By Cain Pence
The anti-gun Biden administration and a seemingly never-ending spate of mass shootings have resulted in renewed calls for gun control. Like so many previous failed efforts, attempts to increase restrictions on civilian gun ownership are doomed to failure. One reason for this is that proponents of increased regulations and gun control laws continually fail to understand the geographical, historical and cultural values of America’s gun culture.
One of the fundamental failures of gun control advocates is their lack of understanding of American geography. Forget about legal or political arguments. The three words that defeat so many attempts at gun control have nothing to do with Supreme Court decisions, they have everything to do with an American mindset: the American West.
America was a frontier nation. Three thousand miles of vast, often hostile wilderness created an American character dependent upon firearms. The country could not have been settled without guns that provided food and protection.
When gun control advocates complain that America needs to be more like Australia or England or Japan, they need to consider the geographical reality of America. Huge, wide open spaces, often with no formal protection or law enforcement led Americans to rely upon individual gun ownership throughout our entire history.
Unlike European and Asian countries where gun ownership was exclusively in the hands of wealthy land owners or military personnel, ownership of firearms in America has always been remarkably democratic. Unlike other nations, middle class and poor Americans have always enjoyed the right and the reality of gun ownership. It has never been exclusive to the elite.
Besides the need for food, gun ownership has a special relationship with the American identity. Throughout our history, the gun has been a tool for protection and for providing game, but it has also served as a symbol of cultural identification.
The minuteman, the pioneer and the cowboy are all powerful cultural symbols of American ideals…all of them including guns. There is an emotional and political attachment a man has to his gun that he does not have to his toaster or dishwasher.
The image of a patriot with his musket or a backwoods man with his rifle is ingrained in our collective American mindset. Taking guns away from law-abiding citizens is to many Americans like taking away pickup trucks or Bibles: it’s an attack on one of the core aspects of Americans’ cultural identity. A nation that was founded in rebellion with free armed men actively opposed to the troops of a monarch will never easily part with their weapons.
I live in the heart of Minneapolis only a few minutes from where George Floyd was killed and hundreds of buildings have been burned in the aftermath. The constant protests over the last year (not just in my native Minneapolis but in dozens of cities throughout America) have resulted in increased individual gun ownership among Americans.
As crime rises and police become more reluctant to aggressively enforce laws and pursue criminals, one result has been a sharp increase in Americans’ desire to own firearms to protect themselves and their families. If the police won’t protect people, everyday Americans, as they have throughout their pioneering history, will protect themselves.
Does that mean we are forever trapped in a debate between “gun-grabbers“ on the left and “gun nuts” on the right? I think and hope not. I believe both sides in the stalled debate on the right to keep and bear arms in America can come together on the core issue of mental health awareness and treatment.
President Biden has made it clear that he considers spending on schools and education are essential investments in infrastructure. Republicans, conservatives and gun rights advocates should work with him on insisting that increased education spending includes increasing the number of mental health counselors and resources for struggling students.
Catching and effectively treating mental illness early not only helps our youth and economic future, it will improve our public safety. Almost all mass shooters provide multiple early warning signs of mental illness or extreme anti-social behavior. Funding programs that identify, confront and treat children and teenagers that exhibit violent and dangerous behavior is critical to stemming future violence and prevent mass shootings.
Conservatives and liberals must work together to provide resources and professionals to schools, churches and families that identify troubled youth before these children grow into violent criminals or murderers.
Money and effort spent on mental health awareness and treatment is a far better allocation of funding than attempting to limit law abiding citizens’ ability to purchase or legally carry firearms.
Americans of all persuasions and backgrounds can work together to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally disturbed while respecting the rights and values of the millions of good, responsible Americans who consider individual gun ownership an essential component of our national identity and freedom.
Cain Pence is a Minneapolis based writer. A graduate of Georgetown University, Mr. Pence has traveled throughout all 50 states and his writing has appeared in numerous publications. He can be reached at [email protected].