You’ve heard them say it before. It’s the slogan treasured by NRA members and politicians sucking the smoking hot barrels of the gun industry.
“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
And isn’t that nice? That’s about the best excuse for lack of responsibility ever conceived. It’s in line with a long line of propagandistic utterances used to justify killing in the past.
Let’s consider another trite little phrase used to justify selfish behavior that led to the death of millions. That would be manifest destiny. According to the website United States History, the phrase Manifest Destiny was first recorded in a magazine titled United States Magazine and Democratic Review. That’s where it appeared in this context: “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our multiplying millions.”
That sounds much like the justification for the establishment of Concealed Carry laws in the United States. And isn’t it fascinating how the supposed freedoms allotted one segment of society is accorded so much favoritism over the rights, and very survival, of another?
Notice the injection of God into the formula for Manifest Destiny. Always a desperate ploy for approval, the practice of invoking religion (more specifically that of Providence) is designed to raise doubts in the minds of those whose reasons for objecting to the obvious force of will behind a selfish motive. When there is no moral excuse for what you are about to propose, such as killing lots of people to protect your own interests, it is always and forever convenient to claim that God (and country) are truly on your side.
But of course Manifest Destiny was never amounted to more than an excuse for bad behavior disguised as good intentions. It was not a fully actualized ideology in any sense. With its beginnings as a justification and instrument for war, Manifest Destiny kept that purpose alive in the very event of resistance to the practices of primarily white and powerful politicians and their minions.
To be sure, there were some noble aspirations lurking at the core of Manifest Destiny. There was the belief that the American experiment was indeed exceptional, even vital to the spread of Republican Democracy in the world. “We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand….”
Those were the words of Thomas Paine. But take special note of his reference to Noah, the biblical character whose ostensible contribution to world history came on the heels of a worldwide genocide by none other than God.
Sorry, Thomas. That less than oblique reference exposes the deep pathology behind the supposed march to freedom invoked in Manifest Destiny. Because when that sort of thinking is combined with any sort of racist or triumphal sense that God is on your side, then things can get warped and dangerous pretty quickly.
So it was that Manifest Destiny served at least as a backdrop for genocide of Native Americans on the North American continent. It was a flood of white settlers this time that wiped out the populations of all those who stood in the way. Our nation has hardly shed a tear for those who died or were displaced by people assuming their supposed natural rights to the land.
It was superior weapons that won the day. The white man’s guns were far better than the weapons of the Native Americans. But that’s where the interesting junctions of past history and current propaganda converge. If we simply take the modern phrase “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and apply it to the execution of Manifest Destiny against the millions of people slaughtered in the forests and plains of North America, then our nation began its history with thick layers of blood on its hands.
Cowboys and Indians
Indeed, the entire “cowboys and Indians” mantra rests deep in the psychology of all those abide by our nation’s oral and visual history. The days of the Wild West where gunman roamed free with handguns to engage in gunfights on the streets is also rife with symbolism. These were supposedly “free and independent” gunslingers. Yet their nobility essentially constituted martial law, or worse yet, vigilante justice.
We even had a “cowboy President” in George W. Bush who hailed from Texas whose idea of foreign policy was to shoot first and ask questions later. The Iraqis were the Indians according to this narrative, so we went in with guns blazing.
The real Wild West
How convenient then that America has begun its evolution back toward the day when people walked around with guns strapped to their hips on holsters. But wait a minute! The real history of guns in the Wild West is something entirely different. Many towns had strict laws about checking your guns before you could walk around freely. it simply was not true that everyone walked around all the time carrying weapons concealed or openly. Civilization and our Constitution demanded an entirely different dynamic.
See, the Second Amendment recognizes the importance of civility first, gun rights second. It reads like this. “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.”
As the Old West vitally recognized, the phrasing of the Second Amendment does not specifically guarantee the right to bear arms at all times. It guarantees the right to own guns. And it guarantees to bear Arms as needed. But it does not guarantee the right to willfully impose those purposes in all circumstances. The term “shall not be infringed” has been interpreted as an unhindered right to keep, show and use weapons in any circumstance.
The term “shall not be infringed” has been interpreted by gun zealots as an unhindered right to keep, show and use weapons in any circumstance. But our own history from none other than the Wild West shows that wielding weapons outright was not originally encouraged or tolerated. That entire notion is unhinged from reality. Gun control is the key basis for salvation for one good
Gun control is the key basis for salvation for one good reasons. Guns are designed for one purpose, and that is killing. Their presence presages violence and actions that would not occur in circumstances where guns freely carried were not present. The unhinged claim that guns actually “prevent” violence is a sociopathic response to the reality that people do indeed kill people.
Gun proponents will call this definition extreme, but the trail of excuses used to define unhinged gun laws is a form of sociopathy. Sociopathy is defined as “a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.”
Extreme? Hardly. Let’s look at this claim in reverse to understand how accurate a term sociopathy really is for gun proponents who will not listen to reason on the issue of gun control.
First, gun proponents love to claim that it is only criminals that abuse guns. But of course, the first time any person abuses the use of their gun in acts of violence, aggression or calculated murder, they instantly jump over to the condition of criminality. Let’s not forget that pet slogan of gun proponents: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It defines the quick-trigger mentality gun proponents love to claim as a potential prevention measure against gun violence.
We instantly begin to see that the defense of guns as a mode of protection is a very thin veneer. The excuse to defend supposedly “law-abiding” gun owners turns out to be a paper-thin and fragile excuse for the concept of unrestricted gun ownership. If you do not consider the instability of society in general, then the idea that all gun owners will obey the laws is an acceptable defense of the right to keep and bear arms at all times. But that is demanding that we consider our gun laws in a void, absent of human frailty and obsessive characteristics that we know exist not only in criminals, but in all of society.
If you study ancient and modern societies with any sort of objective assessment, you note that our world is comprised of a competitive, often dismissive lack of order.
And, if we do our moral duty as Christians and actually read the Bible to consider the impact of all the discord, lies and sins that constitute evil, it should be evident that guns are not the ultimate solution to human conflict. In fact they contribute to the problem in massive ways. More than 10,000 people in America die each year from gun violence. Many more are wounded or maimed.
Quite the opposite
Guns are not the solution to society’s problems. That would be forgiveness and love. The Bible does not mince words about this. The Bible does not encourage us all to take up arms in the event that we’re confronted by evil.
Consider Psalm 121: 7-8 for starters: “The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
Jesus was even more succinct on the issue: Matthew 5:43-48
8 thoughts on “The long trail of sad excuses uttered by gun zealots”
“…there were some noble aspirations lurking at the core of Manifest Destiny.”
The United States was intended by the higher workers of light as an example to mankind. It largely succeeded.
“Manifest Destiny served at least as a backdrop for genocide of Native Americans…”
It was probably their karma. They were not nice, gentle, peace loving for the most part.
“It was superior weapons that won the day.”
More likely superior numbers. Tecumseh acknowledged that. No matter how many white immigrants he tortured and killed more and more kept coming from Europe.
“[in the Wild West] it simply was not true that everyone walked around all the time carrying weapons concealed or openly.”
It was also true that some of the more notorious cities back then were much safer than modern American cities with large doses of gun control.
“The term “shall not be infringed” has been interpreted as an unhindered right to keep, show and use weapons in any circumstance.”
Actually through a lot of American history that is not true. In Texas, where I live, it has been largely illegal to carry a handgun openly since the 1870s. Of course gun control (e.g. Sullivan Laws) ran rampant in many large eastern cities. Of course in the South many gun control laws were aimed at disarming blacks and to protect the KKK.
“Guns are designed for one purpose, and that is killing.”
That is really not true. Yes, they can kill, but the vast majority of people who use guns for self defense in the U.S. use them to intimidate aggressors and criminals, not kill them. In the vast majority of cases a bad guy finds out his intended victim is armed and decides to go somewhere else and find someone unarmed to victimize.
“The unhinged claim that guns actually “prevent” violence is …”
Is absolutely accurate. I know that both from statistics and personal experience.
“And, if we do our moral duty as Christians …”
My view is that Jesus is not a pacifist. Wrote on that here:
“The shootings and mass murder keep adding up.”
They don’t add up to even a minute fraction of murders done by governments. That was really what the 2nd Amendment is about. I won’t argue with you whether it can serve that purpose today. Have no idea, but prefer some isolated mass murders to an organized government mass murder.
“If you support a falsely romantic vision of a Wild West for the New Age, you are part of the problem.”
Look in the New Testament. Even Jesus had his Apostles buy a sword. Christ in Revelation is portrayed as a warrior. Look, I may understand some of the problem you have with guns. They are capable of being used for both great good and great evil.
It is what is in the hearts of men that matter, not whether they own a gun. I for a fact own several.
The actual number of crime preventions versus gun injuries and incidents is a paltry 200,000+ versus 2M gun incidents. So we’re looking at the fact that guns as a defense or deterrent are really not effective.
As for your contentions that governments kills far more people than gun crimes, that is largely the product of wars. But you could argue that OUR GOVERNMENT has presided over what amounts to genocide due to the proliferation of arms in our country. More people have been killed through gun violence on domestic soil than all the soldiers killed in foreign wars, combined.
What you have assembled is a coarse rationalization of semi-facts. While Jesus might have asked his disciples to arm themselves in swords, he also instructed his principle protector to drop his sword after doing damage to one of his captors. That fact, on balance with the direct, more common and more direct instruction to love our enemies far exceeds your thin justification for arming yourself. As if Jesus would command it.
Christ is portrayed in Revelation as a warrior because those highly symbolic verses were created in response to a time of high terror for people in the Middle East. The vengeful, fantastical imagery in Revelation is aimed at, of all things, a government that was threatening the existence of a people and a religion. It was never, ever intended to be conceived as some sort of predictive lesson plan for Christians to use as a justification for violence as you propose.
That’s an excuse, just like I’ve outlined.
Thank you however for your response. I’ll read it agian.
My “problem” is not with guns, It is with the heavy duty rationalizations people use to justify lack of responsibility on the social front. That’s America in a nutshell. As I’ve pointed out, our history is a confused.
“Guns were invented for one thing, and that is killing. You cannot parse that with any credibility.”
Most people buy a gun not to kill someone, but to keep from being killed (or raped, or otherwise violently victimized). There are more than enough statistics to make that claim credible.
“…handguns are the worst problem, …”
Today the majority of states have “shall issue” concealed carry laws (meaning the state “shall issue” a license or permit if you meet legal criteria and must do so by law). I have one in Texas and frequently carry a loaded and concealed handgun in public and no one is the wiser.
There are now a very large number of people in the U.S. legally carrying firearms concealed in public. Those who get a license or permit to do so are some of the safest and most law abiding citizens in this country, and this proven beyond any doubt by statistics.
If the concealed carry movement over the last quarter century has proven anything it is that selected citizens without a police record or mental health issues are not a danger to their fellow citizens and in more than a few instances have intervened to prevent violence and crime.
“As you’ve proposed, it is violent fantasies that are driving these mass murders.”
I am not sure I exactly proposed that, at least as you are stating it. One area that I think needs investigation is the effects of psychiatric drugs that we have started to massively prescribe starting with children (e.g., for ADHD). The legal drug industry has over 100x the profits of the firearms industry (not including military). They can afford to buy a hell of a lot more politicians than the NRA.
Here is a link to an article I wrote sometime ago you might find interesting:
Guns and Drugs
There is also an interesting study I read recently that sought to link the huge spike in violence starting in the 1960s that reached a peak in the 1990s and has continually declined since to the introduction and then banning of tetrahedral lead in gasoline (with about a 20 year lag to account for someone being born and growing to maturity in a polluted environment and suffering critical brain changes leading to violence in some).
Also a large part of the “gun violence” problem is highly localized in inner cities I would propose that problem there has to do with some serious social issues that we are not addressing (e.g., inner cities where black kids grow up in a single parent household, often on public assistance, and with not many good male role models).
Often treating “gun violence” is treating the symptoms because we are afraid to deal with the real underlying causes.
One thing that we, people who debate these issues, must do is realize that it is not a “black and white” issue but an issue with a vast number of permutations and simple solutions are rarely profitable on the whole.
“The actual number of crime preventions versus gun injuries and incidents is a paltry 200,000+ versus 2M gun incidents.”
It really depends on who’s research you read and it is certainly a contentious subject. There have been at least 12-13 studies on defensive use of firearms with numbers as low as you cite and as high as 2.5 million a year based on a study by Dr. Gary Kleck.
When Kleck did his study violence in the U.S. was considerably higher than today (homicides, violence, and crime have been on a downward trend since they peaked in the early 1990s). As to 2M “gun incidents” I don’t know where you get that number, but I imagine it would have to include suicides. I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent but it is doubtful in my view that guns materially contribute to more suicides (Japan has much higher suicide rate than we do, despite almost no guns).
“My “problem” is not with guns, It is with the heavy duty rationalizations people use to justify lack of responsibility on the social front.”
I agree that responsibility is a huge problem. It is a huge problem with people drinking, drinking and driving, or using guns irresponsibly. In the past many people grew up around guns and they didn’t see as many movies glamorizing them and their use. Paradoxically though the rate of gun accidents has been a downward trend for over a century now.
“While Jesus might have asked his disciples to arm themselves in swords, he also instructed his principle protector to drop his sword after doing damage to one of his captors. That fact, on balance with the direct, more common and more direct instruction to love our enemies far exceeds your thin justification for arming yourself. As if Jesus would command it.”
I don’t disagree. On balance Jesus is clearly setting an example of not using violence as the first resort. And he allowed himself to be crucified by violent men. But on the other hand – for some reason – he asked his disciple to buy swords. Maybe he wanted them to have them so he could tell them when not to use them? 🙂
But Jesus himself was not above using violence when it suited his purposes, as illustrated in his physical attack on the moneychangers in the Temple with a whip which had to take him some time to weave from cords. In other words, a highly pre-meditated act.
My personal belief is that if Jesus was in fact a pacifist as some claim, then he was also a hypocrite, and that I do not believe (that he was a hypocrite). Therefore I must believe that he thought that the use of force was acceptable in some circumstances.
For example if someone slaps you as a unworthy person, turn the cheek and appeal to his humanity. But if someone comes at you with a clear intent to murder you then defensive violence is justified.
Despite what is portrayed in movies and TV, the vast majority of people are very reluctant to use deadly force even if they have a gun in their hands. Killing is actually quite hard for most normal people to do.
Your reasoned response is much appreciated. You are correct on the research end of things. It does depend on who you trust in terms of statistics. However the main point we are considering is whether guns in America, also as compared to other nations with far less violence, are controlling or contributing to the problem of gun violence. As I’ve argued, when the number of gun deaths in America is 10,000 and those in other similarly advanced nations are only in the dozens, something’s clearly out of whack. So the argument over whose statistics here in the states you choose to trust is really a distraction. Clearly there’s a relationship between gun proliferation and TOTAL gun crime. You can parse it by saying that gun violence is “trending downward,” and you can credit that to the IDEA that more guns has actually lessened gun crime as a problem. But you are left with tens of thousands of people dying each year. And then there are the directly attributable mass slaughters of innocents as in South Carolina, in Virginia, in Colorado. On and on it goes. And every time the gun lobby cowers behind the Second Amendment. This is not a courageous way to engage in this debate. Yes, they are full of bluster and have powerful allies (who are equally cowardly) in politics who go along with their semantics. But as I pointed out in this article, these are propagandistic ploys to leverage fear and distrust. Worse yet, they fly in the face of real trust in God and the message of Christ. I get that Jesus was no pacifist. I embrace that philosophy in fact, and am not afraid to challenge the view of others as a result. That’s why I write this blog, to bring these issues into a light where they can be discussed in full rather than behind the veils of dogma and doctrine. So I appreciate your input, but do disagree that the proliferation of guns and the carnage they directly and indirectly cause are in any ways indicative of Christian faith as a moral philosophy and religion. Guns were invented for one thing, and that is killing. You cannot parse that with any credibility. And if we were to set about converting swords into ploughshares, the first thing some of us propose to do is melt down the worst of these weapons and make it clearly punishable if not impossible to conduct untracked commerce on such weapons. But handguns are the worst problem, and so is the mystique and culture that goes with them. As you’ve proposed, it is violent fantasies that are driving these mass murders.
All this sounds nice, but it also sounds like excuses. In countries where guns are not as availabel as they are here in the United States, gun violence is a minute fraction as compared to the United States. How do you explain that?
Instead of talking about “gun violence” just talk about violence. From some of the last statistics we have (hard to get of late from Putin’s government) the homicide rate in Russia – the former Soviet Union – is considerably higher than in the U.S. despite gun ownership being extremely limited.
Instead of talking about “gun suicide” talk about suicide. Japan’s rate is higher than our despite guns hardly existing in the private sector.
From studies I have seen there is no clear relationship between gun ownership and violence and homicide overall. It is largely cultural. The U.K. has always had a much lower rate, but it is going upwards not downwards now that they have largely banned firearms.
Switzerland has lots of guns, many of them fully automatic assault rifles and machine guns in private homes. People serve in their militia and take military guns home. Yet their homicide rate is not particularly high. If guns caused violence Switzerland would be a slaughterhouse.
No, guns are an easy, but most likely not accurate answer to what causes violence.