By now you’ve probably heard the news about the shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. Unsurprisingly, the public discussion quickly turned into a gun debate – a highly contentious topic in the United States due to the tension between violent crime involving guns, and the country’s constitutional right to bear arms. While mulling over the tragedy of the situation a few thoughts occurred, which I thought I’d put out there – seeing as I haven’t posted in quite some time.
My dad’s always been a stickler for security: prior to ol’ Johnny Howard’s Gun Buyback Scheme in 1996, he used to own a shotgun for “hunting”. I can’t remember whether he actually ever took it out (for recreational purposes or otherwise), but I do remember the gravity of its presence in the house. My own personal firearms experience is going pistol shooting for a friend’s bucks. I’ve lived with a gun in the house, and I’ve held and fired a gun – so I feel somewhat qualified to speak about it, although any American (and probably no small number of Australians) would laugh in my face for making that claim.
Fear dominates both sides of the debate, whether they care to admit it or not. On one hand, fear drives gun ownership – guns are used for protection, be it from physical injury, or as a “big stick” to enable a person to speak boldly and exercise their personal rights. It’s fitting that the right to bear arms is second to Free Speech in the US Bill of Rights, as human tendencies will typically necessitate the former as a result of the latter.
Guns are as much a symbol of authority as much as they are a tool for violence. Note how despite the highly publicized tragedies that occasionally pepper the news, most Americans live in relative peace and safety with firearms – so long as it remains largely symbolic.
Take the guns away and people live in fear, literally powerless. The population becomes meek and subservient to any kind of power, with rhetoric being the tool of choice. Without force behind it, this is easily ridiculed – I hazard that this might contribute to the explanation of why “tall-poppy syndrome” in so pervasive in Australian culture.
Like how money used to be backed by gold prior to fiat currency, authority in the US is backed by firepower. Until some other form of individual empowerment materialises with sufficient clout to replace the brute force of firearms, I think it will be largely futile to try and annul the Second Amendment – its influence on the psyche of the average American is far too strong.