Up Next

Commentary

America’s nostalgic gun culture defies logic and common sense

My father loved guns, but I have no use for these relics of death

My father was born in a Nevada boomtown, the grandson of an early 1900s Union Pacific Corp. conductor. He got his first Winchester .22-caliber rifle at the age of 16; took me pheasant hunting when I was just 6; and hand-carved a wooden play rifle for me, painting the stock brown and the barrel black. When I pointed it at the plumber across the street one afternoon and mimicked pulling the trigger, he took it away from me. “Don’t ever point at a man unless you aim to kill him,” he said.

I think I was 5.

Western gun culture enraptured him. He romanticized the Shootout at the OK Corral. He searched for old arrowheads and bullet casings by the sagebrush and the train tracks outside Sparks and Reno, Nevada, till dusk. Up until he died three years ago, he regularly watched Gunsmoke and Bonanza reruns and probably had seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 80 times. The 45 rpm record, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, played on a loop on our stereo in the early 1970s.

One of the notes I found after his death simply read:

“Winchester 30-30, Model 1894

Serial # 36619 (Manuf. in 1895)

Orig butt plate missing,

part #5094-005

5094-010

Screws 5094-015

Purchsed for $25 by Roger

in about 1947-8….. “

The unseemly fight he and his siblings put up for years over the true ownership of that rifle was probably more about personal history than heirlooms. Still, Dad eventually got the “Wallhanger” back, victorious in his own private morality play. In a warped way, his world was right again. He could die in peace.

Guns are the white man’s burden.

We first brought them to America in 1607. Two centuries later, we used them to nearly eradicate our nations’ first brothers and sisters. Between 1861 and 1865, we killed about 620,000 of ourselves.

We later made guns a protagonist in how the West was won, romantically linking them to actor John Wayne and the cavalry ever since.

We remain the greatest consumers of them.

We kill more people in mass shootings than any other ethnicity.

We make up 93 percent of the National Rifle Association’s 76 directors, and more than 60 percent of its membership.

Carl T. Bogus, a professor at the Roger Williams School of Law in Bristol, R.I., argues in a meticulously researched article that “there is strong reason to believe that, in significant part, James Madison drafted the Second Amendment to assure his constituents in Virginia, and the South generally, that Congress could not use its newly-acquired powers to indirectly undermine the slave system by disarming the militia, on which the South relied for slave control.”

Deep down, we cling to guns because we fear people of color will one day rise up and seek vindication for our sins. N.R.A. – The National Revenge Association.

An attendee inspects an assault rifle during the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on April 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We are twice as likely to have a firearm in our homes as black Americans and Hispanics, yet significantly less of us die by gunshot. White people represent 65 percent of the population but just 25 percent of gun homicides. Black people represent 13 percent of the population yet a disturbing 55 percent of gun homicides.

Our gun obsession is simply fueled by the fact that the odds are in our favor. Black and brown kids in Chicago, Baltimore and Miami die by bullets at a much greater rate than our children in Montana, Idaho and Wisconsin.

The color of our skin makes up most of the Republican Party, a party twice as likely to own guns at home than the Democratic Party.

People who look like me are ultimately responsible that a third of all Americans with children under 18 at home have a gun in their household, including 34 percent of families with children younger than 12.

We make up 80 percent of Congress. The majority of white lawmakers refuse to make it legally harder to buy firearms, even AR-15 assault rifles that no respectable hunter would ever use to bag a 12-point buck.

Our majority Caucasian lawmakers are so afraid of the gun lobby costing them their jobs, they minimize homicidal men using AR-15s to shoot 6-year-old schoolchildren from Connecticut in the head or cowardly murdering 49 people in an Orlando nightclub in the wee hours of a Saturday morning.

We are the ethnicity most asking the banal question, “Was this motivated by anti-gay prejudice, radicalized Islam or both?” while bypassing the only question that matters: Why can damn near anyone buy a killing machine in less than the seven minutes it takes to fill out paperwork and hand over a Visa card?

We are responsible for the backward logic that, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” even though guns have statistically been proven to be the most efficient way to end human life.

Because people who look like me refuse to enact laws to make it more difficult to buy these weapons of mass destruction, we indirectly control whether people of color keep killing each other by gunshot.

This is not white guilt; it’s white shame.

We started this bloodbath and we allow it to continue. Our warped, thin-skinned and myopic mindsets ensure that we absorb every gun-control proposal as an attack on our constitutional guarantees.

We’re so far gone on this issue we now believe our Second Amendment rights supersede you and your children’s rights not to be indiscriminately shot.

We even brainwash people of color, like former 2016 Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who callously said in the days after the Roseburg, Oregon, mass shooting that he would not have let himself be rounded up and killed so easily, that he would have banded together with other classmates to try to overwhelm the perpetrator, because confronting an active shooter is what real men do.

Guns are the white man’s security blankets, too —our adult binkies, our middle-aged stuffed animals.

We say we buy them for just recreational hunting, for shooting competitions. We say they have always been in our family and they always will. We say this as if it is also good to smoke unfiltered Camel cigarettes, glug bourbon and consume large amounts of fried food like our fathers who died of lung cancer, cirrhosis of the liver and heart disease.

We make every excuse to hold on to our God-given right to bear arms to the extreme that we pathetically call it our “God-given right to bear arms.”

For 180 years, from 1791 to 2008, no constitutional right actually existed. Until NRA propaganda of the past 30 years and the late Supreme Court Justice and wildlife exterminator Antonin Scalia wrote the 5-4 majority opinion in District of Columbia vs. Heller in 2008, the Second Amendment never granted citizens a private right to gun ownership in the home. Eight years later, it’s parroted as a 1776 birthright.

We dare the white traitors among us — the leftist social engineers and the social-justice warriors — to come and take our guns, implying we will fill them full of lead, because who needs compromise when firearm manufacturer Smith & Wesson is your lobbyist?

We don’t build bridges between races and genders with our guns; we use them to isolate ourselves, to build communities of NRA members and like-minded white folk.

And when another angry, disturbed man opens fire and kills more of our children, we steel ourselves, recite our “right to own” talking points and demean the dead by concluding that being able to purchase a weapon designed to kill many people at once is just an inconvenient part of frontier liberty.

Because gun rights advocate Wayne LaPierre’s kids weren’t shot, thank God. And our kids weren’t shot, praise Jesus. And, hell, we live far enough away from the people who don’t respect guns to convince ourselves our automatic weapons protect us.

We’ve become so programmed, so heartless in our thinking that most white people don’t even consider guns our burden; many of us consider them our blessing.

Some folks will unreasonably fight for the flag of their southern ancestors. Others for the name of the team their father loved or their grandmother’s cherrywood hutch. Dad’s “Rosebud” was that damn .30-30. Something about the cold steel of the barrel and the aged gumwood of the butt connected him emotionally to his past — to his father, his father’s father, all the frontiersmen and indigenous people along the Truckee River that came before him.

He didn’t do much shooting in his final years. At the end of his life, he told me he was sickened by all the carnage across the country. The children massacred in Newtown, Connecticut, especially hit him hard.

“Why in the hell does the gun lobby tell everyone the gun-control people want to take away your guns?” he said. “That’s the same kind of bulls— fear tactics [Joseph] McCarthy used. ‘We’re all going to be Communists if we don’t stop these people.’ Cowards. Politicians. Wayne LaPierre. All of ’em. They got so caught up in their own fear, they couldn’t even make it harder for mentally ill people to buy semi-automatic weapons.”

A girl looks at Sig Sauer P320 handguns April 11, 2015 at the 2015 NRA Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

He hated that the NRA hid behind the very culture that reared him, that made people feel weirdly sentimental about things like fly rods, creels, the worn leather of a saddle, the feel of a well-crafted revolver or a .30-06 cartridge.

So when it came time to distribute his belongings, when my sister and I were surprised to find a mini arsenal underneath his bed in the small apartment he died in, we took each one of about a half-dozen guns out — the Ruger, the .30-30, a .22, the Derringer.

We waited three months, thought about it and finally drove them to an antique shop in Woodland, California, and sold all but one. The .30-30 — the Wallhanger, which can’t even shoot anymore.

Other than paying some sort of odd homage to my father, I don’t know why in the hell we’ve hung onto it this long. Like a lot of guns, it’s only good for killing something, for carrying someone’s romantic past into a future of mass shootings and for mostly deranged souls, who at the end feel closer to the inanimate objects than the folks who taught them to love guns in the first place.

When I went back to Northern California last week, my sister told me she had sold the 30-30 to a collector for $250. She didn’t even ask me if it was okay. Fine by me. Good. I’ll pay my father homage by catching trout on the Truckee instead.

The idea that we need to take all of who are fathers and forefathers were with us — use the same language, eat the same food, have the same vices, believe a 224-year-old amendment was written for today — is the kind of irrational logic we use to feel good about our choices, our intransigent positions about things, big and small.

After more futile attempts to dissect the senselessness of another mass shooting in America, I don’t need that baggage anymore. I’m tired of shouldering that burden.

Mike Wise is a former senior writer and columnist at The Undefeated. Barack Obama once got to meet him.