Don’t Take Your Guns to Town
Scott’s long and deeply-felt reflection on American gun culture is worth reading in full, and I certainly understand why an outsider would find our collective infatuation with things that go ‘boom’ baffling or even dangerous. As a card-carrying coastal elite, I also suspect my views on personal firearms are closer to Scott’s than to most rural Americans’: In addition to not owning a gun, I have never wanted to own one, and watching someone casually stroll by with a glock on their hip is enough to make me pretty uncomfortable.
That said, I’m wary of broad-brushed cultural essentialism, and I think Scott’s view of America’s “undercurrent of violence” is a bit too reminiscent of s0mething Mark Steyn spat out in the wake of another tragedy, this time in Canada:
Every December 6th, my own unmanned Dominion lowers its flags to half-mast and tries to saddle Canadian manhood in general with the blame for the “Montreal massacre,” the 14 female students of the Ecole Polytechnique murdered by Marc Lepine (born Gamil Gharbi, the son of an Algerian Muslim wife-beater, though you’d never know that from the press coverage). As I wrote up north a few years ago:
Yet the defining image of contemporary Canadian maleness is not M Lepine/Gharbi but the professors and the men in that classroom, who, ordered to leave by the lone gunman, meekly did so, and abandoned their female classmates to their fate — an act of abdication that would have been unthinkable in almost any other culture throughout human history. The “men” stood outside in the corridor and, even as they heard the first shots, they did nothing. And, when it was over and Gharbi walked out of the room and past them, they still did nothing. Whatever its other defects, Canadian manhood does not suffer from an excess of testosterone.
Obviously, these men didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory in the midst of a terrible shooting. But does the inaction of a few scared students indict Canadian society as a whole? Does this incredible tragedy reveal some hidden undercurrent of Canadian passivity? I think not, and besides, a quick Google search reveals any number of counter-examples (the honor roll of Canadian dead in Afghanistan immediately comes to mind.
Violence in America is less extensive than you might think. And broad-brushed essentialism – however intuitive – detracts from our ability to address serious problems by laying blame at the feet of some socially-constructed bogeyman. Sometimes schoolbus bullying is just bullying. And sometimes a shooting is just a terrible tragedy.