The proliferation of guns in American society is not only profitable for gun manufacturers, it fools the disempowered into fetishizing weapons as a guarantor of political agency. Guns buttress the myth of a rugged individualism that atomizes Americans, disdains organization and obliterates community, compounding powerlessness. Gun ownership in the United States, largely criminalized for poor people of color, is a potent tool of oppression. It does not protect us from tyranny. It is an instrument of tyranny.
Yet another excellent essay by a man who is able to put all the rhetoric into historical perspective. As long as the myth of “liberty” is wedded to the concept of gun ownership, we won’t ever see any meaningful legislation on gun control get passed.
The really sad fucking thing is It’s never gonna change.
“From my cold dead hands” is the shorthand edition of what Hedge’s is saying and, to be sure, it does describe much of the history of guns and the current gun culture in this country.
However, there is always a danger in stereotyping. Not all gun owners are NRA robots. In fact, the majority of gun owners in this country do not belong to the NRA and a good many actually support more restrictions on guns.
The problem is that the NRA has so propagandized the gun community that the community viciously turns on any gun owner who dares to criticize the NRA or any member who contemplates even the mildest gun control measures. As an organization, the NRA panders to the most extreme element in the gun community. On the rare occasions when the NRA has appeared to soft on specific gun measures, the organization has quickly retracted it’s stance when manufacturers and the extreme element in its membership complained.
The dominance of the gun culture can be changed or, at lest, moderated, but to do so means loosening the stranglehold of the NRA on politicians and the gun community. This is why the current movement targeting the NRA, specifically, is encouraging and should be fully supported.
It’s a sad irony among gun nuts (sad because they are oblivious to it,) that contrary to showing they are tough and intimidating, having a gun means you are afraid. Duh–you think you need to carry a gun at all times because Trayvon Martin might jump up from behind a fence and scare you, or whatever you claim you need to defend yourself against would otherwise do you harm.
Inseparable from gun culture is the dominant trait–which envelopes even many who insist on gun control–of needing to come across as intimidating and always looking for a fight.
As always, Chris Hedges reveals a different, truer perspective on this issue than you will find anywhere else in the media-shaped “Conventional Wisdom”. I happen to think he has, buttressed by his excellent sources, come closer to the essential truths behind these uniquely American traits, which lead to so much senseless tragedy.
I know how you feel! Just remember the old axiom: “Never say never.” The universe has a way of seeking balance independently of our wants, wishes. fears and dreams.
I was talking to a fellow farmer the other day. I own a few guns, he owns quite a few. He did not understand why assault rifles were legal. He also said he sends the NRA $25 or $30 every now and then. I explained a few facts to him. I am hopeful that he now has a better understanding.
What an excellent article from Hedges. Excellent. Much, much to absorb, but this needs to be etched somewhere:
“If the ruling elites feared an armed uprising, a draconian form of gun control would instantly be law.”
Yes, I’ve often wondered why, given the ever increasing poverty, outsourcing, political corruption, etc. in this country, there hasn’t been an armed revolt. Chris Hedges, once again, has put in perspective a deep problem facing this country. Most are not afraid of the government, but are afraid of the “wild masses of violent madmen” that will surely come to steal their goods and murder them, if the government should fall. There are “Survivalist” books out there that espouse this very thing.
Ronald Reagan was a big proponent of the 2nd amendment during his Presidency and in all of his speeches. But when the Black Panthers marched on the Sacramento statehouse with weapons pointed skyward back in 1967 while he was governor, republicans immediately passed a bill eliminating the right to openly carry weapons in California. The law was supported by the N.R.A. and quickly signed by Governor Reagan.
Thanks for reminding us.
once upon a time we needed guns to protect our land, when was the last time you heard of cattle rustling? they have taken this gun thing too far and i am so tired of arguing with gun nuts, especially those that wouldn’t pass a background check.
Chris Hedges writes thoughtful essays and I like the emphasis he puts here on the relationship to tyranny and the dispossessed.
Usually, when I see people write about gun culture, I think of the old saying (that I am just now making up):
“If you’ve never pooped in the forest, then you don’t know squat!”
America is a violent country. Our media, our movies, our songs, our games, our politics, our everything, are filled with violent images; filled with torture; filled with vigilante acts. Morality is rarely explored in depth and the ends justifying the means is standard fare. America has a violent culture. I think that is obvious and I feel I can intelligently say that because I grew up in that culture and understand it as a result.
Now, I am comfortable engaging about the Supreme Court cases or about data on guns, but I am uneasy when this gets translated into “gun culture”. I didn’t grow up in a household with guns. I’ve never owned a gun or had any desire to do so. So when it comes to the cultural aspects that gun owners feel - basically, I have never pooped in that forest so I don’t know squat.
Sure – I see people on the internet and in public life that seem paranoid about “big government” coming to take their guns away from them – seem extremist on anything related to firearms – seem dispossessed from a broader community - and seem to value property over person. But I still sense that I am missing any real chance at understanding because gun owners I’ve met in person don’t seem aligned with the characters claiming to represent them, and certainly don’t seem aligned with the stereotypes we assign them (and I suspect the reverse is true for them). Hunters I know seem self-satisfied about productively putting fresh food on the table more than self indulgent about killing animals – and they seem ready to share (sparing me from eating the results of the animal concentration camps that produce the butchered meat at the store).
There’s both a human side and a gun side to this. I like that Hedges tries to encapsulate the human side as he analyzes our sociopolitical fabric. I don’t care for arguments that look just at a guns = bad equation.
So true! But, in reaching balance, the process is very often unendurably painful. Many, many more innocents will be slaughtered before we finally decide to do something, anything to control the homicidal impulses of the NRA. And, in the case of climate change, the universe may balance us out of existence. Can there be angst in a world free of humans?
Let’s discuss reality as it actually is. Guns are political power. They are the fundamental bedrock of every law in the United States. Drill down in any given law, and you will come to the point where a govt employee’s gun backs it up.
So when you dismiss the fact that guns are political power, you are not making an accurate argument. You just want to not discuss the guns you do like underlying law, while treating those held in private hands as illegitimate.
Impressive post, thanks.
And a Florida Senate Panel has just rejected an assault weapons ban. Gee, what a surprise. These venal, arrogant, soulless whores to the NRA care not one iota about innocent blood spilled, again and again; they care only about their political lives, shallow and unkempt as they are.
When I hold you in my arms
And I feel my finger on your trigger
I know nobody can do me no harm
Because happiness is a warm gun
A very welcome article from Hedges–another, I should say.
I’d like to chime in a bit. I grew up in a gun-culture family. I slept with a case of ammo by my ear most of the time I was growing up, and the smell of powder or solvent still reminds me of my father. Hedges criticisms of the culture here are useful, but I remember its fears as being slightly different.
To deal with so large a group of people, I must generalize, of course. But in this there is a general area that seldom gets attended to by anti-gun essays and perhaps less often gets articulated by people within the culture. It seems worth talking about; please pardon the generalizations that enable me to do so.
Very many 2nd Amendment people heavily conflate liberty and property. As a group, they do indeed harbor lots of fears about other races and classes and nationalities. But they harbor another fear that is possibly more consequential and certainly far more realistic: they fear the people of the coasts and waterways and urban areas and the political power of these groups to control them economically. Since this really is the shape of American society, or a good part of it, these fears have a very real basis even when partially displaces, as they generally are.
This is a long-term struggle. A major reason that people around the forming of the Constitution were concerned about militias was as an offset to federal power. Militias did not do this so well as they killed Indians and controlled slaves and also local rebellions of the poor, and that’s worth knowing. But this was not because the idea of a role of arms in localizing government was not tried: we call the attempt the Civil War.
By pointing this out, I do not mean to imply that the Civil War had nothing to do with race, with slavery, with economics, or with ongoing possibilities of British invasion. But it was also a war fought by predominantly rural agriculturists against the rising juggernaut of political power centered in the northeast and wielded by early manufacturers and merchants and a rising technocracy involving coal (more than oil at that point) and railroads and ships and textile mills.
That dynamic still remains with us. In part, it remains in the ways many confuse their liberty with their property. At the time, arable land was for the great majority of Americans, as for others, the means of production. The fear is overwhelmingly characterized as that some foreign element–black people, brown people, Asian people, poor people, city people, lawyers, politicians, communists, Democrats, heathens–will enter and attack and sack the home.
I do not mean to dismiss the irrational element here, but that part is not news on this forum, is it? What we might overlook here is that some part of that fear is rational, even when it is, as usual, displaced. The South itself became an occupied territory–for better or for worse, but in all events with almost all of the tragic dynamics of any other nation conquered by a foreign power and subjugated to the economic interests of the cliques of industry, commerce, and finance. To the extent that these people own guns by their Second Amendment concerns, as opposed to a hobby or something dark and perverse, they own guns to protect homes and social integrity that is very authentically under considerable attack.
The next time you hear or read of someone who wants to leave up some statue of Robert E. Lee or James Forrest or whomever and argues that this is not a matter of race but an argument for liberty, consider a minute before you dismiss them. For many people in and outside the South, these were the heroes of their autonomy. They were also racists, yes, and slavers, and yes, that mattered and matters. But the errors of omission in this cut two ways: the North was also racist, and the terrors of capital-driven wage slavery and militarily enforced colonialism were just as real.
I think the question, though, particularly now that we in the States have been placed effectively without an electoral option, is whether the possession of firearms particularly serves the ends of liberty. Certainly the abuses of centralized power and finance merit so strong a response were it to be effective, but there is little to indicate that it would be:
As a group, the gun culture in the States is not particularly egalitarian or enlightened, and confuses liberty with property and property rights
The US media and “intelligence” services have been long refining their psyops game so that “armed resistance” is very hard to tell from foreign operatives and mercenary groups. So we have ISIS and ISIL paid for from the CIA, the Saudis, and various Clinton campaign supporters in the region. The result is a bath of violence with little of the trust necessary to create a civil society.
US population control now involves drones. If you can’t beat your computer at long division, you can’t outdraw a drone either.
It seems in general that an approach emphasizing non-violent resistance and particularly direct action have better practical chances.