God, Country, Guns

mass shooting

W.J. Astore

Yesterday, I saw a sticker on a pickup truck that read “God, Country, Guns.”  To me, that sticker made as much sense as “God, Country, Hammers” or “God, Country, Bicycles.”  A gun is just that: a tool, an object, like a hammer or a bicycle, only much more dangerous in the wrong hands.

But many Americans don’t look at guns as tools, as objects, as a deadly technology that requires great care and also strict regulations.  They identify it with God and Country.  They see it as representing certain values, such as freedom and liberty and individuality.  For some men, guns are synonymous with masculinity.  They are symbols of potency.  Of agency.  They are worthy of protection, indeed of a lifelong vow, ’til death do us part.  Hence the catchphrase, “you can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

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This sacralization of the gun, its elevation as a totem of strength and virility, its hugely symbolic presence in American life, is an important reason why gun control efforts largely fail, even in the aftermath of horrendous mass shootings.  Reasoned and reasonable efforts to limit mass shootings, e.g. by banning military-style assault weapons, high-capacity clips, and bump stocks, are no match for people’s emotional — I daresay religious or spiritual — attachment to guns.

I’ve owned guns myself and have enjoyed firing everything from a pellet rifle to a .45-70 and from a .22 pistol to a .44 magnum.  As a historian of technology, I appreciate the history of guns as well as their aesthetic beauty.  (If you go to a gun show or hang around gun owners, you’ll often hear guns described as “beautiful.”)  But my appreciation for guns doesn’t translate to an affection for them.  And in the cause of greater public safety and a reduction in mass shootings, I’d like to see stricter regulations for certain guns and related accessories.

Again, here are three reasonable changes I’d like to see:

  1. No military-style assault or high-caliber sniper rifles.
  2. No high-capacity clips.
  3. No bump stocks or other devices to increase rate of fire.

Yet, no matter how reasonable these changes seem to most, organizations like the National Rifle Association will oppose them,* as will those who associate guns with God and Country and freedom and similar values.

Growing up in the 1970s, I remember reading “Field and Stream” and “Outdoor Life” (and an occasional “American Rifleman” too).  In the early ’80s, I wrote a paper on the history of hunting in America prior to the U.S. Civil War.  Until fairly recently, gun owners focused mainly on hunting and personal protection, using weapons like bolt-action or lever-action rifles, shotguns, and revolvers.  Rifles that I recall friends talking about or owning were .30-06 or .30-30.  Nobody talked about owning an AR-15 or AK-47 or similar military-style assault rifles with “banana” (high-capacity) clips and bump stocks.

America, of course, is a land of extremes, and one example is today’s gun-rights crowd, which attacks all regulations or restrictions as an assault on their “rights” or “way of life” as articulated in the Second Amendment.  But it didn’t use to be this way.  Indeed, it wasn’t this way when I was a teenager.  How did guns become so venerated, so cherished, so worshiped, in American culture?  So much so that people ride around today with stickers equating gun ownership with God and Country?

As long as our society continues to worship the gun, the more likely it is that we’ll suffer more mass shootings — and indeed shootings in general.

*Yes, in the aftermath of the Vegas Massacre, it’s true the NRA said it wouldn’t oppose “additional regulations” on bump stocks.  Note, however, that no ban is forthcoming from Congress.  The NRA are a savvy bunch…

“People Who Cherish the Second Amendment”

dirty-harry
Worthy of being cherished?

W.J. Astore

The U.S. Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights is the foundation of our democracy.  If you had to pick a right to celebrate, perhaps even to cherish, which would it be?  There are so many important ones, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, our right to privacy (the fourth amendment), and so on. There are other amendments that righted old wrongs, including prohibitions against slavery and the granting of the vote to Blacks and women.

Yet which right/amendment is the best known in U.S. politics today?  The second amendment, or the right to bear arms, which Mike Pence referred to yesterday when he noted, “people who cherish the Second Amendment have a very clear choice in this election.”

Uneducated Voters

OK, I’ve owned guns and enjoy shooting, but I hardly “cherish” my right to spend thousands of dollars on lots of guns.  I have friends who hunt and friends who collect guns and I wouldn’t deny them their rights to do both, but again why is this the one right that deserves to be singled out as worthy of being “cherished” in a democracy?

I know: the NRA and its followers claim that an armed citizenry is the best guarantor of all the other rights, a position that is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Believe me, your personal collection of guns is not going to stop a trained military using tanks and artillery and all the other heavy weaponry of war. And no: this is not an argument for you to have the right to purchase your very own M-1 Abrams tank!

Look: No political candidate plans to take away anyone’s guns. Nevertheless, the NRA and Trump/Pence persist in scaring gun owners while encouraging a “cherishing” attitude toward guns.  And here’s the telling part: Even as the gun cherishers bloviate about the extreme importance of gun rights, they virtually ignore all the other rights that do need protecting in America, especially our rights to speech, assembly, and privacy.

Stop fixating on guns, America, and start cherishing what really matters: your rights as a citizen to have a real say in politics and the running of this country. Those are the rights that truly need protecting.

 

 

In Iraq, That Dog Don’t Hunt

That President Don't Hunt?
That President Don’t Hunt?

W.J. Astore

News that President Obama has doubled the number of American troops (whoops — I mean advisers) in Iraq to 3100 is already a tacit admission of defeat in that troubled region.  Let’s recall that the Iraqi security forces the U.S. trained and equipped to the tune of $25 billion simply melted away when faced with serious combat this summer.  Their performance put me to mind of the National Rifle Association’s slogan against John Kerry in the presidential campaign of 2004.  Kerry had gone bird shooting, mainly it seems to be photographed with a gun in his hand, a necessity for any red-blooded American male (just ask Obama).  But the NRA wasn’t fooled (or so they claimed).  “That dog don’t hunt,” the NRA said about Kerry.  And something about that slogan stuck.

You could say the same of that Iraqi army that the U.S. created and funded and trained and equipped: That dog don’t hunt. Or, it won’t hunt for us.  Because that’s not its purpose.  That’s not how or even why we trained it.  But that’s OK.  We’ll just send more American troops to Iraq, and waste more money, further destabilizing the region, making it even easier for radical jihadists to recruit more followers, whether to the ISIS banner or some other Islamist flag (Khorasan, perhaps?).

It’s just incredible how inept U.S. foreign policy is today.  If George C. Marshall had been like this during World War II, we’d be speaking German today at the Pentagon, instead of simply misinterpreting Clausewitz.

Of course, Congress will have to authorize funding for the latest U.S. military misadventure.  Anyone want to offer odds on Congress actually exercising oversight on our foreign entanglements?  A long shot, indeed.

Even as Congress seeks to cut funding to the poor, there’s always plenty of money for military adventurism overseas, no matter how often those adventures fail.  When it comes to exercising real oversight, Congress is always a lame duck — so lame that even a dog that don’t hunt (that Iraqi military again) succeeds in bagging billions of dollars from the American taxpayer.

The moral to the story?  America doesn’t lack for guns; we lack for brains.

Update: Iraq has “shook up” its military, relieving 26 officers of their commands and forcibly retiring 10 others, even as 18 new commanders were appointed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi among promises of greater professionalism and less graft and corruption.  Progress?  Time will tell.  But what does it say about a military that, in spite of prolonged training and massive infusions of cash from the U.S., was so ridden with corruption that it collapsed when facing its first challenge?  Sadly, the need for ever more U.S. advisers and money suggests this is yet another case of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Update 2 (written by b. traven)

What is truly tragic is how the back story to the total failure of the Bush-Cheney wars is not reviewed by Obama, the Senate, or the House as this tragedy for Iraq unfolds. Obama just continues to follow the Bush lies by one week saying no “boots on the ground” while his top military people say “yes, more boots” and the next week Obama announces doubling the number of troops with no sense of embarrassment. And the American people stay entranced with baseball, football, and basketball scores.

And you can say you saw it here first. No sooner had General Dempsey said he wanted more troops in Iraq then Obama complied by doubling the force. Now Dempsey has told Obama what he wants even more troops so you can count on Obama complying in a couple of weeks. There’s nothing like doubling down on a failed policy in hopes that the result will come out differently than the last failure. Here’s Dempsey’s new demand as reported in the Guardian of London newspaper:

“The top-ranking officer in the American military said on Thursday that the US is actively considering the direct use of troops in the toughest upcoming fights against the Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq, less than a week after Barack Obama doubled troop levels there.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, indicated to the House of Representatives armed services committee that the strength of Isis relative to the Iraqi army may be such that he would recommend abandoning Obama’s oft-repeated pledge against returning US ground troops to combat in Iraq.”

President Truman fired the most renowned five star General of his day, Douglas MacArthur for voicing a policy contradicting Truman’s in regard to China. If we had a real president he would do the same with Dempsey, who is certainly no MacArthur.

Dueling Bumper Stickers

Coexist_by_Chima1B52SuperiorFirepower

I occasionally travel from north central Pennsylvania, a mostly rural, generally conservative, area to Amherst, Massachusetts, home of generally liberal colleges like Amherst and Smith.  It’s an adventure in dueling bumper stickers.

In Amherst, I’m told to “coexist” with my neighbors, to “enlighten up,” to seek “peace.”  I’m told to go organic and to support my local farmers.  Perhaps my favorite Amherst bumper sticker was the one that told me, “I’m already against the next war.”

Just today in Pennsylvania, I was taught different lessons by different stickers.  I was told to seek “peace thru superior firepower.”  I was encouraged to join the NRA (National Rifle Association, of course) and to “stand and fight.”  I was reminded that “All gave some — some gave all,” with the image of a soldier kneeling next to the grave of a comrade in arms.  “Don’t tread on me,” the slogan of tea partiers, is a common t-shirt and flag.

I suppose these are visible reminders of red versus blue America.  The America of “freedom isn’t free,” that we need to be tough and strong and assertive to defend ourselves against evil-doers, versus the America of harmony and accord to be achieved through greater understanding and tolerance.

The conservatives always seem to have the funnier stickers.  My all-time favorite (seen many years ago in Colorado) is “Ted Kennedy’s Car Has Killed More People Than My Gun.”

Perhaps there’s a lesson in this.  Always suspect slogans, especially those that fit on a bumper sticker.  And not only conservative ones.  Let’s not forget the vapid “hope” and “change” of the Obama campaign, words that were so malleable and fuzzy that they basically meant nothing.  Or they meant what you wanted them to mean, which is almost the same thing.

Maybe a friend of mine is right when he expresses a wish that Americans would just shut up and stop airing their political and social views on their cars and trucks.

It is something that is peculiarly American.  Can we imagine a German citizen with a sticker on his BMW that says “Peace thru superior firepower,” with a Stuka dive bomber featured?  Yet Americans think little of having such a sticker featuring the image of a B-52 Stratofortress.

Lessons?  I don’t know.  I catch the humor in some of these stickers, but some of them really make me wonder.

America is a bellicose land: even our bumper stickers are at war with each other!

W.J. Astore