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Photo ops and the real gun culture

One of the things that’s most maddening about the debate over guns is that it’s so easy to resort to caricature. 

I need a photo-opportunity
I want a shot at redemption

If you’re the President of the United States, you can get a photo opportunity pretty much any time you want, and today he took one, posing for the trades with a backdrop of children and a laundry list of largely ineffectual executive orders. What he signed today really won’t do anything to change the already slim likelihood that a child will get gunned down in a school. Here is the tableaux:

President Obama with kids
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Obama explained why he was taking action thus:

“If there’s even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if even one life we can save, we have an obligation to try it,” Obama said, speaking to an audience that included family members of the 20 first graders and six adults killed at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.

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Well, one way we could cut down on school shootings would be to make everyone home school their kids. That would certainly do the trick, but somehow I don’t see that in the offing. Mitch Berg has the full list of executive orders over at his place, should you care. The ones to watch concern the reporting of gun use under the guise of healthcare as part of the overall Obamacare scheme, with potential requirements that doctors ask patients about whether or not they use a gun. Since “none of your freakin’ business” apparently won’t be an acceptable answer, you’ll have to let your conscience be your guide on how you respond.

As Orwell said:

We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.

So let’s get to the obvious first.

  • It’s possible that Barack Obama and his minions would like to grab the guns, but it’s not going to happen. While no one knows the exact total, there are something north of 300 million guns currently in the United States. Even confiscating 10% of that total would be impossible.
  • While we are able to see the results of mass shootings almost in real time thanks to the 24/7/365 news cycle, the actual number of gun deaths is down, pretty significantly. In 1993, over 17,000 people were murdered with a gun as the weapon of choice. In 2011, the figure had dropped to 9,903.
  • If you’re going to be a gun murder victim, chances are pretty good that the weapon that will do you in will not be an “assault rifle.” It’s far more likely that you’ll meet your maker via a handgun or a sawed-off shotgun.

One of the things that’s most maddening about the debate over guns is that it’s so easy to resort to caricature. In the past month, I’ve probably heard two dozen references to “America’s gun culture” or “America’s culture of gun violence” or somesuch. And I’ve been able to rack up that total without ever watching Piers Morgan’s show on CNN. So what is the gun culture. Does it look like this?

elmer fuddThis, of course, is Elmer Fudd, the dim cartoon character nemesis of Bugs Bunny. Elmer is somewhat lovable but really isn’t smart enough to have all that firepower. Of course, since he’s a cartoon, it doesn’t really matter very much whether he blows off the beak of Daffy Duck a half-dozen times over the course of a six-minute short.

Or, does it look like this?

floyd r turboThis, of course, is the character Floyd R. Turbo, one of the recurring cast of characters that Johnny Carson invented during his 30-year run at the helm of the Tonight Show. Turbo’s a combination of Elmer Fudd and Archie Bunker. He’s not very bright, either, and he likes his guns, but he’s also a bit of a bigot. Here’s a sample quote from one of the bits:

“This station wants no draft. They want to deprive a boy of the Army. The Army is educational. The Army teaches you how to do dental work with the butt of a rifle….how to tell what time it is by making a sundial out of a dead person…how to make beer out of bird droppings and also how to make a rubber girl out of an inner tube…In conclusion, I say we should not end the draft. We should increase it. We have a moral obligation to give Bob Hope soldiers to entertain. Fellow Americans, it is an honor to be drafted and to serve your country. Thank you, bye-bye, and buy bonds.”

Or, does it look like this?

gordon kaul wanted posterThis is the wanted poster for Gordon Kahl, who led a group called the Posse Comitatus in the 1980s. They ended up getting into shootouts in North Dakota and Arkansas, where he finally met his maker in 1983. Kahl’s movement had supporters in the town of Tigerton, Wisconsin, which was about 40 miles north of where I grew up, so they were much in the news during my youth. A more recent example was that of David Koresh, who was at the helm of the Branch Davidian sect, which met a fiery end in a battle with various federal gendarmes outside of Waco, Texas, in 1993, following a monthlong siege of their compound. Oddly enough, the children who lived there didn’t get a photo opportunity with the President.

There are people that I know who are generally sensible on many topics, but feel that there’s just a thin veneer that separates most gun owners from becoming like Gordon Kahl or David Koresh. You cannot convince them otherwise. And that’s a problem, because most people I know who would be part of the “gun culture” aren’t like that at all. When I think of someone who was integral to the “gun culture” here in the Twin Cities, this is the image that comes to mind:

This is Joel Rosenberg, who unfortunately left this world in 2011. Joel was an accomplished science fiction writer and thinker. He was also one of the best gun safety instructors around. If you want to know who actually wrote the book concerning gun safety and 2nd Amendment rights in Minnesota, Joel was the guy. I got to know Joel a little bit, mostly from visiting with him at blogging events. He was a great guy and while he knew all about guns, there was never a scintilla of threat about him. Many of my friends in the blogging community were his students and I had often contemplated taking his course one day.

What Joel knew and taught was this — while having a gun is an absolute right under the 2nd Amendment, actually using a gun was about the most serious thing a person could do. A lot of people who took Joel’s course might have initially thought it would be about marksmanship and/or choosing the right weapon. That really wasn’t what the course was about, though. It was about making sure that people understood the stakes involved in using a gun and the implications of what will likely happen to you if you pull the trigger and the bullet you fire strikes another human being. Much of the course content concerned understanding the law, but the overarching theme was about something much more than that.

When I think of gun culture, I think of Joel Rosenberg. If we could get more people to understand that Joel and the others who carry on his work and legacy are serious people, it might make a difference.

This post was written by Mark Heuring and originally published on Mr. Dilettante’s Neighborhood.

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