I honestly cannot understand how the gun control debate breaks down along partisan lines. Doesn’t everyone want to minimize the harm people can do to one another? Why do people cling so fiercely to their right to inflict violence on others? Just because you have the “right” to do something, does that mean it’s a good idea?
I’m not going to hash out the arguments taking place across the country, but I want to take a look at the American fetishization of guns. There’s a poem by Brian Bilston that’s been making the rounds on social media, “America Is a Gun,” which concludes, “better to be anything than America as a gun.” If you steel yourself and read some of the reactions to this poem on social media, you’ll see reactions along the lines of: Hey, that’s reductive! How offensive! What these people are missing, of course, is that being reductive is the point. When you strip American culture down, a love of guns is one of its foundational cultural features. We’ve tied it up in our identity as a country hewed by tough frontiersman and military superheroes:
After all, what is more quintessentially American than 1950s TV shows of cowboys shooting things up in the Wild West? Or the trope of the brave frontiersman “protecting” himself against “savage” natives. And then we had our involvement in many wars in the twentieth century, which elevated the American soldier in the popular imagination. The militaristic image permeated our civilian culture. Didn’t every little American boy want to be the hero with a gun?
Leaving policy and ideology aside, Americans seem to love the image of a man with a gun. And make no mistake, the power of images is fierce.
Wouldn’t it be cool if instead of guns, we celebrated American liberty by focusing on a different sort of imagery? On something that spoke to our First Amendment rights? What if our culture was as saturated with images of historic figures at typewriters or speakers holding megaphones as it is with men with guns? What if?
Well, after last week’s atrocity in Parkland, Florida, I’m heartened and impressed to see throngs of young Americans celebrating their First Amendment rights, taking to the streets, fighting power with the strength of their voices. What they seem to know—as do the trolls who are smearing them—is that loud voices can be a much more forceful weapon than any gun. If you ask me, they—those teenagers—have “got the guts.” Let’s back ’em up!