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OPINION | PHILIP MARTIN: America is a Gun

by Philip Martin | November 23, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.


England is a cup of tea.

France, a wheel of ripened brie

Greece, a short, squat olive tree.

America is a gun.

-- Brian Bilston, "America is a Gun"

America begins with the firing of a rifle in the New England dawn, and our short history is seasoned with lethal cranks and assassins, with self-styled martyrs and splendid little wars. Ours is a country founded in blood and indignation, fueled by the righteous anger of a people who believed themselves put-upon and exploited.

Maybe our first principle is the belief that there comes a point beyond which we will not be pressed without producing a revolver. "Violence is as American as cherry pie," Black Panthers civil rights activist H. Rap Brown said before he converted to Islam, changed his name, and was convicted of murder.

Most Americans would agree with Brown and the founding fathers--who installed in the Constitution a right for citizens to own killing machines--that homicide is sometimes justifiable. We might think ourselves capable of killing in defense of ourselves, loved ones, innocents or country. Some of us even wish for the day we might be tested, when we might have the opportunity to prove ourselves good people with a gun.

And we would be good with one, we think to ourselves, no matter what the professionals might contend. We know how they work, it's a matter of pointing and shooting. If the military endorses first-person shooter games as a method of combat training--and they do--then they must be at least something like the real thing. Maybe a high KD (kill to death) rating in "Call of Duty" translates to mad sheepdog skills.

Maybe watching animated heads explode habituates you to real world violence.

Maybe you are as deadly as you think you are, chief.

But you're probably not. Just like you're not as good-looking or as funny as you think you are. While they don't tell you this in Sunday School or homeroom, most of us are pretty average at most things. Or worse.

Study after study shows that about 50 percent of us are below average compared to the general population in intelligence, income and reading comprehension. It stands to reason that we've got a lot of mediocre gunfighters out there.

On the other hand, nobody can claim it's not easy to shoot someone. Even toddlers manage to shoot people on a weekly basis. A lot of people who end up in televised trials don't present as highly competent or even all that bright. So maybe the active-shooter route is a viable option for someone who feels other paths to celebrity blocked to them.

Names like George Zimmerman, Nikolas Cruz, Jim Adkisson, Dylann Roof, Stephen Paddock, Omar Mateen, Seung-Hui Cho, and Devin Patrick Kelley attest to the profile-raising power of a firearm.

That's just anecdotal evidence; I'm more an analytics guy. And the numbers tell us certain things, like the vast majority of gun owners never even get to flash their weapon at another human being, much less shoot them. And the vast majority of shooters don't get more than a couple of paragraphs deep inside a newspaper that few people read anymore.

Yet a lot of us have no use for numbers that contradict what we want to believe. For instance, while more than 30 serious studies support the intuitive notion that fewer guns means a safer society, lots of Americans prefer to believe we're safer with more guns than people.

I'm not immune to magical thinking--growing up, assumed everyone's father had a handgun in the drawer in a desk or a nightstand and a rifle in a closet and that there was nothing wrong with that.

More than that, I don't think you can cure a spiritual problem by appealing to reason. We already have too much free-floating meanness in the world to scrape it all back in a box, and even if someone wanted to, good luck collecting a significant portion of the weapons loose in this country. We have to work with the country we have, and we're not New Zealand or Switzerland or Tonga.

And that's OK, because the problem isn't the tool, it's the cult we've allowed to grow up around the tool, the fetishism and erotic ardor that surrounds cool-looking instruments of death. Our problem isn't that guns exist or that there are a lot of them; it's the idiots in the superstore tactical gear who think they're Chris Kyle and all the would-be gangsters who accessorize their wardrobes with a Glock shoved down the back of their pants.

It's all the gun porn consumers with the slogans on their truck. That's what wrong with America, not our culture, not even our "gun culture."

Just a significant minority of gun owners and coveters. The kind who pose with their badass weapons in their social media profiles.

If I was looking to recruit a squad of roughies to stand ready to visit violence on those who would disrupt our way of life, I probably wouldn't go to Facebook to find them. Still, you can find people volunteering their toughness on social media.

All the freakin' time.

Our real problem--the American vice--isn't a penchant for violence, but our remarkable lack of seriousness. We're immature, reckless clowns who use memes as rhetorical devices. No one believes Paul Gosar is a tough guy or a dangerous person; he's a supercilious ass who thinks the best way to communicate with his constituency, engage in political debate, and grow his brand is to have his staff make cartoons that portray him as an anime hero. (This is where we are on both sides of the aisle--if they were more relevant, the antics of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders might rate more commentary. But at least they aren't holding themselves out as Avengers.)

There are people who will tell you how brave and true and tough and ready to rumble they are. I think we're lucky if we never get tested, because if we were, a whole lot of us who think we'd do OK would flat-out fail. Like Mike Tyson said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Respectfully, some of us need to get punched in the face (by reality, you literal-minded nimrods). Better that than getting shot.

Or, believe it or not, shooting someone else.


Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at pmartin@adgnewsroom.com


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