“I think we’ve been frightened ever since we landed on these shores…We were frightened of the native people, we were frightened of the slaves we brought over as we should have been. And those in power have known how to manipulate us with fear,” Michael Moore said on Current TV earlier this month. “We’ve got over a quarter-billion guns in people’s homes. And they’re mostly in the suburbs and rural areas where there is virtually no crime and no murder. So why is that? What are they really afraid of? What do they think of — who’s going to break into the house?”
What fascinates me is how absolutely ignorant of history many commentators in the gun control debates are.
The origin of gun rights in America has as its roots the desire to enable the individual to protect himself/herself from the government and society at large. Our founding fathers had fought a revolution against tyrannical government with an army made up, to no small degree, or self-armed individuals.
The modern gun control movement originally had as its motivation the desire to keep individuals unarmed and vulnerable. The Ku Klux Klan was a strong proponent of keeping guns out of the hands of blacks, for instance, lest they might defend themselves from the terror that group of bigots would visit upon them. In more recent times, the gun control argument has morphed into a desire to protect society from the individual.
What really aids the anti-gun arguments of people like Moore is how removed and insulated modern Americans are from the realities of social strife and political unrest. The idea that suburbanites need be armed against a potentially rogue government, which was our founder’s motivation for the 2nd amendment, seems absurd in modern America. No sane person believes that we’re in danger of the sort of despotism that might require us to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” as the Declaration of Independence put it.
So people like Moore come up with alternate explanations, like racism, which just happen to fit their overall political narrative.
We are, in a sense, the victims of our own success. We have become so prosperous, our political system has been so stable for so long (relative to the war and upheaval that was the status quo throughout much of history), that we can’t imagine it being otherwise. We can’t even imagine needing to protect ourselves from an overbearing government, so we begin to look askance at some of these institutions, such as the right to individual gun ownership and possession, as being anachronisms of a by-gone age forgetting that perhaps the stability and security we’ve enjoyed is due in no small part to them.