedom of speech, but not the right to set up a stack of amplifiers outside my door so you can declaim at 125 decibels in the middle of the night. You can legally drink, but you can't chug a whole bottle of Jack and drive at top speed through a school zone. It might be easier to discuss where, as the saying goes, your fist ends and my nose begins if we'd all acknowledge that some of what you want to do is not about societal good, but is about your pleasure.
Watch these videos, both made by guys who prattle on endlessly about freedom and self-defense. Sorry, that's not what they're really selling. They're selling pure fun. (In the case of Yeager, it's an unacknowledged subtext -- he says he's selling training, but he's clearly selling the adrenaline rush.) And if we start thinking about that when we think about guns, we might realize that we have the right to look for a balance between what the Second Amendment is meant to uphold and the harm done by the gun culture as it's currently structured, so that we can preserve, as far as possible, all liberties, not just the one involving firearms.
And no, I'm not arguing the gun equivalent of Robert Bork's view of speech, namely that the Constitution only protects what's political. I'm saying that if you can restrict child pornography and libel and falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater, while permitting the overwhelming majority of speech acts (most of which are non-political and many of which offend some people), you can weigh the societal value of certain aspects of the gun culture without violating the Constitution.