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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Being marginalized in the culture war.

This is not directed at the people of good faith who I have spoken with about firearms since Sandy Hook. Hopefully, you know who you are. But I do have to unburden myself, and unfortunately in a burdensomely-verbose manner.

It doesn't matter, but I didn't sleep for shit in the ten days after the Sandy Hook massacre. I was up until at least 1 am every night, trying to distract myself from the horror of the butchery committed by that evil garbage. It's not much, but my wife made sure to send a card to the Newtown priests facing the horror. When I started talking about the issue, I expressed my interest in solutions like smaller magazine capacity, biometric safes and trigger locks and the like. Productive, civil conversations. Or so it seemed.

As it turned out, none of that mattered. The tone changed from one of wanting to prevent another Sandy Hook into a two-months hate against gun ownership in general and NRA members in particular. Solutions fell by the wayside, and de-legitimization began in earnest.

You see, I'm an NRA member. As is my wife. We do not own a Bushmaster, nor any other semi-automatic weapon. However, we collectively own several firearms. Including--as will be set forth below--a completely-legal, bona-fide military weapon currently used by our military right now. Unlike what [damnatio memoriae] used at Newtown.

Nevertheless, because of our membership in Satan's Own Rifles, prominent people of culture hope we get shot. Hope really hard! [Which strikes me as an odd spin on the Hope™ being offered in 2008, but I digress for the first time.]

After all, we sponsored the slaughter--just in time for Christmas.

It didn't stop with mere award-winning novelists and actresses who remain unshunned by polite society. No, the Sons of Morrow nodded sagely, comparing the problem of gun ownership to slavery, Jim Crow and the KKK, and finally--ta-da!--Nazism. The inevitable fraudulent reporting for a good cause followed, and we can no doubt expect more in time.

Support for ethically-questionable carnival barkers with plummy accents also came from respectable soapboxes. Why? Because the barker doesn't show "cultural sensitivity" for the peons. He also doesn't show the good sense God gave cabbage, so I'm actually happy with Piers leading the charge. Forward! Oh, and by the way, Britain is not necessarily less violent than the U.S., despite tightening its gun laws over the past generation.

By the way, having a limey speak for your cause is effective unless you're talking about firearms. Then it conjures up Paul Revere, Redcoats, and buried Francophilia. I can say "Limey," by the way--some of my Dad's family came over from Kent in the late 1800s.

For my money, the Journal-News, a nasty little suburban newspaper in New York, won the prize. It decided to embark on a shame campaign, creating a searchable database of gun owners--legal permit holders, mind you--for all to see. Inaccurate as all hell, it also may have led to burglaries. As they always say, can't make a revolution without breaking a few kulaks.

Finally, President Dronestrike weighed in with an admittedly-decent statement from his speech-writing staff. Unfortunately for those who haven't mentally-suppressed his record, it was the irony equivalent of a heaping bowl of horseradish, bleu cheese and anchovy ice cream.

Far worse than the secular lefties doing what they do was Catholics joining the full court press. Leading with a correspondent of Mark's issuing what he no doubt thought to be a call to reason together. Alas, Mark's left-Catholic correspondent failed to note the juxtaposition of (1) condemning conservative, gun-owning Catholics for caricatures of their well-meaning opponents with (2) a bit of rhetoric two paragraphs later broad-brushing them for indulging in Red Dawn-inspired survivalist fantasies.

Your reality-based-community hard at work.

But that wasn't sufficient. In addition, Mark's Correspondent the went all CDF and questioned the Catholicism of the gun owners he patently dislikes--and apparently fears.

Somehow, it got even better. And by that, I mean much, much worse. In the comment thread, after announcing I was an NRA member and was (then) interested in some kind of solution (like biometric locks), one fellow piped up with Absolute Moral Authority and declared that he worked in the NRA's "dream world": some violent, unnamed inner city.

At that point, I drew back. In this environment, it is apparently necessary to state the obvious, so let me do so--such is not my "dream world." Far from it. I politely excused myself from the conversation, recognizing an unbridgeable gulf. Face slaps will do that.

A well-meaning Catholic I respect declared in a different forum that firearms were like the Ring of Sauron. Which means that firearms are not merely near occasions of sin, but are inherently evil. Thus, I am keeping the weapons equivalent of a stack of Hustlers in the house, which will eventually lead me to do something heinous unless Gollum shows up in time to bite my trigger fingers off.

With that, I realized that that I am up against an irrational response.

What we are dealing with instead is the necessary moral revulsion about massacre being channelled toward a scapegoat--one substituting for the unfortunately-dead trigger-pulling shit. Unfortunately, let's admit the following--not all such revulsion is free from impure motives.

It has been aided and abetted for political ends by the Left, and gladly directed toward a convenient, culture-war scapegoat despised by the same and easily-demonized. Bitter clingers, anyone?

That I can handle. As I said above, it's who the Left are and what they do. They hate guns. Contrary to soothing voices claiming otherwise, pols do want to confiscate firearms. Right, Governor Cuomo? Right, NY Dems? Right, Senator Feinstein? Right, Rep. Muhlbauer? Right, Chief Lansdowne?

What I cannot abide is brothers and sisters in the Faith donning the garb of the Holy Censor, playing the caricature game and leavening it with anathemas.

Like this charming bit of moral bullying in the combox: Gun owners are reluctant about untested technological fixes because their mindset is "I don’t care and I won’t help." Fantastic bit of soul-discernment there, Matty! That must be it.

Or could it be that gun owners are worried about things that might make their tools (because that's what guns are) inoperable when they need them to work? Especially after weeks of being shit on by people who can't conceal their contempt?

Nah. Easier to diagnose the hidden bad faith in the callous pricks you dislike. By the way--spiritual direction might not be your forte', MD.

Or, behold: this invocation of Tom Tomorrow's tired caricature of NRA members as an as-obvious-as-gravity moral trump card that only a fool or a knave could disagree with. I mean, really--my friend Zach Frey is one of the most reasonable people I've ever met. Way more reasonable than me. (Which is actually intended a compliment and not damning-with-faint-praise.) Yet asking the feverishly anti-NRA Ms. Clark to consider an alternative view is irrational, "self-parodying," "made-up crap." Well, I stand refuted. And she has her halo to admire, which, I imagine, is nice.

In the face of this avalanche of OUTRAGE! driven by Absolute Moral Authority™ I am left shaking my head with my arms folded. I have no response when people demand solutions of me: how am I supposed to respond to a rhetorical lynch mob?

It has gone beyond a search for solutions to Sandy Hook. It has become a firestorm of caricatures, marginalization and demonization. Even the children have to be warned away from the Evil I Represent. I decline to validate it, thank you.

If you really want to talk--with good will, and not to posture or advance an agenda, here is my plea: attempt to understand (1) firearms and (2) the Second Amendment.

[As an aside, government officials, please don't send your legislative fist careening toward my tonsils, call it "dialogue," and expect me to sit quietly. Just a thought.]

Let's try this: which beloved cultural icon told the Kansas City Star the following about living by herself?

 [S]he is not afraid to live alone, keeping pistol by screen door and shotgun in her bedroom. "I know how to use them both."

--Laura Ingalls Wilder, in 1955, age 88. Citation: Library of America Edition of The Little House Books (2012), Vol. 2, p. 824.

I don't think she was talking about hunting from the house when she mentioned the firearms.

In other words, there's a long tradition of gun ownership in this country, and you'll find it in the oddest places. Please include studying up on personal firearms--the variety, how they work, etc., as you start weighing in on the subject. So much of the rhetoric flying about is bogglingly ignorant, and almost proudly so. Let me try an analogy: a friend speaks with you about her desire to share the Gospel with Muslims, and says "Could you fact-check me on this? Here's what my studies have revealed about Muslim worship."

Muslims gather together every Wednesday in buildings called 'synagogues.' They bring baskets of flowers which they place before a statue of their god 'Koran,' and proceed to prostrate themselves repeatedly before the statue while a woman recites from 'Muhammad,' their holy book. Oh, and they're kinda nasty.

Where to begin? Besides begging her to study up on Jainism instead?

A lot of the rhetoric surrounding firearms is like that, badly distorted where it isn't laughably false or incomprehensible. So please, please read up. For example, Darwin offers a sound primer on "assault weapons" here.

A lot of what I have been reading suggests that the speaker regards weapons as evil in and of themselves, a death-totem to be avoided with superstitious horror. Hence the Ring analogy. But it's also seen as a "madness" to want to own one. Some of the questions about the need to own a Bushmaster come across a little like Carrie Nation asking why anyone needs to have any alcoholic beverage, much less a variety.

"Why don't you put down the demon rum and have a nice cup of tea instead, dear?"

Frankly, I don't want a Bushmaster. But I know people who own semi-automatic weapons, and they work just the same. Why do they have to have those features/look that way? Well, why don't we start mandating that all high-prestige, high-performance cars (e.g., Corvettes, Ferraris, Benzes, Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Porsches, etc.) sold in the U.S. are required to have Pollockesque hot pink/hunter orange paint jobs and giant unremovable Hello Kitty stickers on the hoods? Why? Well, what social purpose do such vehicles serve? They only guzzle fuel or drive up insurance rates, either through reckless driving or expensive repairs. Q.E.D. Plus, you know--class warfare bonus points.

Which brings me around, at long last, to my war firearm. It's a Mossberg Model 500 12-gauge pump-action shotgun. It looks a lot like the one pictured in the upper right-hand corner of the link. It is absolutely indistinguishable from the one used by our armed forces, with two exceptions: It carries one less shell, and has a different trigger guard. It fires the same projectiles. With one trigger pull, a double-aught buckshot load will discharge 9 projectiles, called pellets, in a cone-shaped dispersal pattern. The Bushmaster only fires one, in a straight line. You want to talk high-capacity magazine? My Mossberg has one, to the tune of 54 projectiles.

Sure, magazine reloads and the like, but the fact remains that my currently-legal shotgun--used by our armed forces--is capable of worse horrors than a Bushmaster. Which is why I--and other gun owners--get worried when other firearms are targeted. Horrific to contemplate, we worry about the reaction if someone misuses our firearm of choice. In my case, I doubt the feigned respect for shooting sports and hunting associated with shotguns would last long.

Finally, please study up on the Second Amendment. It truly isn't about hunting, though that was a presumed corollary. Self-protection, yes--but in a broader sense--protection from tyranny. It's neither fun to think about, nor lightly to be thought about. Nor should one be tossing about the idea that the government is tyrannical at the drop of a hat. Especially when one is unhappy about who happens to head that government.


The Founders were flawed men, but despite being over-represented by Deists, they seemed to have a grip on the idea of Original Sin. They built a system that was meant to restrain and channel the worst impulses, and a handy reminder that they rule only with the consent of the governed is embodied in that Amendment. Sure, that requires inculcation of certain virtues, but it's hardly impossible. More to the point, armed resistance to tyranny has a solid Catholic pedigree. It's not the first resort, I know. Far, far from it. But it's there.

And one last word--the recognition of the individual rights theory (the only credible reading)--turns five years old this year. It was a razor-thin vindication, and it hangs by the health of one justice. Until it gets ingrained, and some level of respect within the bar, gun owners are going to be twitchy. If you think things are unpleasant now, an overturn of Heller would be Roe Redux.

Anyway, this has gone on long enough. I'm exhausted.

In so many ways.


  1. It was pretty obvious to me that it was irrational from the start, just because of the numbers involved. It neither requires nor implies any callousness towards the victims of Sandy Hook to point out that we lose, what, *maybe* as many as a hundred people a year to mass shootings? That we lose (according to the CDC) somewhat over 30,000 Americans a year to *all* firearms-related causes, of whom the majority are suicides? In a country where we lose over a million folks a year to abortion (the leading cause of death in America by a substantial margin, and the leading preventable cause of death by something around an order of magnitude), in a country where we lose several Sandy Hooks' worth of folks on our roads *every day*, the moral grandstanding over guns can't possibly be rational.

    A rational response to Sandy Hook is compassion for the victims, not sweeping policy changes and demonization of opponents. Moving speeches by politicians, fair enough--we have to recognize the tragedy here, the empty chairs in those families for decades to come, the promise cut short, the dreams shattered by a madman's rampage. That's all real. But a gun ban won't fix any of that. All a gun ban would do is make the next nutjob use a truck bomb instead.

    I know, I'm pretty much agreeing with you :-).

  2. The fellow who insisted to you he had witnessed 12 gun battles in 15 years of residence in the inner city was pulling your leg.

  3. I'm from New Hampshire and basically pro-gun, but I'm not 100% convinced that the whole "merely cosmetic" aspect isn't actually pertinent.

    Given that "[t]he attraction of military style rifles for mass killers is not that they offer some technological edge in killing that other guns do not possess, it is that their appearance ties in with their deluded images of themselves, allowing them to think of themselves as looking more deadly" (from your link, Understanding Assault Weapons), it seems to me that banning the cosmetic similarities to military weapons might actually discourage kooks while not interfering with the legitimate functionality desired by the vast majority of responsible citizens who need or want it.

    The desire to own "military-style" weapons per se is a function of a machismo directly opposed to the kind of responsible respect for a dangerous and useful tool that my father instilled in me when I was growing up. There are a million ways to look cool. Using dangerous tools isn't one of them.

    -Jon W

  4. Many folks have simply forfeited the duty and responsibility to rationally think things out, even those who pride themselves in thinking they are some sort of intellectuals or men of letters. I'm completely sick and tired of the Absolute Moral Authority folks assuming the Quadruple Tiara of All That is Holy and Right and Pontificating to the likes of hate-filled, blood thirsty, callous knuckle-dragging me.

    You know what? I own guns, I'm a collector. I even have one with a bayonet and a grenade launcher and another one that takes them big "banana clips". You know what else? I could care less if the Vox Nova crowd swoons into a hand-wringing and wetting themselves mess. After tolerating all manner of near-heresies and questionable theology, then all of a sudden something like this justifies them putting on the Grand Inquisitor hat.


    Like I said above, I'm a collector. I happen to collect military rifles. Wanting to have a semi-auto AK w/o a stupid thumbhole stock has nothing to do with machismo, thank you very much. Besides, such distinctions are wholly arbitrary. Does the machismo desire to own a "military style" weapon only apply to semi-auto clones of FA guns? How about older school ones like the SKS or M1 Garand? How about a bolt gun with a bayonet lug and a hand guard like all the bolt guns from the WWI/WWII era?

    So much fluff and feathers, no real solutions.

  5. The desire to own "military-style" weapons per se is a function of a machismo directly opposed to the kind of responsible respect for a dangerous and useful tool that my father instilled in me when I was growing up.

    Well, contrary to the group mind-reading, I choose weapons to look scary because that is the purpose. Weapons ARE scary. They are for killing. That's rather the definition of "scary."

    I refuse to pack a pink CC weapon because I have enough hurdles to overcome if I need to pull my weapon-- I am a quiet little Hobbit when I'm in an uncomfortable situation, and I've got two little girls, and at the moment I'm hugely pregnant.
    Dang straight I want to look more deadly. I want the Orc I'm facing to be so focused on "Wow... that gun is scary" rather than "she's a sweet looking, apple-faced little mother, she won't hurt me."

    That may be the difference between my saving my kids' lives and a successful rush.

  6. Being marginalized in the culture war.

    Begs the question of How?


    "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." (Winston Churchill)

    P.S. Awesome post.

  7. Thanks for this, Dale!

    You also managed to do something nobody has so far in this discussion about guns... to get Mark Shea to actually stop for a moment and consider the other side's position.

    Maybe in a few weeks a friend show up out of nowhere to invite him to a gun range, and then when will we be?

  8. "and then where will we be" is what I meant to write. I'm a noob.

  9. I was sent here by CJ over at MCJ. A very good read. I do have one modification to what you load. A law officer here in Texas told me that some 6 or 7 birdshot magnum load 12 Ga shells are much more effective at close range than buckshot. That is a bigger magazine!

  10. @dominic1955, et al,

    The point of my quotation from the article that Dale linked to was that "military styling" in fact does seem to be linked to the kind of desperate attitude taken by spree-killers. The connection was acknowledged in the article.

    I definitely understand that not everyone who wants a military-style weapon is looking to bolster an improper understanding of masculinity, so I apologize for the "machismo" comment.

    Nevertheless, these tools deserve a level of respect which is not being served by an attitude that characterizes civilian-specific (I assume) features like the thumbhole stock as "stupid". Frankly, the existence of that kind of attitude is what gives panty-waisted hand-wringers the only scrap of moral authority they maintain. As long as a weapon whose purpose is to kill human beings is A. widely owned, B. easily operated, and C. evaluated by its owners not for its utility but rather for its style as a killing machine in terms like "stupid", then you are going to find rational, decent, virtuous people recoiling from that subculture, never mind the pants-wetters.

    And I say this as someone whose family owns a variety of guns - rifles, shotguns, and handguns - which I've been shooting since I was a kid and with which I'm very comfortable. I very much like guns; and I'm in favor of virtuous, rational people owning guns. I'm also a regular commenter at Mark Shea's blog who didn't bother to get involved because Mark wasn't being rational about it at all.

    People keep saying that talking about stuff like "styling" is not really getting to the heart of the matter, that it's so much "fluff and feathers", but it seems to me that psychological issues to which things like style are pertinent are exactly what is at the heart of events like Sandy Hook. Isn't that what we're talking about?

    -Jon W in New Hampshire (definitely not anonymous)

  11. The point of my quotation from the article that Dale linked to was that "military styling" in fact does seem to be linked to the kind of desperate attitude taken by spree-killers. The connection was acknowledged in the article.

    FWIW, as the author of the quoted article: I don't think it's that military styling somehow encourages people with psychotic fantasies to act on them. It's more that, to the extent that such a person has a choice of weapons, if he fancies himself as a sort of one man action here he'll probably equip himself to look like the action heroes he sees in movies and video games.

    So I'd maintian that while it's probably not suprising that mass killers often gravitate towards guns with military styling, I don't really think that making the styling illegal would reduce spree killings. After all, mass shootings have remained at a pretty constant rate for the last 35 years, despite the fact that military style rifles have only become widely populat in the last 15 years or so.

    Now, law abiding gun owners are also often attracted to military styling for reasons ranging from ergonomics (it's worth noting that olympic target rifles also feature pistol grips -- they're easier to told than "traditional" stocks) to reliability to history to fun. I myself collect military rifles, though in my case I collect WW2 era rifles, so they don't look "scary" because they have wood stocks. So even to the extent that attraction to military characteristics has a place in the fevered minds of mass killers, I'm not sure it's right to see the attraction itself as a problem. After all, there some three million law abiding AR-15 owners out there compared to the handful of psychos who've used them.

  12. Why is it that so many people think they are experts in matters like guns or religion yet are so woefully ignorant?

    "Nevertheless, these tools deserve a level of respect which is not being served by an attitude that characterizes civilian-specific (I assume) features like the thumbhole stock as "stupid"."

    Do you even know what I'm talking about? First things first, who decides what is "civilian specific"? Is that some sort of essential (as opposed to accidental) quality that some guns have while others have an essentially civilian quality? Secondly, I used the example of a thumbhole stock to outline the arbitrary nature of "gun laws". Nothing wrong with thumbhole stocks in principle, there are some very ergonomic ones made for certain sports and uses but that isn't what you have on post-94 "non-assault weapons". The thumbhole stock on a MAK-90 (for instance) is just a matter of skirting the ridiculous assault weapons ban. The ChiComs just whittled something that would pass muster out of their ubiquitous tulip wood and slapped it on steel. Even without all the naughty bits and the 2x4esque stock, its still a Kalashnikov.

    "As long as a weapon whose purpose is to kill human beings..."

    This is ridiculous. I have a Dutch Mannlicher m95 sitting in the corner. The same action (bolt and receiver) was the basis for some of the best stalking (deer) and African light rifles ever made. Some folks even liked shooting elephants with them, the long but heavy bullet penetrates well without too much noise. However, mine has the "naughty bits" on it like the full military stock with handguard and the bayonet lug. Essentially, the military and the sporting Mannlicher are the same.

    Actually, a good number of hunting rifles are essentially military rifles. Look at many Winchester m70s or Ruger m77s. Guess what they are? Yep, Mauser 98s. Guess what they were invented for-the military market.

    "A. widely owned, B. easily operated, and C. evaluated by its owners not for its utility but rather for its style as a killing machine in terms like "stupid"

    A and B are vapid. Widely owned? Easily operated? Gee, I wish they didn't make things easy to operate, I wish they were hard. I hope the next time I buy a car it has controls like a 70 year old tractor.

    C. Military is about as "utility" as it gets. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I always hunted with straight military rifles (full disclosure, my passion is bolt guns from the smokeless-WWIIish era) because its utility at its finest and I've just always preferred open sights. I don't begrudge a guy for wanting a "sporting" rifle-to each his own.

    The "rational, decent, virtuous" people you appeal to (I'm guessing folks like you) aren't much different than the wet pants brigade, they just aren't as hysterical. Their distinction making skills are no better.

    I don't know how many times this will repeat itself before people catch on, no matter how much you want to Uncle Tom it up to the liberals when it comes to "reasonable" gun control-mark my words-they are coming for your Winchester after they take my Simonov.

  13. I think Jon is on to something myself. It's fair to say that cosmetics play some role, however minimal, in the purchase of a weapon. It certainly did for the Mossberg, even if versatility (three barrel options) was a bigger selling point. I just don't know how far you can develop that point, though, without some kind of research--interviewing surviving mass-shooting perpetrators, for example. Just off the top of my head, I would think that the ability to conceal the weapon is probably more important.

  14. And please don't get personal here. I don't see any basis for berating Jon--at all--and I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to rhetoric.

  15. Thanks for the article Mr. Price.

    I also came to the conversation expecting and hoping for reason to prevail. I also was struck with the massive BS landslide and hatred by people who, while admitting to never having handled a firearm in their lives, automatically knew more than someone like myself who has worked and trained with them for over 15 years, including a lot of gunsmithing.

    Unlike you, however, I quickly lost my patience and descended into the rhetorical muck. I simply should have recognized the presence of unreason and bowed out.

    Thanks again.

  16. Just swung by for the first time in what seems like months. Nice essay and I'm not at all surprised to read this coming from you. If you've never read it, you should read Larry Correia's great writing on gun control. Just google his name and gun control. I'm sure it'll pop up. His books are pretty good, too.

    I'm also kind of proud to say of those to whom you refer who disagree with you, I have no idea who you're talking about as I stopped reading what they have to say (in case it's who I think it may be) years ago. I took Hilary White's long ago words, "I have better things to do than civilize barbarians" to heart and have been all the happier for it.

    If you're ever passing through the western part of the free state of Kentucky, you should look me up. I'll show you how to bump-fire an AK.