Let’s talk about guns. It’s all the rage. Everyone is doing it. Hand guns, assault rifles, high capacity magazines. It’s very exciting and a quick “gun store online” Google search yields a bounty of “Shoot now pay later!” results (179 million). So many choices. So much to discuss.
It’s all very American to be sure, this ultimate freedom of ownership, freedom being the big issue. Google “Freedom in America” and you get a whopping 1 billion plus results. Compare it to “Freedom in the UK’ (483 million), “Freedom in France” (106 million), or “Freedom in Syria” (88 million) and you see a clear disparity. Granted, these are not scientific results, but like it or not Google has become the measure by which we quickly evaluate a topic’s worth.
Gun ownership inevitably comes up in any discussion of freedom in the US, umbilically linked to what it means to be American. Guns are part and parcel of the American myth, wrapped up in the entrepreneurial, brash, optimistic if a tad naïve and lacking in history, image of Americans that is stereotypically upheld by others.
But myth, as we all know, is not fact.
Myth, as metaphor, exists to teach us how to live in, and make sense of, the world. Creation myths provide an existential sense of security, regardless of whether the world was created in 6 days by some almighty being (Judeo-Christian), is a result of Father Sky and Mother Earth being pried apart by a frustrated son (Maori), or the product of a turtle’s mud-covered back (Iriquois). Other myths offer caution. The Greeks are particularly notable in this, with everyone from Icarus to Prometheus warning us to behave.
But if myths exist to show us the path, how does the American myth navigate today’s world? The Asian Century is upon us. America seems culturally irrelevant, barely worthy of note to our friends in the east save as a cheap shopping destination (fire sale at that!). And what do we do? We talk about guns, although who can blame us? We do live in the shadow of many a brave soul known for their conquering nature. And what are guns if not a symbol of our subjugation of others? Be it Daniel Boone, Paul Revere, or George Custer, their myth is one of utter defiance, be it of nature, government, or even people.
It appears, though, that we have become slaves to this mythology, blindly clutching at something that has lost its relevance. I propose a new myth, of my own creation. In this tale a gun-toting Ichabod builds a wall around himself, built entirely of firearms. He calls his wall Freedom and protects it from all who dare approach. As his wall grows, so declines Ichabod’s sense of others, for they are obscured by his dedication to his own freedom. Finally, Ichabod is crushed as his self-imposed prison collapses, barely noticed by the rest of the world that has long since moved on.
This, I fear, is what is happening as we rage on about our freedoms and liberties. We toss these terms around, hell bent on protecting the tired catch phrases of the past rather than committing ourselves to a healthy future. All this talk about 2nd amendment rights, civil liberties and what our founding fathers meant is so mired in yesteryear as to be profoundly un-American. I thought this was a nation of innovators and forward thinking individuals. So what’s this obsession with the past? And why must we cling to outdated ideas simply because the constitution and its amendments say so? No wonder the country is stagnating.
Perhaps the American myth can be saved, though, simply by recognizing the mythical industrious nature of Americans, that is the power to reinvent. Isn’t that what has driven countless immigrant to these illustrious shores, myself among them? Reinvention, rather than blind steadfastness, is the key to progress. China did it. Korea did it. Other countries would be advised to follow suit, the US among them. But alas the US is not a follower. Or maybe that’s just another myth that needs debunking (oh Kyoto Protocol, where art thou?).
Yet as we scuffle in the ashes of a defunct world-view should we not recognize that this too has its base in myth. Something about a bird, I think. And fire. And rebirth.