Historically what is life on a frontier like? It is usually unsettled, without the secure rule of law. In the case of the United State, the frontier was a semi-militarized place with an enemy just over the horizon, violence common, and guns for just about every settler. Out of this environment grew the perverse ideal of power and freedom embodied in the “rugged individual” who uses force (coming literally out of the barrel of a gun) to tame an “uncivilized” world and thereby obtain what he needs and protect what he has. That heritage might partly explain why, out of a population (as of 2011) of 311,591,91, there are an estimated 270,000,000 firearms in the hands of the civilian population.
Gun culture was an integral part of the frontier culture and is still, for many Americans, symbolic of their personal liberty. But in the end the gun is only a device through which to wield power and it is power that Americans aspire to above all. It is their “manifest destiny.” Too many Americans see themselves as exceptional: blessed by God, expert practitioners of free enterprise, and the people who really know what freedom and rights are all about. And, in the process of using power to demonstrate this exceptional status, both as individuals and as a nation, they consistently make a bloody mess.~ from On Killing Children (and Others) by Lawrence Davidson ~
I have continued to ponder why America is such a violent nation and I think Davidson provides the key in the snippet shown above. By and large, Americans feel impotent and, when a person or group feels impotent, what is a likely response? You try to exert a degree of power. A gun gives you that sense of power.
If I have a gun, a lot of people think, then no one will mess with me. I can do what I want -- individual liberty -- and no one can stop me. This sentiment has been further ensconced by passage of "Stand Your Ground" laws. Now, if someone ticks you off, you legally can shoot them provided you remember to say you somehow felt "threatened."
While gun control legislation would be helpful in lessening the number of assault rifles and high volume magazine clips that find their way into private hands, neither strategy by itself or together will lessen the amount of violence that grips this nation. If we seriously want to tackle this spreading disease, then we must address the root cause of the problem by asking ourselves: Why do average Americans feel so powerless?
The sad part is that we already know the answers. We live in a nation with high unemployment, growing poverty, lack of adequate health care, people losing their homes, basic services being cut or eliminated, and a political system bought and paid for by the egregiously wealthy. These are among the variety of reasons that most American are overwhelmed by a feeling of utter and complete impotence.
Until we address these issues in a meaningful and productive way, Americans will cling to their guns as a symbolic vestige of the personal freedom a person felt in our frontier days.