Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything: Guns, And The Americans Who Can't Get Enough Of Them
Hello everyone — This week’s column is taking aim at a very timely topic: Guns. Specifically, gun ownership in the U.S. Over the past few weeks we’ve gotten two different firearm-related inquiries, and given last weekend’s “March For Our Lives” events it seemed like there was no better time to dig into these than the present.
(Reminder: I really wanted to crack a gun pun about “pulling the trigger” on whatever question has been bothering you by emailing it to us at [email protected], but I’m resisting the urge. Be impressed. And also — ask us shit!)
The first inquiry came to us from overseas, and it’s a bit more general …
I’m from Australia, and we don’t have lots of guns here because the government bought them back and changed all the laws after a mass shooting that feels like it was about a million years ago now but was actually 1996. Now we live in a society where the police carry guns, the guys that drive the trucks with all the money have them, people who go to ranges have them, and hardened criminals sometimes have them. That’s about it. The only people I know personally who have ever used a gun are police (and I’ve never met a cop that’s fired a gun at a person) and my stepfather who was in the army and goes target shooting occasionally. His guns are kept in a safe in his house and the police can come over unannounced any time they want to check they’re being stored correctly.
Please explain for us not from USA the gun culture because (and I can only speak for myself and my nine year old son) it is completely baffling to us, quite frankly. The thing that really got my ire this morning is that your President, the person you all put in office is now suggesting that 1 in 5 SCHOOL TEACHERS should carry guns so that less school children are killed in mass shootings. To me this just doesn’t compute …. my brain just comes back with an error signal and nothing else expect the abject terror of imaging living in a place where I had to drop my son off to school to a teacher with a Glock strapped to their side. Please explain to the rest of us how its came to that.
“Where’s your homework?”, “Didn’t do it, sir” bang you’re dead?!?!
Oof, you want me to explain gun culture in the U.S. — like, as a whole? Where do I even begin? Well, let’s look at the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
When you think about how the United States was founded — namely, by a bunch of colonists who were persecuted by their government and decided to raise a militia to fight for their freedom during a lil something called the Revolutionary War — it makes a bit of sense that Americans hold tight to the idea that the ability to fight back against tyranny is a good thing. And to form an independent civilian army, you’ll need folks to have weapons handy.
The problem is that no amount of handguns or assault rifles will ACTUALLY do a damn bit of good if we want raise a militia today. Because if we need to free ourselves from our own government, we’ll have to contend with our extraordinarily well-armed military. And they have, like, tanks and shit. And planes with bombs. A few NRA members with AK-47s aren’t going to do a hell of a lot of good against THAT… but really, it’s not about raising a militia anymore anyway.
Per the controversial 2008 Supreme Court ruling D.C. v. Heller, the Second Amendment is interpreted as protecting an individual’s right to possess a firearm for self-defense. So the fact that Americans don’t trust their government (the same government that can’t give us universal health care but CAN set legal precedents such as, well, the D.C. v. Heller ruling) isn’t the point — we don’t trust each other, either. And personally, I get it. There are a bunch of well-armed wackos in this country! I don’t fucking trust them either! And I don’t trust our government to keep me safe from them, considering they can’t even keep our fucking CHILDREN from getting shot in school!
Americans have always idolized the cowboy narrative (the same way we love capitalism and lifting yourself up by your bootstraps). A single, independent force, riding lonely through the vast unknown, upholding his own version of justice in a lawless land filled with, I dunno, wolves and savages or whatever. The fact that our right to bear arms isn’t a God-given one but a government-granted one, to defend us from that same government should shit go pear-shaped one day, is just a bit of nonsense nobody wants to appreciate. The right to bear arms feels foundational, as central to our being as a six-shooter on a cowboy’s hip. And the need to protect that right, against all rational evidence to the contrary, is equally fundamental.
I’m not saying any of it is right. I’m just saying we’re a young country, and we have been delusional about a great many of our foundational failings since forever (see: civil rights), and a good many of us aren’t ready to see the light about this yet either. So whether the justification is that we need to protect ourselves from our government, or terrorists, or armed robbers, the reality is that the biggest threat to any individual’s personal safety is the nearest person with a gun. And we’re not picky enough about who gets the guns.
As for arming teachers… we’ve already spoken about that quite a bit. Spoiler: we’re not down with it.
The next question is for anyone out there who’s got a gun-nut in the family:
Dear Pajiban Overlords, full of wisdom and compassion, hear my plea:
I married a gun guy. He didn’t start out that way. He bought a gun when we were dating, then another, then a few more - of all types and calibers. I wasn’t a fan, but I tried to take an interest. We took a shooting class together and I learned how to handle a handgun safely, and was actually pretty talented on the range. I stopped shooting when I became pregnant and haven’t shot in over a decade.
The problem is that we can’t see eye-to-eye on anything regarding guns or the 2nd Amendment anymore. As I’ve grown more liberal and anti-gun in my old age, he’s grown more intractable in his defense of his Constitutionally-given rights. Every time there was a mass shooting in the news, we’d hash it out, and by the end of the evening we both felt unheard and sometimes disrespected. We finally learned about 6 months ago to not even talk about it at all, since it was obvious that neither one of us was going to change our minds.
I love him dearly. He’s my best friend, one of the smartest and most generous people I know, and is a good Dad. I know he’s very responsible with his weapons - they are always locked up and unloaded. I’ve never felt unsafe. But I have to admit I respect him a little less every time there is a national tragedy due to gun violence. He is an NRA member, and I am donating money to Moms Demand Action.
I’m not sure what to do. Is it unfair that I can’t separate my feelings for the NRA from my responsible gun-owning spouse? Should we continue to just avoid talking about 2nd Amendment politics with each other? Can you see a solution to this, or will it always be the giant armed elephant in the room?
Thanks for your time, and also for any links to where to buy a good bear trap.
Your Pajiban peace-and-love friend.
Couples don’t always agree about everything, nor should they! I actually think it’s healthy that you donate to your causes, while he pays for his memberships. But even more healthy is learning to discuss contentious topics in a way that leaves you both feeling heard and respected. Because the loss of respect for your partner? That’s not healthy at all. That’s worrying.
Couples therapy is an option. Because learning how to discuss and accept each other’s points of view is a skill. The key, here, is that the goal shouldn’t be winning the fight. You may never convince him that gun control is necessary, just like he may never convince you to join the NRA. The goal is to find a compromise, whether that’s ongoing silence or more constructive ways to share your thoughts to each other.
But practically speaking, I honestly don’t know if there is a common ground that’s feasible here. Some opinions do influence the way you judge another person, and you both need to do some soul searching to decide if this one right here outweighs all the other qualities you appreciate in one another. Can you honestly compartmentalize this, or do your respective stances on this issue actually bleed out into other areas of your life? Can you, personally, go back to the time when you were OK having guns in the house, or will their presence be a constant irritant to you even if you both learn to not talk about the politics behind them?
For what it’s worth, in my opinion a truly responsible gun owner wouldn’t be opposed to gun control, as they are already comfortable complying with regulations. They would pass background checks, and training, and any other measures that might be put in place. It’s not a danger to them. I know a lot of people with guns, which they maintain for hunting (which may be a sport, but also serves to put meat on the table all winter long), and as a hobby. Some people collect antique weapons. Some people just like to target practice. I’ve shot guns and enjoyed it myself. But! Responsible gun owners don’t need assault rifles, and probably keep their weapons locked up and unloaded which renders them mostly moot in an emergency situation anyway, so “self-protection” is largely off the table. What I’m saying is — it’s possible to be a “responsible gun owner” and not an NRA harpy or 2nd Amendment troll. Hell — a responsible gun owner would realize that no gun, or right to wield one, is more important than another person’s right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Which, you know, being killed in a mass shooting is a major violation of.
I don’t think guns themselves are bad. I think people who value guns more than human lives are the problem.
So I’m sorry that I don’t really have a concrete answer for you, but I think if you just give up on the conversation now without finding some sort of deeper resolution, the seed of doubt and disrespect that’s already been planted will continue to grow. Maybe the solution in the long run will be to not discuss 2nd Amendment politics together… but I think you both need to put in a bit more work to arrive there, so it feels like a proactive choice and not like a default.