Why Do Americans Own Guns?
When Gun Owners are asked the question the general answer in public seems to be that guns are for entertainment, or if a more serious reason is given, then we hear that is their right under the 2nd amendment of the constitution. But in reality this excuse, or reason given is incomplete and we all know it. There is much more to why we have guns and why for all their lethal power and occasional destruction people still seek to have them. I have openly wondered and have asked a number of people I have known in the past for their private reasons. The answer given is almost universal.
Government Cant Be Trusted To Maintain Order
The truth seems to be that most people who have guns, or rather have more than one gun, do not feel the government can be trusted with their protection or the maintenance of their freedom or rights to their property. There is an almost universal fear among gun owners that the government one day will let all civil order fade into oblivion and helter skelter will prevail. There is a general feeling that one day these same people who have guns may have to protect their own property not only from those other citizens who might want it, as for example looters-who often materialize after some catastrophe or other, but perhaps from the government itself.
There is a general distrust, at least among the people I have spoken to, concerning the true intent of the government. This is due in many ways to the fractured nature of our nation, and the fact that many of us seem to belong to one group or other no doubt. But I think the history of this nation is also a part of it. To be sure the Civil war has never really left the memory of some Americans. For whatever their feelings of that war, there is still the general feeling that this nation can once again go down that same path even if it would mean a cataclysm of violence and disorder. Still the feeling is there and it seems to require some assurance that should things go bad, really, there is some recourse for ordinary citizens. To be sure, many, if not most of all gun owners, are good, honest, law abiding citizens who have no criminal intent or general malice. In the end, the majority of these are just afraid. Uncertain of the future and for this reason they feel the need to protect themselves in the event the government cannot.
Redistribution of Wealth
Another predominant theme among gun owners seems to be that there are those who are being given preferential treatment by the government and there seems to be a constant fear that these people who have preferential treatment are one day going to given the rights to the gun owners property and wealth. A part of the formula for this underlying fear, or reason given for gun ownership is that one day there might be a forced redistribution of wealth with or without a public referendum. And of course the specter of the Civil War once again appears. A government that unfairly forces a division of property on the people. That there are other factors and attitudes along with this goes without saying, and that some of these attitudes and ideas lean towards the extreme is also true in many cases, but in the end it seems that the clearest, most honest reason given is simply a distrust of the government and a lack of confidence that our government can maintain a just, and democratic order for all of the people.
The general feeling is that one day the government will turn on those who have property or have individual freedom and do with them whatever nefarious deeds the government can do. Again, its a matter of trust or lack thereof. And it is not as if this distrust is new. In many cases it seems to be a long standing, almost traditional view developed from generation to generation. The common view of America as the land for all peoples here seems to take on a nightmarish shade of fear and deep distrust as to the motives of both fellow Americans and the government which is supposed to represent us all. Guns are the “guarantor” of that freedom and right to property, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Racism and Fear of the Other
There is also, sometimes, a tinge of racism. In as far as this applies to Whites, or those who consider themselves “white” there is sometimes a general feeling that whites in this nation are going to be one day victimized by those of darker blood. At times this notion seems absurd in some people I have spoken to, and paranoid in its root, but at other times it seems a perfectly honest belief that there may one day be an open hostility against the present majority. These have often pointed out that there is a changing of the guard in America as more and more Asians, and South Americans enter the nation, as well as the increased liberation experienced by Black Americans. There is a feeling among some that the nation is going to become hostile to the majority ethnic groups, and in many cases it is not merely an extreme view as an extreme view, but what is perceived as being an honest view, “reasonable” view that Whites are seen as targets due to past perceived injustices. In part therefore, many white gun owners seem to feel there is a danger of being overcome by those who are of another race, or ethnic condition and that the government might not protect their rights. This is not something that most will admit to publicly, but privately a few do feel this way and thus feel that should their rights not be honored by a future government or should they become victims of an unjust political movement in the future, their only recourse would be to fight for their freedoms. Though this sounds extreme, and indeed is extreme, still there are some who feel this way and who hold on to their guns because of these perceptions of the present evolution of America.
The question however, is why this should be? Has the government perhaps failed in some way to make a better show of its intentions? Though these perceptions are not justified, still we must ask has the government failed to present a just intention to these people and if this is the reason these people continue to demand a right to own guns? Can the government do more to alleviate these fears, rational or not, in order to alleviate the desire for destructive weapons? The question at least should be asked.
Minority Gun Owners Have their Own Fears
Contrary to the perceptions given in the general media, there are many minority gun owners, and their fears are little different from those of the majority. Though minorities don’t seem to get the political spotlight as much as white gun owners, there is a large segment of the minority population which does own guns. Their reasons seem to be a general fear of either the police, the government, the ethnic majority, or else the criminal element which they are exposed to.
I have rarely heard a black man for example site a fear of white’s as the cause for his having a gun, then again, to be honest, I would not expect to hear an answer like that, since I am perceived as a white man asking a black man why he might have a gun. True, there is a general vague feeling that the government, which is percieved as “white” may one day limit the freedom of blacks, or Hispanics. This general reason, has to my knowledge some strong grounds, but more keenly, it seems to be a constant fear of either the police specifically, or the criminal element that is given as the primary reason for why minorities own guns- often times contrary to the law’s requirements since many live in large cities where gun ownership is prohibited.
Yet the more one listens to Black Americans especially, there is indeed a deep rooted fear of both the government and the Majority’s intentions. It rarely escapes a Black man that there are those who would perhaps be inclined to support the Confederate South even today, and beyond the constant battles with the police, and the perceived corruption of the police by many Black Americans, there is still a deep distrust of the government. In the end it seems very much as if many Black Americans feel that without guns, they cannot be safe since their rights are little protected by those who should protect them. This is the general feeling, I am not here saying that I agree or disagree, but in general there is a deep distrust of government in the case of Black Americans as well and this is given as one of the chief reasons for owning guns.
Therefore, from what I have been able to discern, on a personal level, from speaking with many different people over the years about gun ownership, there is a generally strong distrust of the present social order, or in the government’s ability to maintain order as the chief reason for having a gun, either legally, or illegally.
“What if something happens and there is no order?”
Perhaps the best answer I have heard however came from an old man who lived around my neighborhood, and whom I had known for many years. He being a survivor of the Nazi occupation of Greece had a very clear, concise reason for having a gun. He experienced the worst of situations as a boy during the German occupation of Greece and it left an indelible impression on him. When I asked him why he had a gun, he said simply, “what if something happens here, and there is no law? What then?”
This explanation of his for some reason is the clearest that I have ever gotten from anyone possessing a gun. “What if there is no order anymore?” I guess, the man, having experienced a total degeneration of order back in Greece during the second world war cannot ever feel safe again. He can never trust the government to maintain his freedom, ever again. Though this would seem a specific inclination from a man who experienced degeneration first hand, in the end it seems to underline and clarify the reason why just about all gun owners give for having a gun. What if there is a degeneration of order? Who would protect them?
I remember after speaking with this man in particular, perhaps because he is an old, and exceedingly disciplined old man whom I do respect and admire fundamentally, I was left asking myself a most fundamental question: What if for any given reason order were to collapse, would I be safe? Would my family be safe? Can the government ever really guarantee my safety? In all those queries the answer that came up, repeatedly and insistently was no! In the end, as we have seen with 911, and with Hurricane Sandy, there is always the possibility that one day, our certainty, our basic order of life can change in the blink of an eye. If one day, a large natural disaster were to hit a major city, for at least sometime afterwards, all order would be gone, and anyone left would be subject to the will of those who never listened to the government and kept their own protection. This is reality. Natural or man made disasters can happen anytime and as we have seen, oftentimes the government in either slow to restore order, or in some cases, unable to restore order. If such a condition were ever to arise, the only safety would be in having a gun.
I began to ask myself what was the real intention of the founding fathers in enacting the second amendment anyway? Did they really intend for all of us to have guns? Did they really want us all to be part of an organized militia? My conclusion, the way I read the second amendment is that in fact the founding fathers seem to be referring to the ability of a state to defend itself, and not for that everyone should own a gun-though everyone did own a gun back then. For many years, I really did not buy the idea that anyone should have a gun as I understood the first amendment at first reading. I felt that the government should have the sole responsibility of protecting all individuals and that allowing individuals to “protect” themselves is a dangerous state of affairs to be in. People should not have to protect themselves in a civilized state, there should be an “organized militia” that is fully authorized to do that for them. But in due time, after much more consideration, I had to look again, and reassess the meaning of this most disputed of all amendments.
When all is said and done, I don’t feel that individual citizens should in a civilized society have large arsenals of weapons. Indeed some people I have known have not one gun, but enough to arm a small militia. Some are gun collectors, others just buy one after another and like cats, the guns tend to pile up. But in the end, in a truly civilized society I cannot see a good reason to have such arsenals, or even one gun for that matter. And if indeed a gun were to be possessed by someone in a civilized society it might indeed be for nothing more than sport, or perhaps a hobby and nothing else. Yet, from my experience this is not usually the reason given in personal conversations I have had over the years.
The police should be enough to protect the citizens from any harm. Yet, much that we see today tells us that at present we do not have a fully capable protective authority. There are too many holes in our present system and time after time we see evidence of this.
Perhaps the government has failed to convince people that it is safe to be without a gun for their personal protection. Perhaps the fundamental error lies not with the gun owners, but with our political system, which time and again has failed to convince people of its trustworthiness. In the end I cannot in good conscience say that those who have guns are “wrong” and must be punished for having them because the government has rarely shown its trustworthiness. The government has rarely stood on principle, but almost always on the politics of the moment. The government just has not done its part to project a safe stable, just system of protection for the individual no matter what is claimed by the government itself or the media.
In the end all we can say is that we have a government which has time and again undermined its own most sacred principles. Indeed, we are in a situation right now, as of this moment, where we may well be facing bankruptcy as a nation. In fact if we were a principled nation with a principled government we would indeed be forced to declare bankruptcy because in reality we do not have enough money to pay our debts. We are essentially existing on printed, manufactured money.
When we look to the “preppers” the survivalists who prepare for the end of our government, their number one reason for distrust is the government’s potential insolvency. So indeed, the terrible truth is that we live in a time of such uncertainty, and so great a loss of true principle, that individual citizens cannot trust their own government to project or maintain order. And until such time as individuals regain a solid trust and true respect for their own government it is very unlikely that there will be a strong will to do away with gun ownership. Though once again, there is really no place for guns in a truly “civilized” stable society. This is a civilized person’s dilemma, and it really shouldn’t be.