April 11, 2006


What's the difference between Myer's Park (an affluent neighborhood in Charlotte, NC) & yogurt? Well yogurt is a living culture.

Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all night. Don't forget to tip your waitress - heroin isn't getting any cheaper ya know....

I grew up on one of the less affluent sides of town. There were as many jokes about my neighborhood as there were about Myer's Park. Most of it was good natured ribbing but it showed a difference in lifestyle choices between the two neighborhoods.

There's another rivalry betwixt two different cultures. This one is divided by political/philosophical/moral/ethical issues rather than economic & geographic ones.

So let's talk about the gun culture & the anti-gun culture:

I grew up shooting. I can't recall a time when there wasn't a gun in my house as a child. I was taught very early that they weren't to be played with & my ass would be switched if I even thought about it. Needless to say I never got a switching for "playing" with guns (not that I couldn't tell a hickory switch from an oak one by the sting on the back of my legs, but that's another story or two dozen).

Most of my friends & family enjoyed shooting to some degree. Not that there weren't folks who just didn't care for it for one reason or another, but aside from the occasional person that worried it was too dangerous no one ever intimated that it was wrong.

That was in the late 70's & early 80's. That was also in the South. Now it's a bit different. & perhaps even back home as there has been a migration of folks from the north who cling to their stubborn ways despite the good barbecue & real iced tea they've been exposed to.

I was probably 9 or 10 when I was first photographed with a firearm in my possession. It was a handgun to boot. No one thought anything about it, least that ever bothered to mention it to me. I wasn't expelled or arrested or disciplined by my parents.

Now if a 9 year old had a pic taken with a firearm, even a long gun there'd be an outcry. People would be demanding that attention be paid to the boy & his behavior corrected. Why?

It's the culture, stupid.

My people didn't view guns as a symbol of murder & mayhem. They saw them as tools or as components for sport. No one wanted to hurt anyone else & they couldn't understand when someone else did for what seemed to them an unjustifiable reason. Conversely if someone shot someone else that was breaking into their home they understood. No one wanted to be in that place but they damn sure didn't condemn anyone for defending themselves.

The people I see now - in 2006 in Colorado - are different. Not that they're all like I'm about to describe but there's a noticeable increase in the number of folks who don't approve of anyone having a firearm. Self defense is condemned by them even under the most justifiable (to me) circumstances. The mere picture of a firearm frightens them.

This is the anti-gun culture. It's not dominant but it's large enough to be influential.

I focus on firearms. Further I tend to concentrate on speaking to gun owners rather than trying to convert people. I preach to the choir more or less. In doing this I see many factions within the pro-gun camp & try to understand each of them. In general it's not that difficult as we have a shared worldview. a Weltanschauung if you will.

The anti-gun culture does not share this worldview. That makes it infinitely harder to win them over to our side.

Lets' go over a book I recently read. It's called Born Fighting: How The Scots-Irish Shaped America by James Webb. In it Webb discusses the culture of a people from the north England/south Scotland area & how that culture became almost synonymous with American. as the review from Publisher's Weekly on the Amazon.com page sums it up:

"...Webb's thesis is that the Scots-Irish, with their rugged individualism, warrior culture built on extended familial groups (the 'kind of people who would die in place rather than retreat') and an instinctive mistrust of authority, created an American culture that mirrors these traits..."

What Webb describes is not a bloodline or ethnic descendancy, but a cultural one; one that hinges on a set of morals, ethics, beliefs & philosophy that transcend physical or genealogical barriers. It's not that prejudice is unthinkable in that culture, but that demonstrating a respect & understanding for the culture (as well as an acceptance &/or an adaptation) negates such distrust of superficial differences.

This culture came about from martial necessity. It was born of the need to defend themselves from attack & grew from that sense of self defense & common defense. It branched out to encompass religion & politics but it's important to remember its roots stem from a time when people with sharp heavy objects were trying to kill them for various reasons.

Odds are that if you're a gun nut & have some home training that you'd be accepted by most people who come from that culture. It's likely that they'd be gun nuts themselves to some degree. Even if the subject of arms didn't come up I'm assuming that the same base ideas - the worldview - that makes you a gun nut would also make you acceptable to those of the Scots-Irish culture. (& keep in mind I'm speaking of very broad generalities here.)

Conversely the anti-gun culture tends to clash with the Scots-Irish in that very basic worldview. You're simply not going to see Jennifer Friedman of The Violence Policy Center getting along famously with rural folks in Appalachia. They might have a polite conversation but if Ms. Friedman moved into town within a month folks would start distancing themselves from her.

Why? Because the culture she comes from has a very different premise than the one the Scots-Irish culture is based on. That premise of the Scots-Irish revolves around self-reliance.

Kevin of The Smallest Minority has opined that trust is the chasm that separates gun nuts from the anti-gunners. & to a large degree he is right. But I don't think that is the root of the problem, just a very early & prominent symptom.

What I think the conflict boils down to is a struggle between the collectivists & the individualists. It's not a question of trust per se, it's a question of faith. It’s a belief that one system is better, more ideal than the other.

The Scots-Irish & the gun nuts tend to side with individualism (although I should point out that the Scots-Irish do tend to lean towards populism in certain ways), whereas the anti-gun culture believes strongly in the collective.

A psychiatrist wrote an interesting article on the anti-gun/anti-self defense mindset. In it she goes over some defense mechanisms that can explain some folks aversion to firearms &/or self defense. I found it useful & informative but not all encompassing. It was again discussing the symptoms of the anti-gun culture more so than the cause.

If you scratch an anti-gunner you'll probably find a closet socialist at the least. It's very rare to find anyone who is anti-gun who is also pro-capitalism (in the laissez-faire sense), anti-big government, or pro-individual. Very few libertarians & very few old school conservatives are anti-gun. But many liberals are. Did you ever wonder why?

Anti-gun is not a deep crusade for more than a few individuals; it's just a seemingly natural choice for those with a certain mindset - one that values the collective over the individual. & if you approach someone in those terms they'll vehemently deny it, citing their support for certain individual rights. But if you ask them about their views on taxation, socialized health care & education (though omit the word "socialized" when you describe them), the environment, anti-smoking laws & society's ideal interaction with government I think you'll find they support a great deal of government oversight on an individual's life.

It's not that the collectivists want to eliminate the individual, they just prefer that the individual is held in (in their opinion) needful check by the collective. That the collective dominates in other words. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few", "majority rules", "all for one & one for all", & other such clichés seem logical & above reproach to them.

How that manifests itself in their stance on firearms is very simple; they do not believe that an individual should have that much power. Only the government, in its infinite wisdom, being duly informed by representatives of the people (if not the people themselves) has the moral clarity to wield such power.

Owning a firearm is power. Not just a mere symbol of it but power itself. It doesn’t make you omnipotent, omnipresent, or omniscient but it does make it very difficult to force you to do something you don’t wish to. It gives you a very effective veto over another’s dictates. This can be used for good or bad. A person with a firearm can walk down the street shooting random passers-by. He may also shoot someone who is walking down the street shooting random passers-by. It is simply a tool that’s use is determined only by the will of the person wielding it. We can all see why anti-gunners would try to emphasize the bad uses of firearms as their reasoning for restricting or eliminating them from the public’s hands. But the good reason frightens them as well.

If ten people showed up at my house & demanded I give them money I could repel them with a firearm. Or at least hold them off for a finite period of time. Even if they were armed I could repel them or at least slow them down in their efforts to rob me. Most of you would think this is a good reason to own a firearm – to keep a person or group of people from stealing from you, or forcing you to do things against your will.

But what if those ten people had badges? What if the theft they were attempting was what 51% of the people asked them to do? What if they weren't coming to steal your money, but to evict you from your home? What if they were coming to disarm you? A free man with a firearm could make life very difficult for ten robbers or ten government agents (excuse the redundancy).

While we might see it as a good thing if a freeman held at bay criminals, be they street thugs or thugs with badges, the collectivists don’t. The collectivists are by definition pulling for the government in such circumstances. Anything that gives the individual an advantage or even a chance to oppose the will of the collective as enforced by the government is abhorrent.

So that rifle on the wall that Orwell spoke of* is as much a danger to the collectivist as it is to the burglar. It enables a person to be free & independent of the collective. In fact James Burgh contended that the possession of arms was the difference between a freeman & a slave**.

"Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows, and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon — so long as there is no answer to it — gives claws to the weak." George Orwell from You and the Atom Bomb (1945)

More Orwell. & I don't fully agree with the premise he sets his conclusion on but his basic point is sound - that small arms are often the difference between servants to a government & freemen whom a government serves.

Most of the people who read this will not argue against that basic point. That's because of our culture &/or ideology. We want the weak to be able to protect themselves from the strong because we can envision the time when we are weak, or weaker than our enemy & need all the advantages we can find. We do not want to depend on others for our protection no matter how risky that can become. That's because we know it's not as risky as the alternatives.

Could the American people repel the u.S. military if it ever was used to oppress them?

Most anti-gunners & quite a few gun owners will adamantly state that the u.S. military would be unbeatable in such a situation (oddly enough many of those same anti-gunners are yelling "quagmire" because of some moderate resistance in patches of Iraq). They'd argue that tanks & bombs & such would render our small arms obsolete (while avoiding the fact that through their efforts we are denied access to more effective small arms).

Most gun nuts would say that the American people could hold off our own military under the right circumstances for a finite time. I've proclaimed many times that if ten rednecks armed with Garands were defending their county from any 100 regular soldiers from any military in the world that my cash would be laid down on the rednecks to win. I cheat a little bit with that statement as it's a fairly common estimate in military circles that it takes ten regular soldiers to contain the activities of one guerrillero.

No matter how many tanks or bombs or battleships a military force has at its disposal victory is still determined by who owns the real estate. If you do not have troops on the ground you have not secured an area. If you do have troops on the ground they can be shot or stabbed or clubbed.

But that speaks more to the technical nature of the question & I'm trying to concentrate on the philosophical/ideological reasons for the answers.

I will claim that a domestic militia action against the u.s. military is winnable (or at least unwinnable for the military) because like most gun nuts & individualists I cannot fathom living in a world where I have no choice but to be a slave, so I see ways to avoid that even if they're perilous. Out of that sort of determination wars can be won.

Anti-gunners though see only an overwhelming force (in the military) & cannot imagine living in a world where a person such as myself could threaten such might. They don't care about the technical arguments so much; they just want their government to be able to win any contest & trust that it will always be a benevolent government.

They like a big powerful government because they see it as a force for good. They like for people to be dependent on government & therefore want a big powerful government capable of providing their needs or desires. So they usually have a serious issue contemplating what such a government could do if it went tyrannical on them. It'd be similar to asking a 4 year old if he ever thought what would happen if his father started severely beating him by the time he was 8, & further if he could successfully defend himself from his father when he started beating him.

It's simply not in their worldview to closely examine such questions.

So you have the anti-gunners who see government as being too powerful to oppose & no one should try anyway because of its benevolent nature contrasted by the gun nuts who see government as any other tool that it can be used for good or evil, but it's not so powerful that resistance would be futile.

Most (but not all) anti-gunners place their implicit trust in an 18 year old man with an automatic rifle*** who wears a uniform, yet when that same person is 55 & wearing civilian clothes they cringe at the prospect of him carrying a revolver. This is because when he's in a uniform he's acting as a part of the collective; enforcing the collective's will. Out of uniform he's no different than them & shouldn't (in their view) wield such power.

That is in essence the nature of the chasm between us gun nuts & anti-gunners. It's not that we think differently about firearms - that's just a symptom - it's that we think differently about society & government & a person's role in relation to either. Because of this it's very difficult to swing a hard core anti-gunner's mind to the point where he's even marginally pro-gun. But it's not impossible.

What is more cost beneficial is trying to reason with the folks who are either on the fence or are mildly pro-gun. At least with them you have a common starting point - the idea that the individual should not be defenseless. Not that they necessarily believe that wholeheartedly, but they don't disbelieve it wholeheartedly. & that can make all the difference in the world.

*“That rifle on the wall of the laborer’s cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”—George Orwell

**“No kingdom can be secured otherwise than by arming the people. The possession of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave. He, who has nothing, and who himself belongs to another, must be defended by him, whose property he is, and needs no arms. But he, who thinks he is his own master, and has what he can call his own, ought to have arms to defend himself, and what he possesses; else he lives precariously, and at discretion.”James Burgh (Political Disquisitions: Or, an Enquiry into Public Errors, Defects, and Abuses, London, 1774-1775.)

*** I should let this slide but I speak very loosely when referring to the 3 round burst capable M-16 family of weapons as either automatic or rifle. :)

Posted by Publicola at April 11, 2006 02:48 AM | TrackBack

Excellent post and very astute.

I would say that the people whom I am trying to reach are not the dedicated anti-gunners. They, in my experience, are actually quite rare (and are most commonly found on the faculty of college campuses). Much more common, and the person whom we CAN reach, is the person among the vast majority of Americans who simply don't have an opinion on the issue: They've never been exposed to firearms, they've never had a need for one and don't ever forsee having need for one so they simply don't care about it one way or the other.

Also among the reachable are the poeple who support gun rights in a general way but think of it in terms of hunting or sporting purposes...not in terms of the right to have the means to defend against tyrranical government or foreign invasion. Those are the ones who don't support a total gun ban, but do support "reasonable restrictions" because they just don't see a "need" for me to own an M-16A2 and a case of hand grenades.

We may never be able to convert the dedicated Anti-gunners who, as you mentioned, are basically just socialists without the fancy uniforms and red flags...but the vast majority of Americans are reachable if we make the attempt to do so, put the argument in terms that make sense to them, and expose them to their own potential for self-reliance and individualism.

Thanks again for a great post.

Posted by: Sailorcurt at April 11, 2006 08:14 AM

Sorry about the typos, I was on the way out the door and I'm in a hurry.

Posted by: Sailorcurt at April 11, 2006 08:15 AM

Outstanding piece. I'll be linking to it as soon as I get home.

Posted by: Kevin Baker at April 11, 2006 01:12 PM

Well done!


Posted by: geekWitha.45 at April 12, 2006 09:39 AM

Personally, I think the "cultural gap" thing is true, but there's an element in it that's not mentioned above: Nice Affluent White Liberals Like Us™ just damn well don't like "the gun nuts", "the rednecks", "the Christians", etc. They feel about 'em more or less the same way David Duke feels about black people: "They" need to be put in their place, and kept in their place, and anything "they" want to do that "we" don't, ought to be banned just to teach "them" a lesson. This is partly regionalism, and partly a class thing. In my experience, Nice Affluent White Liberals Like Us™ bring up the class thing with remarkable regularity when you try to talk to them about guns.

On top of that, there's some very real fear. I've come to think that these are people who feel physically helpless in a very profound way, to the point where they figure violence will always, without any conceivable exception, be to their disadvantage. Resistance is always futile, in their minds. When they're sympathetic to "the troops", they always imagine the troops to be witless, confused little bunny rabbits, helpless to resist the Big Bad Jihadis. When they conceive of our military as being able to take care of itself, that's when they start calling them war criminals. Because they can no longer think of the troops as "us", if the troops are competent.

"Us", in their minds, is always physically helpless. When they start spewing invective at gun owners, it's either the class thing, or it's the "compensation" thing. I don't think it's that they simply can't imagine anybody actually being male; it's more like, in dim way, they can, and they don't think they qualify. Maybe they're still making excuses for not standing up to the bully in third grade.

But not all of them get as worked up about it as that, and there's another thing going on here, too: When you favor gay rights, and you're pro-choice, and you don't much care for religion (least of all the "Bible-believing Christian" variety), and you're still stuck in the NAWLLU™ consensus-reality that minorities can't feed themselves without a handout from the Great White NAWLLU™, you tend to believe in gun control just simply because everybody who agrees with you about everything else seems to believe in it, and the people who oppose it seem to be associated with a lot of views that you find really objectionable. They believe it by default.

I really think that from a libertarian angle, you can reach at least some of these people, the go-along-with-the-crowd crowd (I'm living proof).

Posted by: P. Froward at April 12, 2006 06:04 PM

Well stated, but you knew that.

One thing I like to point out when involved in such discussions is that no matter who has the guns, mistakes will be made. The question is, "Who should have the right to make mistakes? Individuals? Or the Government?

That is what power is all about. Deciding who gets the right to make mistakes. If you think that individuals should not have guns because they might shoot the place up (intentionally, or by accident), then you are ignoring the fact that when governments make mistakes (with guns, vaccines, earthmovers, or taxes; it doesn't matter what), the mistakes are intrinsically bigger. Further, you have to ignore the myriad examples of cops shooting people accidentally on purpose (or their own feet, ala the DEA agent), or making mistakes far worse than the vast majority of individuals would make, once "group think" takes over.

How many people who are against civilian gun ownership are true pacifists who don't think the government should have guns? Very few, I would bet.

Posted by: indiana at April 18, 2006 08:54 PM

Wow! I haven't seen a keener analysis of this subject in quite a while. Well done.

Posted by: Fred at April 18, 2006 11:03 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?