Who invented the phrase “gun culture,” anyway? And what the hell does it mean? No one knows who used the phrase first, but it was popularized by a historian named Richard Hofstadter. Hofstadter [above] started his career as a typical Ivory-tower Communist, but he eventually drifted into mainstream academia, which is the far-left wing of American political thinking. He claimed that Americans have a special affection for firearms due to the association of guns with America’s revolutionary past and frontier heritage. Its sounds plausible, but was it true then, and is it true today?
Let’s start with today. Right now, in the Bronx, an immigrant bodega owner keeps a 9mm pistol to protect himself and his store from thugs that might rob him and take his life. Does he feel any cultural connection with the American Revolution? Unless he studied hard for his citizenship test, he doesn’t even know when it was. No insult intended to the bodega owner; he probably knows more about the Revolutionary War than the average American high school student.
Does a Pennsylvania hunter, stalking a big buck with his .30-30, look upon the bodega owner as his brother in arms? Not a chance. Does a California target shooter with her custom-tuned Wilson 1911feel any kinship with a Montana rancher who protects his livestock with a well-worn .223 “varmint” rifle? I am doubtful. Can the rancher relate to the eastern trap shooter and his ten thousand dollar engraved Beretta shotgun? I don’t think so.
Those individuals, all gun owners, have nothing in common. Their purposes for utilizing firearms are different. Their locations are different. Their gun choices are as different as chalk and cheese. Politically, they may as far apart as I am from, say, magoo. Yet they are all presumed by the left to be part of some mystical, magical and frightening gun culture. Like Hillary’s claim of a mysterious “vast right wing conspiracy” to bring down her philandering husband, it is absolutely rubbish.
Hofstadter’s theory of a culturally-based “love” of guns, which he believed is central to the American identity, has been taken as a matter of faith by the left. But don’t blame the left exclusively. The right bears just as much responsibility for this misperception.
The “cultural heritage” of guns has been aggressively promoted and marketed by the NRA and many gun manufacturers. So whether nor not Hofstadter was or is correct, the “us against them” battle lines have been drawn. It’s a cultural battle that’s as old as the nation and as American as cherry pie.
The first “gun control” laws were addressed exclusively to ownership of firearms by blacks, both free and slave. These laws became increasingly popular after Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831 and were adopted by every Southern state and some Northern ones as well.
The next round of laws attempted to prevent not open carry, but rather concealed carry, which was thought to be sneaky and indicative of a criminal mind. The real targets of Jacksonian-era gun controls were Easterners. With nothing to hide, Westerners, as honest and stalwart Americans, wore rough clothes and wore their guns in the open.
Easterners, caricatured as being garbed in suits and silk weskits, were slick and dishonest and carried their guns concealed. It was all ridiculous, of course. Henry Deringer, father of the eponymous concealed carry pistol, made his bones manufacturing Kentucky rifles. The first Deringer (one “r”) pistols were marketed as self-defense guns and adopted swiftly by the cavalry as a back-up weapon on the prairies and plains. If Easterners carried concealed pistols and secret sword-canes, it was because such implements were more suited to gentlemen’s fashions of the period.
The Westerners’ fear of untrustworthy Yankees was indicative of a cultural divide along geographic lines, not an animus toward firearms. It was based on mythology rather than fact.
The next round of gun control laws were focused exclusively on freed black slaves. From every record, it appears that freed slaves were more than content with leading productive lives as freemen, tilling the soil, raising crops and caring for their families. However, a lot of whites lived in the unreasonable fear of freed blacks arming themselves and taking revenge against their former tormentors. It was this racism that was the root cause of the Reconstruction Period of Second Amendment disenfranchisement of blacks. Naturally, whites retained all their gun rights.
New Yorkers, who customarily think of themselves as the most culturally enlightened of Americans, helped to initiate the next wave of gun control measures. New York’s “Sullivan Law” was aimed squarely at newly-arriving Italian immigrants, all of whom were presumed to be thieves, murders and members of the Black Hand. The same irrational and racist fear gripped Chicago and other big cities, where politicians demonized new arrivals and sought to disarm them. The gun rights of the establishment were retained. Sound familiar?
The “Federal Period” of gun control went into high gear with the National Firearms Act of 1934. Of all gun control measures ever enacted in the United States, the NFA is perhaps the only one that did not target any particular racial, regional or ethnic group. To that extent, the motivation of Congress may have been only to remove certain firearms from the hands of criminals. Was it laudable? Maybe, but the incorporation of local gun ownership into the definition of Interstate Commerce was one of many historic overreaches by the Roosevelt regime.
The process of federal intrusion based upon an expansive reading of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause accelerated with the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. From that point forward, the Federal government became the avowed enemy of guns, and the secret enemy of gun culture.
A turning point in the culture war began in 1985. When Florida took the lead in restoring gun rights to honest citizens, the crime rate in the Carjack & Cocaine Capital of the World began a precipitous and unabated drop. Other states, seeing the results of Florida’s successful experiment, followed suit. During the last twenty-five years, the American crime rate has dropped just as quickly as the “Right to Carry” has expanded into one jurisdiction after another. Cause and effect? Not so fast, my friend.
Any statistical cause-and-effect correlation between expanding gun rights and lowered crime rates might be suspect, because the outcome of studies – any studies, by the left or the right, on any subject — may depend on the bias of the statistician. However, it cannot be denied by anyone in his or her right mind that expanded gun rights have not led to a rising crime rate anywhere in the United States. Not in cities, nor in rural or suburban settings, nor on campuses. Nowhere.
Yet, the anti-gun politicians and those who make a living pursuing their agenda to destroy the gun culture continue to recycle the fears and trot out the prejudices that spurred the early gun control measures. No, I am not claiming that the anti-gun flacks hate blacks or Italians or other ethnic minorities. Nevertheless, I do maintain that the anti-gun forces are seeking to destroy what they perceive as the gun culture.
Gun owners are vilified as “gun loons.” People who aren’t from New York or Washington, D.C. are objects of scorn who “cling to their guns and religion.” The cultural libels go on and on.
Hofstadter’s vision of a gun culture, whether correct or incorrect, has no relationship to the perception of a gun culture today. In modern America, the gun is no longer part of historical iconography. There are no more cowboys. Gun owners are culturally diverse. And modern-day “revolutionaries” from Timothy McVeigh to William Ayers used bombs made from fertilizer.
The truth is that the right views the gun as a unique symbol of American culture, a symbol of American values and a symbol of the soul of the American nation. The dirty little secret is that the left does too, and they don’t like it.
The attack on gun owners has little to do with guns as guns and everything to do with the gun as a symbol of a detested culture that is distinctly American. So, it isn’t just gun rights that need to be defended. We are fighting against the left’s goal of obliterating American culture.