FLOTSAM & JETSAM: What gun owners and gays can teach us about America

Monday, July 23, 2012

What gun owners and gays can teach us about America

 Sam Smith

During Maine’s last referendum campaign for gay marriage, I argued that gays should form a lobby called Gays for Guns to help their battle. After all in a state with high gun ownership (and low murders) and whose largest city has been rated the 8th gayest in the country by the Advocate, it would have been a coalition that would have been hard to beat.

Of course, the idea went nowhere. After all, liberalism has become more obsessed with self-righteousness than with collective progress.

Yet gays and gun owners have a lot in common. They are classic cases of subcultures that the American Constitution was meant to protect but are constantly treated as a danger to the Republic, the former by the right and the latter by liberals.

Such behavior is par for the course in the case of the right, but for liberals it is another reflection of how far their cause has moved from seeking the best for the most towards a form of elite fundamentalism in which their cause has become a club that is harder and harder to join. In fact, if today’s liberals had been calling the shots, much of the New Deal and Great Society policies would not have passed because they would have pissed off too many people.

Once one accepts the right wing assumption that freedom is properly defined by a church or community, its compass inevitably contracts based on the wishes of those with the most power. And one moves dramatically away from what America was meant to be about, which is to say a place where people who disagreed, or lived and behaved differently, could still reside in concord. Liberty was to be reciprocal, which is to say that I can’t have my freedom unless you have yours. Or as my father used to tell us, “You don’t have to like your relatives, you just have to be nice to them.”

I sometimes tell people that if they oppose gay marriage, then don’t marry a gay. The same thing can be said about guns: if you don’t like them, don’t shoot them.

What this requires, however, is a concept that has seemed to disappeared in the American language: tolerance. Yet without it, you inevitably drift towards a land in which more and more people are mad at others and, in the end, liberty becomes a privilege of power rather than a shared virtue.

I was reminded of this the other morning listening to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes grumping about guns in the wake of the Aurora shootings. He and his guests struck me as people who would much rather feel superior to much of America than care about getting it to vote for Obama. Yet when your guy can’t get out of statistical tiedom with Romney, it’s not the best time to anger everyone who owns a gun.

I don’t own a gun, never have. But I have friends who do, live in a state which treats the gun as an admirable icon, and like a lot of people who feel that way including my late father-in-law, an avid duck hunter.

I also know that much of the argument for further gun control doesn’t match the facts. Violence is far more a reflection of culture than of the availability of a particular weapon.

I also live in a land where lots of people do things I don’t care for including playing golf, excessively loud rock, prissy restaurant menus, and believing that a place called heaven is going to solve all your problems.

But I also grew up at time when we had another name for Christian fundamentalists and gun owners; we called them Democrats. Politics was about getting people to do the right thing on election day; what they did the rest of the year was their own damn business.

And it worked. So the new fundie liberals could do us a big favor and shut up about guns at least until after the polls close in November. After all, it’s not likely that a President Romney would help their cause much.