Let me try to lay out my biases here as best I can.
I grew up in southern New Hampshire, which was basically “the country” quickly being absorbed into suburban Boston. Driving to school through a subdivision, I once had to wait for a moose to cross the road. I played Class S soccer, meaning “small” high schools. We’d often have to drive two hours north for games, and sometimes a kid on the other team would have a hunting rifle mounted in the back window of his pickup truck in the parking lot.
My dad had a gun off and on through my childhood. Mom was always worried about us getting hold of it, but he kept it hidden, and none of us five kids was ever very interested. Dad taught me to fire his .22 rifle across the dirt parking lot and into the forest outside our home and business properties he owned along a country highway. We had these great woods out back, with an old logging road for cross-country skiing. Mostly my brother and I and our friends built forts and played war games back there. “I shot you!” “No, you didn’t!” “Yes, I did!”
I did actually shoot a kid once, in the butt with a BB gun. He was wearing jeans, so it didn’t hurt THAT bad.
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What does all this mean? One thing I’m saying is that I was a rural kid. Kind of like Vermont’s Bernie Sanders hasn’t been able to take a gun-control stance in line with the rest of his leftward views, I get where a lot of my gun-owning friends are coming from. Firearms provide recreation and even sustenance in rural America.
As a country boy who chose the city life, I think it’s important for me to remember that, because mostly I’m furious at the cynicism of the NRA. The gun lobby is not about the potential overthrow of the government, it’s not about hunting, and it’s not about personal protection. It’s about selling guns. It’s about business. The United States has the biggest arms industry in the world. We manufacture about one new gun annually for every 100 people, on top of the 300 million guns we already have, one for every single American. Guns generate multiple billions of dollars every year for the corporations the NRA represents. These numbers should trouble you, no matter what you believe.
The urban-rural divide
I’m all for listening across the urban-rural divide. Without it, I don’t see much hope for our democracy. As we all know, you drive 15 minutes from downtown Durham, you’ll start seeing Confederate flags. We’ve got to talk to each other, despite being really angry with one another, but can we please have a conversation worth having?
No one, at least no one with any platform or credibility, is trying to take away your hunting rifles. Obama certainly wasn’t.
No one is trying to take away the pistol you carry for personal protection.
However, while I’m on this point, let me say this: You scare people. I hear over and over again about the “good guy with a gun.” The reality is, the gun you’re carrying does not make the people around you feel safer; it’s quite the opposite, actually.
I don’t want your gun in the grocery store, in the bar, at my kids’ schools, anywhere. I don’t want to see your holster if you rear-end my car in traffic and we have to exchange insurance information. Your gun is intimidating. It’s a barrier to friendly human interaction.
If you want a gun to protect your home and family from a midnight intruder, I appreciate the impulse. But if you think you’re surrounded by people who intend you harm, and if you think your gun is going to protect you, I would submit that we have a very different view of the people around us and of the physics of a gunfight. Of course, there are bad actors. But if we can’t more or less trust one another, I don’t see how we can live in a society together.
This brings me to the Second Amendment. This argument is false-flag nonsense fostered by the NRA. You’re not going to overthrow the government. The U.S. military is the most powerful fighting force the world has ever seen. And you and your buddies are going to take it on in a firefight after a case of Bud Light? Does the Second Amendment somehow provide you access to drone weapons or bombers carrying nuclear warheads? And what about the rest of us? You think we’re all going to see things your way? Or sit back and watch the show? Or are we all just going to start shooting at each other and see who’s left standing?
The Second Amendment was enacted in 1791, when there were about 4 million people living in the U.S. and the adolescent American Experiment was still open for a whole lot of invention and reinvention. We’ve been at this for almost 250 years now. We’ve got problems, yes, but not even Trump’s chaos has been able to shake up the fundamental ways our government works. (If Mueller proves collusion with Russia and Trump isn’t held accountable, I’ll rescind this statement).
It took the actual physical enslavement of human beings for us to take up arms against one another during the Civil War. What exactly would cause you to do that nowadays? Free college tuition? Too many food stamps? Closing the wage gap? The Second Amendment is a law built for the Wild West. America, you’re too grown up for that now; maybe let’s start talking like it.
Look, I’m father to two teenagers, and all this activism coming out of Parkland, Florida, is no surprise to me. This Old Man has been on both sides and tries to see things from multiple perspectives. But the kids aren’t going to be as patient. They’re angry, and they’re going to start voting. All I’m saying is, if you want to continue to be part of the conversation, try to make some arguments that can stick.
Jesse James DeConto is a musician and writer in Durham. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.