The American adolescent ideology of gun possession - time to grow up

Christians die at the hands of gunmen
in the Middle East, and it is shown as an attack on Christianity. And rightly so. The discussion is so often then taken up with talk about who is supplying arms to these groups, the point being made that if they didn’t have the guns they wouldn’t be such a threat. No one really suggests that the answer is simply to arm every Christian, man, woman and child and that that will somehow be a protection against these determined fanatics. They don’t need arming, they need protecting.

This week there two attacks on Christians, on in Israel and another in the USA. In Israel violent Jewish settlers attempted to burn the church at Tabgha to the ground, and resulted in three people being hospitalised. It wasn’t the first such attach on the church, and is part of a train of anti-Christian violence that has grown over the past few years and which the intelligence and security forces of the Israeli state have failed to stop or deter. The answer, surely, is not to give every Arab Christian a gun?

The second attack was in the USA, on a church community gathered for Bible Study. A lone gunman shot at random deliberately targeting black Christians out of racist hate. The answer which some in the US give to this tragedy, is to arm every man and woman Christian going to Bible Study, so they can defend themselves when necessary. Yet these generally right wing Americans are generally the same ones who want to disarm all Palestinians so Israel gets unilateral protection, (they don’t want arms to get into the ‘wrong hands’) and as far as I am aware no one, even John McCain, has suggested handing out guns to every Christian man, woman and child across Iraq and Syria.

In other words this isn’t an argument based on logic. There is some sort of national pride in being all belted up with a gun, a vision of America that sees itself as perennially the white man as somehow up against the savages and the wilderness. It’s the sheriff out against the bandits and the lone star ranger bringing in the bad guys. Hence the American police kill more people in a week than most countries manage in a year.

Look at this statistic lifted from the Guardian: 

Are Americans really more violent, criminally inclined and basically out of control than the Brits, that they need such draconian measures to keep their society from imploding? Is America really that less civilised, more populated by psychopaths and basically evil people whom you can only stop by shooting them dead than the UK? If not, why on earth do American police kill so easily? If we look at the self-image of America as portrayed through films esp in the 1950s and 60s I think we see what it is that shapes this sort of response and makes it somehow not just acceptable but honourable. It is the myth of the Wild West, of the honourable cowboy, of the valiant, decent, white settler out on the prairie. It is the story of the sherif and the bounty hunter, of the taming of the West by decent, Christian folk. It is the myth of the civilising power of the gun.

 It is as though the Wild West is something definitive for American culture, rather than an adolescent phase that one passes through and grows up from. Guns are nothing to do with protection but they are about the power of a very deep, basic American self-perception as a new nation crafted out of the wilderness and under threat from an encircling (non-white) savagery. It is thus all deeply embroiled in the American culture wars. NRA, anti-abortion, patriotism, Republicanism, traditional family values, small statism all sort of coalesce while civil libertarians, progressives, Democrats, proponents of gay marriage sort of coalesce in the opposite corner. Perhaps in the face of a rapidly changing world, and a rapidly changing America with its massive Hispanic immigration, exploding State and the whole war on terror thing, the mythologies of American’s founding fathers and its 19th century emergence as the USA we know today thus have a tremendous pull. And deep within that is the Lone Ranger, John Wayne the cowboy hero, and endless other heroes who won the West at the end of the barrel of a gun.

Sadly, if America’s struggle to forge its contemporary identity as something more than a liberal State of enormous proportions cannot get beyond this Holywood mythology its Christian ethos is destined to become something consigned to the dust bin of history. If all it can offer the distraught, bereaved families of a black church of the south is a reprimand that they didn’t all carry guns, then it offers nothing at all.


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