On gun-nuttery

It’s identity politics; it’s a reaction to the negative identity politics of the gun-control groups; it’s about self-reliance; and (in the form of hunting) it’s the only form in which a manly man can practice nature-meditation.

I think Mike is missing the point of gun-nuttery. A gun is symbol of self-reliance. A rifle means being able to feed yourself. A handgun means being able to defend yourself. (Yes, yes, I know, it shouldn’t really count unless you made the weapon and the ammunition yourself from metal you smelted yourself in a forge you made yourself, but we’re dealing with symbolism here.)

It is a fact of human life, as Orwell pointed out, that we all depend on people with weapons to defend us from other people who might want to kill us or take our stuff. But dependency has always been problematic for America, the land of self-reliance. (Yes, yes, I know, Emerson was talking about rejecting religious dogma, not making your own living, but the two reflect a common root desire.) Naturally, we despise “navel-gazing;” the point of that Hindu meditative practice is to remind yourself that, however “self-made” you may be socially and economically, as a biological fact you were dependent on another for your very existence; your navel is physical evidence that you were fed through the umbilical cord for several months.

As Mike notices, hunting is the only form in which a manly man can practice nature-meditation. I didn’t understand that until I heard a hunter talk about standing still in the woods at sunrise, watching the snowflakes fall, and understood that he felt he’d had a successful hunting trip though no one actually shot, or even shot at, anything.

Gun-nuttery is also, of course, part of the identity politics of rural white males, especially in the south and the mountain west. And gun-nuttery partly grows out of anti-gun-nuttery, which is another form of largely identity politics. (As late as the early 1960s, the NRA was still largely a collection of hunters rather than an arm of the Republican National Committee.) It’s as hard to talk sense about the actual effects of gun availability on crime to someone from the Brady Campaign as it is to talk sense about the actual effects of drug policy to someone from the Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education. All they know is that Guns Are Bad, and that it’s essential to make everyone else understand that Guns Are Bad. It’s not really surprising that people who have other reasons for being strongly attached to their guns react badly to such disrespect, combined with a desire to make their hobby illegal; compare NRA literature with literature from the Drug Policy Alliance.

Of course Mike is right that Giuliani looks like an idiot comparing the Second Amendment to the First Amendment after his career-long devotion to gun control. But then Giuliani generally looks like an idiot, and so far no one on the Republican side seems to care and no one in the national press corps seems to have noticed.


It’s true that if we had 10% as many firearms in private hands as is now the case, we’d have fewer homicides. But it’s not true that reaching 90% of the current level would matter at all, unless the reduction came among people likely to use guns to commit crimes. One of the reasons Al Gore isn’t finishing his second term as President is that he endorsed national gun registration (to compete with Bill Bradley in the New Jersey primary) even though all of the benefits of registration save annoying gun owners could have been achieved with much less controversial measures. That move cost him West Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida, and maybe Tennessee.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com