I’m not arguing the second amendment here. It exists. What it actually says and intends us to do as a result — that’s an argument for another blog post. The fact that any discussion about guns in America automatically becomes a discussion about language shouts volumes. But then, Americans are good at putting lipstick on pigs, thinking “All men are created equal” while institutionalizing slavery, and selling utter nonsense as “religions” that other Americans gobble up as gospel truth. We’re culturally acclimated to seeing one thing as its opposite — take Manifest Destiny. WE still tell ourselves that was a “good thing”. It wasn’t. In fact, Manifest Destiny wasn’t even a legitimate idea based on legitimate thinking. It was a myth — invented by white people to justify their terrible behavior. “Responsible gun ownership” exists in that context — a myth invented to justify… well, in this instance, not “terrible behavior”. But, behavior that can lead to terrible things happening.
It all starts with people believing a myth is real.
I’ve fired a gun before. In fact, I really enjoyed riflery the six years I got to do it when I was a kid going to sleepaway camp. I got a few NRA badges to prove it! Back then (this was the mid 1960’s), the NRA was still a “gun safety organization” and the thing I remember most from my six years of riflery, aside from the fact that I wasn’t half bad at it, was the constant refrain of gun safety, gun safety, GUN SAFETY. More than anything, the NRA-backed training I got back then imprinted the idea that guns can kill you. Even if you do everything right, there’s always the possibility that you could ONE thing wrong and you or someone could get hurt. That’s why you have to be hyper vigilant. You can never let your guard down whenever a gun is out of its locker. You have to be “responsible”.
See, I was taught “gun responsibility”. I believed in it. Just like everyone else in America, I got it into my head that while some people will only ever use guns to do bad things, most people (who just so happen to be white), only every want to use their guns to do “good things” — like hunt (debatable as a “good thing” — it certainly isn’t good from the hunted animal’s point of view) or target shoot (a perfectly good thing!) or defend themselves (a perfectly dubious thing). It’s inside that last thing — “self defense” where most of the “responsible gun ownership” mythology lurks.
For starters, it assumes something very, very dark about the rest of America — outside that gun owner’s front door. Whereas, in most other countries, it’s assumed you don’t need a gun to protect yourself from your neighbors and fellow citizens, in America, it’s “normal thinking”. Of course danger awaits outside your front door! Of course you need a lethal weapon to defend yourself — the threat outside is hell bent on murdering you! That excuse gets played regardless of which direction crime statistics are headed. The urge to “defend one’s home and hearth” isn’t based on statistics. It’s based on fear. In America, that fear is based on racism. The whole “good guy with a gun” vs “bad guy with a gun” quietly casts the good guy as almost certainly white and the bad guy as almost certainly Black. Hmmmmmm… now where could such an idea have come from?
Racism touches or has touched almost every facet of American life. Guns are no different. The whole point of our gun laws, at present, is to feed racist fear. If we could magically remove racism from peoples’ brains, here in America almost every bit of the incentive to own a weapon would evaporate. My upper middle class Jewish family — politically very liberal — still succumbed to racist fear during the riots the followed Martin Luther King’s assassination. Though Pikesville — where I grew up — was miles and miles from the parts of Baltimore that erupted in violence, my parents (and others), went out and purchased guns. They were afraid of angry Black people (angry for a very legitimate reason) coming to our neighborhood and being violent. No such thing ever happened. Did it occur in any of the angry protestor’s heads to do such a thing? Probably — but, so what?
It’s a testament to how good white people are at diving and conquering everyone else that Blacks and Jews — two groups with way, way more in common than not — could be set against each other like that. The overwhelming majority of Jews arrived in America after slavery was gone. Jews were never considered “white people” in Europe. Jews occupied the first “ghetto” — in Venice, Italy — to which they were segregated starting 29 March 1516.
Quick side note — the “ghetto” (it’s an Italian word), was a swampy island connected to the rest of the city “…by two bridges that were only open during the day. Gates were opened in the morning at the ringing of the marangona, the largest bell in St. Mark’s Campanile, and locked in the evening. Permanent, round-the-clock surveillance of the gates occurred at the Jewish residents’ expense.[fn] Strict penalties were to be imposed on any Jewish resident caught outside after curfew.[fn] Areas of Ghetto Nuovo that were open to the canal were to be sealed off with walls, while outward facing quays were to be bricked over in order to make it impossible for unauthorized entry or exit.[fn]“
Jews fled Europe because of racism. They hoped for a better life here where (hopefully) racism wouldn’t constantly destroy their communities and steal their wealth. Fortunately for the Jews, America was already doing that to Black people by the time the Jews got here. And, while not considered white by most Europeans, Jews were just “white-adjacent” enough in America that white people didn’t make a point of taking their wealth as white people had historically in Europe. While Jews prospered, Black people struggled — as the Jews had in Europe — but also with the additional burden of slavery; Reconstruction’s failure kept slavery on the table.
You don’t have to dig down too far inside just about an gun law in America to find the fear it rests upon. And that fear is of former slaves getting guns and coming for payback. That’s the base justification. It’s irrational. It’s unspoken. But it’s there.
Ever notice how “normal” it is for right wingers and militia types to show up at right wing rallies armed to the teeth — even INSIDE government property where they’re using their arms to literally threaten legislators? Were those people all “responsible gun owners”? No one got shot that day. Good thing, I guess… are we then to measure the relative success of “responsibility” by lack of body count? No one died, all the gun owners acted “responsibly” this time. Is that it?
The difference between a “responsible” gun owner and an irresponsible one is the unexpected event. Take Nancy Lanza — mother of 20 year old Adam Lanza, the guy responsible for the Sandy Hook school shooting. By all accounts, prior to that event, Nancy Lanza was a “responsible gun owner”. I bet Nancy Lanza thought of herself as a “responsible gun owner”. Until the day she wasn’t — the day her son murdered her with her with one of her own weapons before heading out the door and murdering 26 MORE people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 of them CHILDREN.
One moment Nancy Lanza was as responsible a gun owner as anyone and the next — a gun violence victim. Killed in her own home by her own gun. Trying to see how the “self defense” angle fits here. No one broke in to do this to her. She set herself up for failure — and then, she set up the very community she loved and was part of for even worse failure.
The full measure of a gun owner’s “responsibility” doesn’t occur when their gun is sitting safely inside a gun safe. The gun was not designed to do that. If you really want to know how responsible a gun owner is, you have to measure their responsibility when the gun’s outside its safe and in their hands — where it always has the potential to do real damage just by operating within its design specs.
In their defense, most gun owners will never have happen to them what happened to Nancy Lanza. But none of them can guarantee that they won’t. They can’t.
And the second they tell you they can? They’re acting irresponsibly.