Tuesday, October 31, 2023


Jamelle Bouie writes:
For many Americans, the right to own a gun is liberty itself — the very definition of what it means to live in a free country. But the question raised by the Maine shooting, and especially the lockdown that followed, is just how free that freedom is.

How free are you really when you know that a trip to the grocery store or a morning in prayer or a day at school or a night at the movies can end in your death at the hands of a gun? How free are you really when you protest on behalf of a cause you believe in and are met on the street by armed counter-demonstrators? How free are you really when state authorities have to lock down a city so that they can stop a mass shooter from striking again?

I have written before about the fiction that an “armed society is a polite society,” an aphorism taken from the science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s novel “Beyond This Horizon,” where men carry weapons and duel with each other over perceived slights and insults. An armed society, I argued, is a society in which fear and suspicion replace trust and equal regard. And in that society, democracy cannot work.
But to the members of the gun community, the danger to democracy is a feature, not a bug. Gun absolutists don't want to live in a society where people who disagree with them -- on guns or on most other issues -- wield enough power to enact laws they don't like. Outside of blue states and big cities, gun absolutists have democracy right where they want it: Large majorities of Americans support tighter restrictions on gun ownership, but the vast majority of white people always vote Republican, so it's next to impossible to tighten gun laws.

Gun absolutists want some citizens to be intimidated. They say they just want criminals to be fearful (as well as the government), but they know that many of the people they detest are unlikely to own guns, and the power inequality is precisely what they're after. They want liberals and LGBTQ people and feminists to feel like second-class citizens. They want the option of intimidating protesters they disagree with, in a potentially deadly version of the hecklers' veto. And, obviously, they want to scare off anyone who might support laws making it harder to obtain and brandish weapons. Hey, what do you think "Try That in a Small Town" was all about? It sure as hell wasn't about democracy or upholding the First Amendment right to protest.

It's possible to imagine a society in which everyone lives the way gunners say they want everyone to live -- every law-abiding citizen across the political spectrum might accept our gun culture as unchangeable and might decide that it's necessary to own weapons, and to wear them in public at all times wherever that's legal. Liberals might reluctantly do this. Feminists and queers might do this. In theory, even gun control advocates might do this, telling themselves that while an extremely armed society is bad, it's clear that we already live in one, and until that changes, it's suicidal to go unarmed.

But the gunners wouldn't like that. They like the advantage they have over the rest of us. They enjoy our fear.

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