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The late great Joe Bageant on guns

As excellent as we would all expect:

for an American, assessing gun ownership is spongy ground at best. It's a matter of trying to asses the color of the bottle from the inside. None of us do it well. Objectively speaking, I don't believe any American needs to own a gun. But as long as so many Americans believe they do, we're going to have the ongoing debate, not to mention the total bafflement of the outside world as it watches. To an American, guns represent an entirely different thing -- several of them actually -- than they do to other nationalities not steeped in gun ownership.

Somehow though, I believe the gun ownership debate detracts from the real issue of America's interior psychic violence, which manifests itself in so many escalating ways these days. Said violence is very deeply ingrained. Every day I watch a hundred little social and interpersonal brutalities and attitudinal cruelties, which seem to go unnoticed by the public at large (though not unfelt,I am sure). And they seem to be growing.

To me, even the school shootings and the attending meaningless discussions about gun ownership are a distraction from the real problem. And that problem is a complex one having to do with such things as the decay of our social support network and families, the unacknowledged fear permeating this collapsing empire, the exploitation of the citizenry by telling them there is danger at every turn -- Muslims, crime, etc., and the vast unarticulated rage and insecurity that lies just beneath the surface if everyday life here. It's hard to see it if you are a visitor, but even harder to endure if you happen to be a citizen of a country that holds a quarter of the world's prison population, yet represents only six percent of the world's population -- a system that teaches us to value punishment and revenge over keeping our common society in good repair.

Consequently, a great many people own guns out of pure fear of a worst case scenario which varies according to the person's anxieties. These include government intrusion by a hardening  totalist state; crime activity generated by wealth disparity and a growing and increasingly desperate underclass; sexual violence perpetrated upon women (fear of which has been inherent in urban women for a long, long time); and plain old American distrust of authority and its abuses. And finally there is the mundane familiarity with guns on the part of so many Americans, built over generations of everyday exposure, among which I number -- people who understand that guns don' t pull their their own triggers.

In a country where high background stress and insecurity is the norm, and where greed is purposefully stimulated and misnamed "personal drive," and especially one in which gun ownership is protected by the nation's most esteemed founding document, I cannot imagine Americans asking anytime soon just what national disease is causing so many of its men and boys to pull that trigger. The answer is just too horrible to face, because we would all have to take responsibility for our failure as individuals and as a society.

So we delude ourselves that we can legislate and/or criminalize behavior as a substitute for asking that national question. Perhaps if we suffer the consequences of our  national  long enough, perhaps with a dozen more school shootings, we will find the balls to ask that question. But I doubt it.

Could be. Bageant puts his finger on what's been bugging me about the career "progressive" discourse on "gun control." It seems, as does almost everything they do (at least to me) "well meaning," And it does seem that a ban on assault weapons is a basic form of amelioration that a functioning polity ought to be able to get behind (well....). To say that a problem is "complex" isn't at all the same as "[shrug]" and might even be "the first step" to addressing it.

NOTE Adding: Chart fans: I wonder if there's a chart that shows gun-related statistics taking on the shape of a power curve starting in the mid-70s. That would be an interesting data point...

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stuartbramhall's picture
Submitted by stuartbramhall on

Excellent piece. Thanks for re-posting. At the moment my main priority is taking our government back from Wall Street corporations - I believe this is essential before any fundamental change can occur in extremely unjust social conditions and deeply engrained cultural attitudes that our the root cause of violence.

Restoring true democracy in any of the industrial countries that masquerade as democracy will require major buy-in from the working class. This is why it pains me when liberals and progressives so quick to leap in on culturally dominated issues such as guns, as well as frank lifestyle issues such as smoking, obesity and even energy saving lightbulbs.

The progressive movement will never win back blue and pink collar men and win until they shed their image of "politically correct" moralizers who know what's best for the rest of us.

Submitted by YesMaybe on

Big thumbs up for the "More like this" feature on the right, made even better by the fact that the 'this' in question is Bageant-related.

propertius's picture
Submitted by propertius on

NOTE Adding: Chart fans: I wonder if there's a chart that shows gun-related statistics taking on the shape of a power curve starting in the mid-70s. That would be an interesting data point...


Probably not, since the level of overall violence (and gun violence in particular) has dropped since then. Note the chart at:

The number of homicides of all types, and gun homicides in particular is actually slightly lower than in the mid-70s (even though the population is considerably higher).

The level of violence in the United States is pretty close to the worldwide median. While a lot of that violence is perpetrated with firearms, our level of firearm violence doesn't correlate particularly well with our extremely high rate of firearm ownership. It is in fact exceeded by the level of firearm violence in some societies where guns are quite scarce.

propertius's picture
Submitted by propertius on

More to the point: most of our real internal violence in this country is economic and health-related and has nothing to do with the day-to-day media circus. It's interesting to watch the heavily-armed wealthy (Feinstein has a carry permit and Bloomberg has goon squad that is practically a private army) try to propagandize the 99% in this way.


By the way: I absolutely detest the "captcha" thingie.