By Cain Pence
The American character does not like authority. A nation born in rebellion, a country founded by exiles and a people possessed with a pioneer spirit do not respond well to dictates on their movements. It goes against everything that’s American.
The Minutemen at Concord and Lexington, the pioneer headed West, and the cowboy on horseback are all iconic images of American determination and freedom. Whether a musket in Massachusetts, a hunting rifle in Minnesota or a pistol in Texas, the history of America’s founding and expansion also involves the artwork and reality of firearms in the hands of free citizens.
I grew up in the heart of Minneapolis, one of the bluest places in a Democratic state. After graduating from Georgetown University I spent the next half decade working different jobs as I completed my quest to visit every congressional district in America. A great adventure, it was the ultimate graduate school in American studies.
Along the journey I was struck by the number of monuments and statues of men with guns. People memorialize in stone what is important in their hearts. I have visited every part of America and I believe the single most common memorial statues in America are of men with guns. This makes sense.
The plaques and markers to early patriots of New England, the monuments to soldiers of the Civil War found in nearly all towns in the North and every small town in the South, the statues to pioneers and trailblazers of the West and the ubiquitous Vietnam veterans memorials found at countless government centers and plazas throughout our land all show men with guns. I have not been to South Korea, Sweden or South Africa but I doubt their public plazas are full of monuments to men with guns.
Our national history is one of violence and conflicts. It is also one of proud determination undeterred by a vast and hostile Western frontier. The American character is rugged and proud, bold and brave. Belgium and Britain, Japan and Portugal did not have thousands of miles to the West to settle and tame. The gun went hand in hand with the opening of the West. Not just for conflict and protection but for food.
Just one generation ago, my late mother’s farm family of eleven in Northern Minnesota defied the laws and hunted deer year round to provide venison for the harsh winter months. Go tell Northern Minnesota farm boys, or the ones in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio they shouldn’t be allowed a gun.
The American identity, especially in rural America, is so connected to the gun culture that Americans would much rather put up with thousands of homicides and firearm accidents each year than surrender their constitutional rights to bear arms.
The same character that dominates rural America in regards to guns is prevalent in regards to the coronavirus outbreak. Our rights to liberty are more important than our risk of disease.
We want everyone to be safe, but not at the price of liberty. Just as all Americans risk death by fast moving steel machines called cars every time they drive on a road, so too will most be willing to risk death by what is essentially a nasty pneumonia for the elderly than give up our livelihoods and freedom of movement.
A desire for liberty really is more important to most Americans than a guarantee of safety. That’s why so many protesters at state capitals calling for reopening America are carrying guns….freedom of movement and the freedom to own firearms go hand in hand. Government can only do so much to protect us before the disease of tyranny becomes far worse than the demon of disease.
In a free society, capitalism and the free expression of speech, ideas and religion will flourish. So too will murder, accidents and disease. It’s the price we pay to have liberty of thought, livelihood and movement.
The American character shall not be infringed upon despite death and fear. Far better to risk an unknown virus that kills almost no young people than to endure the known evil of tyranny that kills not just free men and women, but the very soul of the American experiment called freedom.
Cain Pence is a Minneapolis based writer. Mr Pence is a graduate of Georgetown University and has traveled extensively throughout all 50 states. Mr Pence’s writings have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines across America. He can be reached at [email protected].