We sometimes talk about “American gun culture,” but another way of saying “American gun culture” is “American culture.”
As a matter of civil liberty, the Second Amendment is every bit as important as the First or the Fourth or the Sixth, and it is no accident that the semiautomatic rifle has taken the place of the cannon on the Texas revolutionary flag, emblazoned over the slogan that has over the centuries made its way from Thermopylae to Fort Morris to Gonzalez to the bumper of a whole lot of F-150s: “Come and Take It.” At least one of the shoppers looking for ammo over the weekend had the version Plutarch attributed to Leonidas — μολὼν λαβέ — tattooed on his forearm. It’s a popular bumper-sticker, too.
And that “Don’t Tread on Me” spirit matters to a people whose two great formative episodes were the Revolution and the frontier experience. That attitude is an important part of what has kept America free. But it also is bound up in some of the worst aspects of our national character: paranoia, our unarticulated antinomianism, our taste for political and religious extremism, and our horrifying addiction to violence.
Americans are a murder-happy people — not only with firearms but with knives and clubs and hammers, with bombs, automobiles, and standing water. There are lots of countries where people have guns. Switzerland is a gunned-up country, and there are millions of privately owned firearms in France, Austria, and Italy — walk around Tuscany at the right time of year and you can hear the shotguns of the pheasant hunters, a blast in the distance every few minutes.
I hear shotgun blasts where I live, too — but this is an American city, and they aren’t shooting at pheasants.
But this isn’t really about the guns. It’s about a society that is, palpably, wobbling on the brink of something awful, with failing institutions, incompetent government, reciprocal distrust among rival social groups, and widespread simmering rage.
— Kevin Williamson in A Dangerous State of Affairs