Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why Conservatives Love Guns So Very, Very, VERY Much

For many years, I have pondered the question of why so many conservative Americans have such a strong attachment to guns and make such a huge issue out of gun rights and the Second Amendment, which sometimes seems like the only part of the U.S. Constitution that they care about. Today, I want to share my own theories about this.

I think the root causes for conservatives' intense gun-love are (1) overwhelming fear of the changing world of increasing cultural and ethnic diversity that we live in, and in response to this fear, (2) a desire to cling to an idealized past version of America that they find more reassuring. That is to say, conservatives are both very very scared and very very nostalgic.

For quite some time now, beginning with the defeat of the pro-slavery Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War, American conservatives have found society changing in ways they didn't like, and have had a keen sense of frustration that they were losing the battle of ideas in American culture. What exactly do they so object to about trends in modern American (and indeed world) society? I think the main issue is loss of white privilege in the movement toward a more open society that is more accepting of equality between various ethnic, racial and/or religious groups. Remember, it was fierce resistance to Reconstruction efforts to empower blacks that set off the ugly Jim Crow laws and the paramilitary terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan.

It was the mystical "power of the gun," as well as other forms of violence including bombs and lynchings, that made it possible for white southerners to terrorize blacks and keep African-Americans in a fearful, subordinate position in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was also the power of the gun that subdued the Native American "savages" so that the West could be won for white settlement, a display of race-based violence to be long celebrated in games of cowboys vs. Indians and Western films. The current "Cowboys and Aliens" film shows how our society has, to some extent, moved away from this viewpoint with a narrative that requires white cowboys and "red" Indians to work together for mutual survival.

Anyway, let's go back into the conservative dream-world of beautiful, blood-white-and-blue patriotic violence, a harmonious, segregated world intoxicatingly scented with freedom-loving gunpowder. Thanks to his trusty gun, the White Man was indeed king of the country in the late nineteenth century. King of violence and racism, I would say, though I am sure conservatives would say that this use of violence in defense of the (white) "American Way" was something entirely noble and necessary. In the twentieth century, the KKK would form chapters all across the country, even in supposedly liberal strongholds like New York State and Connecticut, demonstrating that the violent defense of white privilege was not limited to the Southern states alone.

When the Civil Right movement emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, it was countered by massive violence in the South, and the cry of "State's Rights!", reaching back to Confederate slogans of the Civil War period to justify the right of states like Alabama to refuse equal rights to blacks and other non-white Americans. It would seem that they preferred returning to the Civil War rather than risk the unspeakable horror of granting Civil Rights to non-white Americans, and one must wonder if some such sentiment is among the motivations that have made Civil War reenactment so popular in recent decades. It certainly factors into the love for the Confederate flag in the South.

When the Democratic Party became the champion of civil rights for minorities, many white Southern former members quit the party to become Republicans. In every Presidential election since the 1960s, the majority of white voters, especially in the South, have gone Republican. Where Democrats have scored a victory, as with Carter in 1976, Clinton in 1992, and Obama in 2008, the Democrats' margin of victory came from African-American voters. The same demographic dynamic applies to the Tea Party, which is an almost exclusively white movement. The Tea Party desire to limit and dismantle government obviously appeals to those who see the national government and the Democratic party as overly concerned with the civil rights of minorities and allowing the country to sink into a sewer of mixed-race multiculturalism. (Note the endless sneering and sniping in the conservative media about "political correctness;" so many are nostalgic for the day when they could feel free to make jokes about niggers and Jews and faggots and whoever else they enjoyed insulting "back in the good old days.")

The gun issue has developed into a great vote-winner for the Republican Party, which has positioned itself as the protector of the seemingly sacred "right to bear arms," in opposition to the Democratic Party, which used to advocate for gun control and careful restriction of gun rights, though it no longer seems to possess the moral or political courage to stand up for this anymore. Many Democrats lost their seats in Congress the last time there was gun-control legislation, back in 1994, largely thanks to the efforts of the NRA. If one asks gun-loving conservatives, why do people need or want so many guns, the two pat answers are "hunting" and "self-defense." When one points out that no gun control effort has ever attempted to abolish all hunting in the USA, but only to place certain reasonable restrictions to prevent potential harm or abuse, just as we do with driving or alcohol, gun-minded conservatives will commonly express disbelief that gun control is anything other than an evil plot to eliminate ALL gun use and gun ownership in the USA, or they will pivot to the second issue of self-defense. This is something that conservatives are often quite passionate about.

It is particularly in the self-defense argument that you can see the latent, even unconscious racism, blended with FEAR, like an emotional accelerant: fear that the minute they let down their guard someone is going to break into their home, rob all their possessions, kill everyone in the family, fuck their dog, cook it on the backyard grill, and then eat it. Who exactly is it that they are thinking of in these fearful fantasies? The history of Republican political advertising,such as the Willie Horton advertisement from 1988, shows that the typical fear is of blacks, particularly black men. More recently, Hispanic men, increasingly mythologized as super-violent Mexican drug-runners, have been added into the paranoid mind-mix.

Here is how I see the race-fear/gun-love matrix speaking: "See, if you got your gun, and those black or brown-skinned devils, those niggers, Mexicans, Muslims, whatever, come to your house, you can blow them all away and defend your sweet wife and angel-faced children against the inevitable evils that come from all this modern multi-culturalism and civil rights bullshit: the savage, violent blacks, browns, and others who don't know their place and need to be reminded of the one primary fact of life in these United States, that the White Man's got the gun."

In the nineteenth century so idealized by conservatives, the blessed age before horrible transgressions of the American spirit like Social Security and civil rights, the violence-enforced "proper" place for non-whites like African-Americans and Native Americans was either on plantations or reservations. Our twenty-first century equivalent is prison for the blacks, with an absolutely skyrocketing rate of incarceration for African American men, deportation for Latinos,which has actually increased under the not-really-so-liberal Obama, and the various wars against Muslim populations, another brown-hued people to be put in their place.

In recent decades, the conservatives have succeeded marvelously in their "law and order" agenda, with gun rights always available as a sure-fire way to fire up the conservative masses and distract them from thinking about anything else. Fear is now ruling the national soul, and guns and threats of violence are everywhere. Funding priorities have shifted from schools to prisons, education replaced by incarceration. National security has replaced human rights and civil rights and, it would seem, almost any kind of rights other than gun rights as the top national priority. Criminal justice is a booming major on college campuses, replacing the fading idea of social justice that was once a common phrase on the campuses of the past. Real law is CRIMINAL law, you see; real justice is PUNISHMENT and nothing else. Invading other countries and brutalizing other peoples has become commonplace, and with new technology evolving rapidly, we will soon be able to do this without risking harm to any human American soldiers. The twenty-first century Sinatra will just have to sing, "Send in the drones..." The drone is the ultimate wet-dream of irresponsible violence, sanctified by the cult of technology: the gun acting alone, as it were.

Make no mistake: The gun, and with it the conservatives, are winning the national debate, for now, anyway. Fear rules the country, and the gun is our national sweetheart; the big, hot, red-white-and-blue penis that everyone wants to stroke and suck. Why do you think there are so many cop shows on television, so many variations of CSI, Law and Order, on and on? What picture of society and human nature is reinforced by this repetition?

Public figures of all sorts from politicians to newscasters to comedians know they cannot advance any criticism of our gun-wielding enforcers, from police to soldiers. Watch for how such supposed liberal icons like Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert slobber and coo when they have military guests on their shows. Discussion of what these wars are doing to the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever else we are invading this week? Maybe raise a question about the killer drones in Pakistan? Question whether the wars are morally defensible? Ask your guest how many people he has killed? Forget it; that kind of discussion doesn't happen in today's militaristic America. All must bow before The Gun and He Who Wields the Gun (or the missile, or the drone, or any other new form of the gun.)

Contrast this to critiques of police brutality and protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. Why was there no sustained outcry or movement for more restrictions on guns after the near-assassination of Gabrielle Giffords earlier in the year, or the Virginia Tech massacre a few years back, or any other such events in our sad history of national violence? Because the right has won; guns have become sacred.

This has its effect on American Paganism too. In some forms of Asatru or Heathenry, there is a great devotion to weapons. Where is that coming from, and where does it lead? These are two questions that have so disturbed me that I have taken my leave of American Asatru. Whatever spirituality is to be found through the barrel of a gun or the swing of an axe is not something that makes any sense to me.

Resist the gun.

Speak up for peace.

Fight the fear.

I believe that in the long run, the future belongs to diversity and pluralism. There really is no going back. Conservatives may want to retreat to some kind of racially, socially, and ethnically cleansed past, and may be dreaming, as Anders Behring Breivik did, of using violence to achieve or enforce that, but they will never succeed. Yes, the law-and-order, gun-obsessed, anti-diversity crowd is riding high right now, but I don't think the majority of Americans are really with them. Once the intentions of the most extreme conservatives become clear, America will reject this and return to the path it was traveling in the past that led us from the Constitution to Emancipation to Civil Rights.

And praise be to the people of Norway for not becoming fear-and-punishment obsessed in the light of their national tragedy, and for striving to maintain their very open, very supportive society. They are showing an emotional maturity and social wisdom that seems sadly lacking in the United States.


Maelstrom said...

Here is a related news item from the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Hatewatch" blog (see link in the list of recommended blogs to the left.) Sadly, this piece weaves together several of the themes in my essay.

Go the blog to see the whole article, but here are some pertinent excerpts:

"Since its bookish beginnings as a group dominated by academics in 1994, the League of the South (LOS) has been obsessively driven to glorify Southern history and culture, pining for the independence denied the region by federal troops 150 years ago.

"Over the years, the neo-Confederate group’s platform grew to be distinctly racist, with the goal of a theocratic South defined by “the cultural dominance of the Anglo-Celtic people and their institutions,” as its president, former Stillman College professor Michael Hill, once put it. At the same time, its early rhetoric angrily demanding that the rest of the country treat the South with more respect has been replaced with explicit calls for a second secession from the “ungodly” North.

"Now, the League’s agenda appears to be evolving even further away from the ivory tower in favor of armed militancy and survivalist resistance.

"During its national conference last weekend in Abbeville, S.C. ­ the self-proclaimed “birthplace and deathbed of the Confederacy” ­ the LOS took as its theme “When the Day Comes,” an apocalyptic phrase suggesting that members should prepare for the day the federal government collapses and the South rises again. “The mantra [that] violence, or the serious threat thereof, never settles anything is patently false,” Hill said in a speech later posted on the group’s website. “History shows that it indeed does settle many things. Please don’t forget this – your enemy hasn’t."

In other recent speeches, Hill has warned that uncontrolled immigration will undermine the “Southern” fabric of American culture. At a meeting in March of the League’s Georgia chapter, Hill encouraged members to stock up on assault weapons (AK-47s are preferred because they require less maintenance) and plenty of ammunition. He said a family would need 400 rounds of ammunition to last in the woods for two days, and he has even recommended the style of bullets – deadly hollow points."

....See the blog for full article.

Anonymous said...

Re: the actual post, not the author's addendum via comment --

I am struggling to find a constructive way of expressing my thoughts after reading this most recent post of yours, which I find to be a disappointment when compared to your older, more thoughtful posts.

The best approach I can think of is to ask a question.

Why do you feel the need to resort to the tactics of those you hate so intensely? Wild speculation, demonization, and the use of dog-whistle language to stir up your base. Mind-reading of your enemies and then imagining responses that conveniently support the point you wish to make. I advise you to think long on Nietzsche's immortal comment regarding fighting monsters, and whether or not the fear you attribute to your opponents doesn't haunt you as well. It almost seems "The Gun," as you put it, as if it were some animate monster, is some kind of bete noir that would drive Surtr before it in terror, as opposed to just a tool for survival like the bow, the axe, and the sword before it, useable for good or ill.

On a side note, I won't go deeply into your pat dismissal here of the wish to own a weapon to exercise the oldest of human rights, the right to self-defense. No, surely anyone wishing to own a weapon REALLY is operating from barely-restrained racism and terror of that bogeyman, racial minorities...

Moving beyond the emotional pyrotechnics, I take particular issue with your psychic determination of the motives of those studying criminal justice at university. You have clearly never set foot in a criminology 101 or theories of justice class if you think that social justice isn't a major focus and that "real justice is PUNISHMENT" is what's being taught.

I have studied criminal justice and criminal law at both the undergraduate and graduate level (I am a licensed attorney), at schools in both the Southeast and the Northeast, and your sneering caricature does not remotely resemble what I experienced for 7 years of my educational career.

But it's 3AM and I am too tired to express myself more coherently than what disappointment has driven me to sacrifice sleep to do. Basically, I don't think the conversation in this country will ever go anywhere productive if both sides don't actually *talk* to each other, rather than theorize darkly on each other's "true motivations" and whip up emotion.

-Good Night,

Maelstrom said...

Dear Anon: I knew this post would be very upsetting to some people, as gun ownership is such an emotional issue. Thanks for your effort to be temperate in your criticisms and disagreements. I am not going to go back into the original essay and attempt a point-by-point defense of my assertions. I don't doubt that some points may be exaggerated, but I stand by my central thesis that much (not all, but much)gun passion in the USA is related to our history of violent suppression of non-white peoples. I also stand by my criticism that America is overly invested in criminal justice--a system of punishment, above all else,that relies heavily on violence and yes GUNS to solve social problems--and under-invests in providing social supports, such as jobs programs and community programs in poor communities, that could help young people stay away from crime and violence. I don't doubt there are good and honorable people working in the criminal justice system, but I think it has become an out-of-control industry that does not serve human needs very well and which precludes government investment in other areas that could do much good. Gov. Schwartzenegger lamented that California spends more on prisons than schools,reversing the relative ratios of 20-30 years ago, for example. This also applies to our foreign policy, where we invest too much in bombing and invading, not enough in peaceful strategies. As to why I perceive these things from the angle I do, I would note that I have lived abroad in more peaceful, less gun-crazy societies, and this led me to years of reflection on why America is so different,why are what I am trying to explain in this essay as well as others.

Ananta Androscoggin said...

One of the favorite "jokes" among some conservative gun-owners goes:

"This is my 'can-shooting' gun. Ya know, Mexi-cans, Puerto Ri-cans, Afri-cans . . ."

which leaves it pretty obvious what attitude they take. Apparently, none of them are bright enough to realize that their list can include, "Ameri-cans" by their own definition.

Wonder how the "Christian Exodus" to take over South (First in Treason) Carolina as a Protestant-Only All Christian state is going. I've occasionally had the chance to ask someone from there who's Pagan, and so far they've said that the Exodus is hardly noticeable at their end.

There are days sometimes, when I think maybe we ought to forcibly give Texas BACK TO Mexico. Whether they want it or not.

I have recently found myself much in agreement that "Columbia," seeing as she was named for Christopher Columbus (the first white slave raider in the New World), represents if anything, the glory of White European Conquest and Supremacy, and has nothing whatsoever to do with Pagans either new or old. To pretend that she is of Pagan origins, and is an exemplar of Pagan values (whether of us today, or the Native Americans, or those brought here in the chains of slavery) is basically like trying to proclaim that Ma'at is the goddess of drunkenness and the vine. Or that Ares is the 'easy' judge on So You Think You Can Dance.

Seeing Eye Chick said...

I appreciate that you have strong feelings about guns. But there are a lot of people who are not sheet wearing white supremacists, who do not live in religious compounds who are gun owners.

So I hope that you consider that reducing the ownership of fire arms or any weapon for that matter--- to some weird mystique might be an unappreciated stereotype.

The Acid Queen said...

I'm sorry, but you are quite off-base in your painting of all gun-owners as far-right crossburning sheet-wearing whackadoodles--I own a gun, and I am quite staunchly Progressive. I respect guns and treat them as the dangerous implements that they are--just like any weapon.

My gun is to defend myself from those who may think it's a good idea to invade my home--be they gangstas wanting to steal my property, or Talibangelicals who may feel the need to make themselves feel more secure by going after an out Heathen.

That doesn't put me on the same level as the nutjobs. It makes me better than they are, because I understand what a danger they are and I am not afraid of defending myself.

Maelstrom said...

A number readers seem to think that my essay was an all-out attack on ALL gun use and gun ownership. It is not. Please go back and read title of the essay: "Why Conservatives Love Guns So Very Very VERY Much." Please note the word "conservatives." Thank you.

I find it weird that the people writing in to complain that I am disrespecting their gun rights are not saying even one word about the greater thrust of the essay, that there is a long tradition in America of guns and other forms of violence being used to enforce racial hierarchy. Did you not notice that part of the essay?

The Acid Queen said...

I beg to differ--I quite honestly think that you knew quite well what you were doing when you made your post.

If one person reads something into it, that's one thing. But it's been more than one person. So clearly, the issue is with the poster rather than the reader.

Maelstrom said...

You are entitled to your view. I have now found through repeated experiences that ANY criticism of guns, gun ownership and gun use brings out extremely stubborn and vociferous opposition from a certain segment of American society. This is not exactly big news: this is what makes the NRA so powerful. I am thinking, maybe in future, anytime I discuss anything related to guns, I should try to get NRA approval. I still wish you would consider the larger issues I raised in my essay, but I will not hold my breath.

Maelstrom said...

I continue to receive disgruntled comments, now devolving into nasty attacks, from unhappy gun owners who object to my blog. I am not going to print their comments as they add little to the previous discussion. Let me however emphasize that my intention was not to label ALL gun users or gun owners as right-wing, racist nuts. I know there are many users and owners who are not. The main point of my essay was to suggest that there is a nexus of ideology, emotion and tradition that connects violence, racism, conservatism and gun fanaticism in America. I stand by that assertion as a GENERAL view of American history and society, while understanding that there are certainly exceptions, as noted.

bigharold11 said...

It was the democrats who fought to keep slavery and maintain institutional racism. Conservatives want individual freedom. We do not trust big government like you do. The liberal way has been tried and tried all over the world and it has always resulted in poverty, gulags, concentration camps, etc. The number 1 killer in the 20th century was government.

Wyrd Wytch said...

Well you did use stereotypical Christian style labeling and grouped everyone into one basket. Heathen Vikings were never unarmed and taught their women and children how to use weapons in order to protect their village while the men were off to battle. When ISIS wants to torture and slaughter your ass for practicing witchcraft, I guess I will have to protect YOU with MY GUN!

Maelstrom said...

I appreciate your point of view. I am frankly more concerned about right-wing, racist terrorists killing me for being tolerant and pluralistic than anything from ISIS. I think the Obama strategy is working well to reduce ISIS territory, and hopefully will continue. Beyond that, I think ISIS will choke on its own toxicity. Enjoy your guns! May they grant you all your wishes and keep you in happiness and peace the rest of your life.

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