Liberals use gun control to claim cultural superiority

Guns by ID1974 /

Article Highlights

  • Gun control efforts are largely a culture-war offensive.

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  • The gun's symbolism is strong for the gun culture, and it's just as strong for the gun control culture.

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  • Gun control, it turns out, is largely culture control.

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Gun control efforts are largely a culture-war offensive by liberals who dislike the parts of America that own guns and love guns. This meddling motivation shines through in the rhetoric of gun control advocates and in the laws they push.

For many gun owners, the firearm is not merely a tool for the practical purpose of self-defense. Nor is it simply recreational equipment, like a golf club. It's a cultural signifier, and a totem of a worldview.

Dan Baum, a Jewish liberal who wears turtlenecks but also owns guns, writes in his new book, "Gun Guys," that firearms in America have long represented "a worldview that, broadly defined, valued the individual over the collective, vigorous outdoorsiness over pallid intellectualism, certainty over questioning ... "

The gun's symbolism is strong for the gun culture, and it's just as strong for the gun control culture. Recall how liberals have argued for gun laws since the Sandy Hook massacre last December.

Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball," asserted that gun rights advocates aren't "normal people," they have no "other interests," and they are uninterested in their wives or kids.

After Sandy Hook, when liberals wrote and spoke about guns and geography, rather than about on poverty-filled cities where gun violence is concentrated, they typically focused on the South. "The South is the most violent region in the United States," a Washington Post article proclaimed.

Congressman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., said in January, "Some of the southern areas have cultures that we have to overcome."

MSNBC contributor Joy Reid wrote on Twitter in December that she was "getting a little tired of this meme that we have to have the rural South's permission to legislate on guns. The Union won. Get over it."

Wherever they live, gun owners are unwashed, flag-waving, philistines -- at least in the eyes of many liberals.

The Post's Gene Weingarten in 2011 spat on the Second Amendment as "the refuge of bumpkins and yeehaws who like to think they are protecting their homes against imagined swarthy marauders desperate to steal their flea-bitten sofas from their rotting front porches."

After Columbine, a Boston Herald op-ed described the average participant in a 1999 Boston Common pro-gun rally as a wannabe "hicksville cowboy, as in way out there, somewhere off the Mass Pike or at the far reaches of 93. From towns with something to prove and lots of Amvets posts."

And President Obama in 2008 famously told a wealthy crowd at a San Francisco fundraiser that rural voters "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them ... "

Well, the "antipathy toward people who aren't like them" clearly is mutual.

In "Gun Guys," Baum -- a true-blue liberal -- says that what gun control "did best was express disapproval of a lifestyle and the culture that enjoyed it."

Liberals, Baum writes, "recognized the gun as the sacred totem of the enemy, the embodiment of this abhorrent world view. They believed that they could weaken the enemy by smashing his idols -- by banning the gun if possible ... "

Many liberals hate it that some conservatives have a different set of values, morals and aesthetics -- and so these liberals want to use the federal government to fix that.

This comes across in the proposed legislation, too. Why do Democratic politicians go after semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15, so-called "assault rifles"? It's not because AR-15s are used in most killings -- they aren't. Rifles represent 3 percent of all gun deaths where the weapon is known, according to FBI data. The 1994 "assault weapons ban" did little or nothing to save lives.

There are two reasons to target AR-15s, and neither is good. First, "assault weapons" are used in mass killings, which are both more newsworthy and more realistic-seeming to a white suburbanite. Second, AR-15s are, by far, the favorite gun of legal gun buyers.

"Assault rifles," writes Baum, "were just as powerful symbolically as they were ballistically. A renewed assault-rifle ban would really smash the enemy's idols."

Also, when speaking about sales without background checks, gun controllers always refer to "gun shows." Most guns used in murders aren't bought at gun shows -- they're stolen or bought on the street. But gun shows are large gatherings of the "gun tribe" -- and so they must be shut down.

The White House clearly realizes that gun control can become a culture war, and so Obama has taken steps to diffuse this perception. He put Joe "Six Pack" Biden in charge of the effort and tried to rope in Wal-Mart.

Gun control, it turns out, is largely culture control.

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Timothy P.
  • Timothy P. Carney helps direct AEI’s Culture of Competition Project, which examines barriers to competition in all areas of American life, from the economy to the world of ideas. Carney has over a decade of experience as a journalist covering the intersection of politics and economics. His work at AEI focuses on how to reinvigorate a competitive culture in America in which all can reap the benefits of a fair economy.


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