Is your Gun a Tool, a Weapon or a Stand-In for Something Else?
[I thought I was done with my Violence Series, but this topic question came up.[i] For more in the series go to Violence in Entertainment]
Listening to those defending their supposed right to keep guns without any hint of regulation, I begin to wonder what purpose that gun is intended to serve. Is their gun a tool, a weapon or a stand-in for something else?[ii]
A tool is an implement, usually held in the hand, used as a means of accomplishing a task. It is an extension of the arm of the user. It expands the ability of the user. You can dig without a shovel, but it is more efficient with a shovel. A gun can also be a tool. It expands the user’s ability to hunt or defend oneself.[iii]
A weapon exists to inflict damage or harm on living beings, structures or systems. A stick, hammer or fork can become a weapon, though the word weapon is really reserved for those devices designed and constructed with the sole intent of inflicting damage. A difference between a tool and a weapon is the potentiality to do harm. It is a potential that not only expands the user’s ability but also lives outside the user.[iv] A favorite phrase is: “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yes, in all but the rarest cases the gun will not fire itself. Yet, this statement minimizes the inherent power and potentiality of a weapon. And, the more lethal, the more firepower the more inherent power the weapon has. [v]
A weapon contains the potential to inflict harm beyond its parts. Pistols, Rifles and Assault Weapons become a stand in or a symbol for much more. This symbolism is what is at stake in the gun control debate.[vi] The right to bear arms, own a personal arsenal of guns, or National Rifle Association’s insistence on absolutely no gun control has more to do with symbolism than real threat. The other sides’ assumptions about guns and gun owners are also mired in thick symbolism.
Guns make you feel powerful. There’s no way to get around it.[vii] When you hold a gun, the power transfers to you, changes you. It goes beyond the boost a tool gives to a user. The potential power of a gun is perceptively transferred to the gun user. This tool power and potential weapon power conjoin with a symbolic power amplifying the user’s psyche. You feel more powerful, invincible and dominant. You feel in control. You feel an increased sense of individuality, independence and sovereignty. You are master of your world.
This country was taken by force from those who lived here before. The possession of firearms was important to the Europeans ability to conquer the Native Americans. The United States were born when citizens used their fire arms to overthrow a repressive government. We were brought up on the Patriot myth along with the myth of the lone gunman. He had his horse, his pistol and rifle. This gave him independence and power. Guns become an emblem or token of being in power and independent. Having powerful guns and an arsenal of weapons inflates the individuals sense of his own self worth and power.
While we might not have an immediate need for a well regulated militia, the Twenty-first century has hazards that demand the hoarding of weapons. Leaving the Modern era and venturing into what is coming Next, structures and norms that developed from the advent of humans through the last four centuries are breaking down. Power structures that have been firmly in the hands of the European male are shifting. The transition from the agrarian to the industrial has lead to the new knowledge age and is transitioning again. Women and minorities are finding equality with the white patriarchy. This is particularly frightening to previously dominant white, Anglo-Saxon, rural males. Dramatic change encourages the challenged to hunker down and defend their rights. The feeling is that their group is being marginalized in this society. The hoarding of guns compensates for a perceived loss of power and autonomy. The fear is that the change will cause their very death. It is working on a mythic level that is unconscious to those who are experiencing it.
Rising minorities and women are also arming themselves. The guns become their tools to force the change more quickly.
The lack of a clear Rite of Passage for our youth is also adding to the obsession with guns and violence. Our youth, both male and female, no longer have a trial to transition from children to adults. While it is hard to advocate for universal military draft or another war that conscripts the majority of youth, in the past the military aided in this transition in the same way primitive societies set Rites of Passage for their adolescents.
Change is coming. The Destroyer archetype is active. In our mythic journey, we must all take a turn as the Destroyer. The Destroyer ultimately brings about change, growth, metamorphosis. And yet, change is initially met with fear and fighting. When confronted by the need to change there are a couple of ways to dance with Destroyer. One way is through personnel destruction leading to addiction to food, sex, alcohol or drugs. Another way is through subjugation to a higher being, belief or religion larger than you. Another way is to identify with the Destroyer by embracing weapons. While the call is to embrace the change with acceptance and humility, the journey through the Destroyer Archetype contains levels of personal and societal destruction. An association with weapons feeds the journey through the Destroyer. The hope is that the individual journeying through the Destroyer Archetype accepts mortality and change before being destroyed.
If these very real fears were not active, we have compounded the fear and the supposed solution by becoming expert at selling the power and titillation of guns. It is easy to indict the entertainment industry for ramping up the symbolism of firearms. However, I think the greatest culprit might be capitalism and its favorite squeeze, advertising. We sell guns as freedom, manhood and individual strength with the idea of guns. We have become expert at selling the symbolism of firearms to ourselves.[viii]
Years ago, I picked up a .357 Magnum Revolver. I remember thinking, it’s so heavy. It was. It was so much more than tool or a weapon. It had power and holding it, I had power. It was a symbol and stand in for something else.
[i] This post has a lot of endnotes. I tried to keep the argument barreling forward without running off on tangents, but this issue is so complex I kept veering off. Below are whole sections that I removed from the main:
[ii] I wrote this next bit for a previous post, I re-post it as an endnote since it is fundamental to my stance on this topic: Ok, the Second Amendment to the Constitution states:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
What I don’t get is that the Second Amendment doesn’t actually allow individuals to freely own and possess Arms. It allows for well regulated Militias to keep and bear Arms. The Bill of Rights doesn’t give me the right to have an arsenal of guns that are not regulated. However, I do have the right to participate in a community Militia with the sole purpose of maintaining a free state. This gives the militia the responsibility and authority to own and store arms, which would include guns, rocket launchers, tanks, F-16 fighter planes, and possibly nukes. These are to be used against enemies foreign and domestic, including a tyrannical government if necessary. (The bar for a Tyrannical Government would have to be one that defies the rule of law. Which no matter how much I hated the outcome of Bush v. Gore or the Tea Partiers want to accuse Obama to taking away their government, we haven’t seen the breakdown of the rule of law.) To protect our freedoms, our militias should be as well armed as our army. You might remember that the Revolutionary War began when the British sought to capture the armories at Concord and Lexington. The Civil War was fought by armies made up of state militias. I don’t want or see a need to have a gun in my house, but I would support and pay monthly dues to arm the well regulated Culver City Progressive militia as a deterrent to an overreaching government that would take away our freedoms.
In 2008, the Supreme Court made a decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller. It reinterpreted the Second Amendment to allow the individual’s right to keep and bear arms outside of participation in a militia. In my opinion this decision was one of the most egregious examples of the Court revisionism. It was a five four decision written by Scalia. While he accuses liberal justices of activism, he rewrites the Bill of Rights claiming he knows the mind of the authors.
We have to get a license for practically everything we do that could cause harm to others, why not firearms? A safety class, test, insurance and penalties for misuse would be in order. Those Congressmen and the NRA who ignore the term “well regulated” are the ones misreading their beloved 2nd Amendment.
[iii] For a hunter, the gun is a tool to hunt. If the task is to kill the deer for food, a rifle is an efficient tool. While some folks want to ban hunting (and I feel that hunting with a long bow evens the playing field and makes it more sporting), few people argue with the utilitarian use of firearms. Of course the weapon should have a reasonable utilitarian function. We don’t allow fishing with explosives. An assault weapon with a hundred round clip seems to be unreasonable when hunting deer. If you need that kind of firepower to kill a deer, you might work on our skills before hunting.
[iv] As a director of plays for the theatre, I was taught and quickly learned that a weapon, a gun or a knife, became another actor in the play. Once introduced to the stage, it either had to be used or had to be removed. A person couldn’t carry it or it couldn’t just sit on a table without drawing constant attention. A weapon holds presence. The saying goes: Don’t bring a weapon onstage unless you plan to use it.
[v] A weapon is in some sense neutral in that it can be used for good or bad, and yet in either case its purpose is to harm and destroy. Exponentially, more gun deaths occur in the home from accidents, self-inflicted wounds and shootings by family members than intruders being shot in self defense. When you invite a weapon into your home you embrace the power of that weapon and accept the risk it will be used against you and your family.
[vi] This is an idea that I care about, but it worked its way out of the main narrative: I think guns should be more well regulated. The right to own a gun should be considered a privilege, a right that can and should be revoked if the citizen does not use it responsibly. We already have many laws that support this idea. We do this in most states with criminals and the mentally unstable. Those who reject any gun control like to say it is a “right to bear arms, not a privilege.” They try to differentiate owning a gun from driving license or a getting a license to hunt or fish.
I believe our rights are privileges with responsibilities. Freedom is taken from those who cannot obey the laws in the form of being sent to prison. This expands past the 2nd Amendment. The rights of Free Speech and Religion should be afforded to all who respect the rights of others to have free speech and freedom of religion. This is my problem with some recent Supreme Court rulings, especially the one that upheld the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to protest at the funerals of American servicemen. They are the radical group that believes that America’s support of Gay rights is damning our country. At the foundation of their religious belief is there very insistence that others cannot hold their own opposing beliefs. I appreciate that barring speech is a proverbial slippery slope, but in America I believe you should be afforded free speech only when you respect the free speech of others. Similarly, my decision to not have a gun in my home should not impinge on your right to responsibly bear arms, however your right to own guns shouldn’t impinge on my right to life and liberty.
[vii] It’s funny, as theater person most of my experience with guns has been with props, often real guns made safe to shoot only blanks. There is even a power when you hold an “impotent” weapon. Doing different plays, I’ve worked with flintlocks, muskets, a blunderbuss, shotguns, rifles, M-16s, MAC 10s, AR-15s, AK47s and all manner of pistols. They each hold a different power, but it always felt as if it transferred to me. Holding real weapons blend a mixture of excitement and apprehension. The idea that you can pull the trigger here and something can explode over there is cool, like the first time I rode a bike down a hill or drove a fast car. Guns give an experience of power.
[viii] This is the advertisement for the rifle that was used in the Sandy Hook Massacre:
[viii] This is the advertisement for the rifle that was used in the Sandy Hook Massacre: