“Hoplophobia,” Not “Gun Culture” Is the Problem

As the usual suspects enter into the steps of the gun-control dance once more, the ringing tones of “shall not be infringed!” and the admonition of “well-regulated” will sound again from sea to shining sea, and across the reaches of the internet.

Since, at this point, every sentient citizen has already hashed those arguments out in his own mind and to his own satisfaction, I’d like to propose consideration of words which the Founders did not include in the Second Amendment—words which they would never have thought to include, because to them, with their sense of history, their classical educations and their own life experiences, the words were too obvious.

Here’s my attempt at an amplified version.

A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state (and such a militia, to be plausible at all, depending on a population in which many men are comfortable in the handling of weapons, and all men recognize that the security of their society is not the responsibility of some special and different class of people but primarily of themselves—and since the development both of the skills for fighting when necessary, and the attitude that security is one’s OWN responsibility, necessitate the availability of personal weapons to free men), the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The Founding Fathers were not trying to protect hunting weapons, at least not as a primary motive; nor were they, primarily, trying to ensure that the citizens had the tools of revolt ready at hand. The Second Amendment was, rather, about the kind of person a free citizen is. The Anglo-American citizen soldier tradition—the one which had produced the lowborn British archers who decimated French chivalry—was their cultural inheritance. So, too, was the Greek ideal of the part-time hoplite, proud of his skill at arms and his readiness to defend his city-state at need. The access of free men to arms allowed them to be a resource which strengthened the state itself—not necessarily because they would use the weapons they owned, when the time came to fight, but because in knowing how and knowing why they might, they were the type of citizens who took ownership of their society’s security.

This was the idea behind the United States’ Civilian Marksmanship Program, founded in 1903 with the strong support of President Theodore Roosevelt and Secretary of War Elihu Root. What a waste, thought they, that in a free society, high-quality rifles should be locked away for emergencies while young men had nothing to shoot. The lack of cultivation of martial skills in the youth was in fact a slow-motion emergency, in the minds of men like Roosevelt and Boy Scout founder Lord Baden-Powell (whose organization was sparked by his conviction that British youth were not being prepared to be good soldiers, with their soft, modern 20th century upbringings). The availability of civilian arms was to be promoted, to cultivate the virtues of the protectors of society—in ordinary people.

This dynamic is now largely forgotten as we argue about the availability of arms in terms of reducing danger, in one direction or another. (The risk of murder tends actually to go down with an increase in legal firearms…no, no, I’m not doing that argument again; those who have ears to hear it, already have—and those who do not, never will.) What we do not concern ourselves enough with, is the decline in our citizens’ investment in the idea of being free people.

Predators and victims alike have been socialized to the idea that weapons are simply tools of murder—not designed for the defense of others and certainly not for the cultivation of civic virtues. A child of 1940, picking up a toy revolver, became in his imagination a Western hero in the Hopalong Cassidy mode, a figure of plain speech and chivalry; a child of 2018, if he has not been socialized in a manner contrary to general media influences and to the default zeitgeist respecting firearms, might much more easily imagine himself a monster—a gangsta rapper, a mass shooter, a figure of fear and intimidation, bound by no code of honor and able to impose his will.

There is danger in such daydreams, empowering though they doubtless are—and that danger is not just the horrifying massacres which occur. The long-term attitude of the person horrified by weapons because of these reflexive mental associations, is also damaging to society. Abdicating any responsibility for self-defense, leaving the use of force in the hands of professionals, is historically a very bad idea—and ignores the fact that those who DO have the weapons are going to be products of the same hoplophobic society; the elite class who is entrusted with the weapons is most likely, in such circumstances, to see them simply as tools of power and, eventually, superiority.

On the other hand, the young person socialized to acceptance of, and familiarity with, weapons as part of a good citizen’s life, will be far less likely to trend either towards morbid fascination or toward visceral terror. And in the nightmarish circumstances of a shooting, such a citizen will not only be less rattled, but he may have a very useful feel for reloading procedures or targeting challenges, which allows him to foil an attacker effectively. A good guy who knows his way around guns, has more to work with (even when unarmed) than mere good intentions.

What’s more, he will bring to his political behavior, a sense of ownership and responsibility. A firearm is both a right and a responsibility; so is a vote. If we’re not raising people mature enough for both, it’s hard to see how they could really be considered mature enough for either one.


A Litany for Heroes

Son, a young man of kindness and wisdom,
Is what I hope I’ve raised you to be—

And of honor. Now, I’m going to tell you some names
To remember. Repeat after me.

“Robert Engle, the Tennessee usher.
Todd Beamer, of Flight 93.

Alec Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone—
Against murderers, that’s who I’ll be.”

You can Google those names, if you need to.
Other names might have served just as well.

One and all, they were men (trained or not) who fought back
When an adversary unleashed hell.

Son, we live in a world of deep hatreds.
Some of them are directed our way.

Don’t go looking for trouble—but if it finds you,
Then recall what I’ve told you today.

In your heart keep mercy and compassion,
In your belly—a guttural shout;

For when if innocent lives are at stake you
Must not hesitate. Take the threat OUT.

Against murder, seize any advantage.
Grab a weapon, if one is nearby;

But as Patton said, you won’t strike fear by the gleam
Of a blade—but the gleam in your eye.

At the side of the neck’s a good target,
Right there, where you feel the pulse—see?

That’s a start . . . Learn more, from better teachers
But recall your first lesson, from me.

Don’t remember the names of the killers;
Blot them out, let them rot in their shame.

Learn the heroes. And choose: “Live or die, win or lose,
“If it’s me next—I’m adding my name.”

“Robert Engle, the Tennessee usher.
Todd Beamer, on Flight 93.
Alec Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone—
Against murderers, that’s who I’ll be.”

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