Bemoaning the “nanny state”, Andrew Sullivan highlights a recent story about posters for a Will Ferrel comedy being altered to suit the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s advertising policy, that “ads should not appear to promote the use of firearms or advocate any violent action”. Now, Ferrel comes not with a piece, but with mace. I’d note things are different in Toronto, the advertising capital of Canada, where an entire subway station was taken over by Terminator memorabilia last year, although maybe the fiberglass robots were unarmed. I also remember seeing armed Rambo posters in the Paris Metro, and a considerably more striking ad campaign featuring a stark naked woman standing before a blue sky- I’ve no idea what that poster was advertising- certainly naked women are popular enough without an ad campaign.
It’s interesting that gun control has entered the symbolic realm: Spielberg removed guns from his film E.T. a few years ago for a similar reason: artistic images of guns are thought to work a sort of sympathetic magic fostering their prevalence in the real world. Note that both E.T. and the offensive poster featured images of police officers with guns and, thus far, cops have not melted down their firearms. And the Supreme Court’s Heller decision, not to mention declining public support, make gun bans increasingly unlikely in America, outside of art. Since this site often aims at a peaceful resolution to the culture wars, I’d like to kindly suggest that gun control advocates lay down their plowshares and surrender. Gun culture has you surrounded.
Certainly, I don’t buy the gun rights lobby’s argument that laxer gun laws make societies safer. Maybe there are more poisonings in countries with strict gun laws, but they do have lower rates of violent homicides. The gun lobby argues that we could kill each other with rocks, if we wanted, but it’s much easier to kill someone with a gun. And easier to kill yourself for that matter. It’s also harder to change your mind after pulling the trigger in a fit of anger. Besides, the gun lobby never takes the argument to its logical conclusion- if guns and safety increase in tandem why not arm prisoners and end prison rape?
Nevertheless, advocates of gun control overlook a larger issue: guns are firmly embedded in American culture. First there’s the history- Lexington and Concord, for example, being fought largely over a British attempt at disarming the populace. Then there’s the Constitution, which the Supreme Court, at least, finds less ambiguous than advocates of gun bans. Finally, there’s the simple fact that in communities across the country people grow up with guns. I’ve lived in counties where schools let out for the first day of hunting season. And I’ve friends with cherished memories of shooting things with their parents, in the same way I fondly remember fishing trips. Certainly, very few hunters need semiautomatic weapons, or commit murder for that matter; but they’re also very resistant to any sort of gun control. Bans on any firearms would, most likely, be nearly as successful across the country as asking users of illegal drugs to kindly report to the local police station and turn over their stash.
Besides, after the last decade of the Bush/Obama War on Whatever the Government labels Terrorism, it’s hard to muster up any enthusiasm for ceding another individual right to the state. Gun culture might be largely “right wing”, but there’s a case to be made that gun rights are a liberal value. With President Obama deciding he’d just rather not roll back the Bush/Cheney security state, the left could benefit by opposing all efforts to entrust our decision making to the government. Guns are as American as burritos, but so is faith in the individual.