The Transformation of Guns

I was talking to my friend Pete today when the subject of guns came up. Pete grew up in the Dakotas, where he learned to hunt. He’s still a gun owner, but very aware of how much the meaning of gun-owning has changed.

To illustrate, Pete told me that when he was in high school he took his shotgun to school. He had decided to use it for a presentation, so he carried it into the classroom, where (to no one’s surprise or horror) he demonstrated how to take it apart and put it together again.

On another occasion, Pete said, he took his shotgun, dissassembled, onto an airplane. He asked the stewardess if it was okay. She consulted with the pilot, who said it was fine so long as they kept it in the cockpit, which they did.

What’s happened since?

For one, we’ve experienced rampages like the one at Columbine. Guns and madmen have a historic association, but never so strongly as today.

Second, the NRA has promoted an ideology of gun freedom, as uncompromising as the ACLU’s ideology of free speech.

Third, that ideology of gun freedom has become prisoner to a larger argument, the so-called culture wars. Let’s note that there is a limit on the coherence of an argument in which gun freedom and the preservation of unborn life are on the same side. (And gun restrictions and absolute freedom of abortion are on the other.) Throw in capital punishment and immigration and you have some really interesting alignments. But movements have their own kind of emotional coherence, just as do cultures. People’s allegiance to those movements (and cultures) is difficult to move, because it isn’t strictly rational.

Regardless of where you stand on these issues, I think it’s a good illustration on the power of mob/movement thinking. Sometimes issues get carried to places they were never meant to go.

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