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Friday, October 19, 2012

Gun Ownership as a Vehicle of Expression

Fundamental to dealing with the gun issue is coming to terms with the symbolic nature of weapons. Weapons serve to augment human power and telegraph to others that “I'm not a pushover....I'm not someone to be toyed with.” The intended audience for this message is in no way limited only to those who represent an impending physical threat. Whether in the home or workplace weapon ownership and participating in the practice of hunting serve to solidify in the mind of others (and those who seek it as a form of self-expression) that here is a person that does not tolerate nonsense. Therefore, in the case of a father with children in the home, there can be a dampening effect on the children's expression of disrespect or insubordination when it dawns upon them that their dad is not vulnerable or weak, but is a sure-footed, gun-toting hombre. Likewise at work, a supervisor with pictures of hunting exploits on his desk telegraphs a similar message. We have seen political figures use a hunting reputation to suggest (however nonsensical it may be) that they do not stand for nonsense.

In America we view self-expression and self-defense as natural rights bestowed by God, not government. Thus, no one is entitled to stand between me and my God-given right to bear arms. A sane approach to gun ownership in a crowded society will come only when self-expression as a dimension of gun ownership is directly addressed. Since guns are a vehicle for self-expression with implications far beyond the actual realized use of deadly force, successful and effective gun control will come only when the powerful, symbolic nature of gun ownership is explicitly explored.

I have a mentally challenged friend who lives independently but is monitored and assisted by case workers. Over the years time and again he has wanted to own a gun to realize the benefits of a no-nonsense “don't tread on me” persona. With reluctance, his case workers have allowed him to own swords and stun guns, but are adamant in their opposition to gun ownership. The obvious reason is that they sense that situations might arise where he would not be able to coolly and rationally handle deadly force of such decisive magnitude. I identify with my friend in many ways and refuse for similar reasons to keep a loaded gun in the top drawer of my bedroom. I can readily visualize scenarios where I would not handle such power well. In many ways, this is like a nation with vast military power. It sometimes proves impossible to differentiate a reasoned policy of self-defense from the urgent drive for self-expression. Certainly in these matters we can never stray too far from a realistic view of human nature with its subliminal imperatives of fear and passion. The God-given rights to self-defense and self-expression are not, should not, and cannot be unlimited.

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