I enjoy Harper’s magazine, not because it is progressive, although I suppose some might call it ideologically progressive, but because it’s old-fashioned in its pursuit of investigative journalism. When you dig a little beneath the surface in almost any subject it usually turns out that your conclusions can be described as progressive. I just read a piece in Harper’s, “The Price of Gun Control,” by Dan Baum, that is just the opposite, though: the more you dig, the more reactionary the ideas.
The author’s position on gun control is simple. Americans (actually white American men) are violent people, and violent people identify deeply with their guns, and if you do anything to even suggest that someone might take away their guns, these violent people will get angry at you. These violent white men, “rubbed raw by decades of stagnant wages” will get so angry at you for trying to take away their guns that they will reject everything you say, even if you are pursuing policies that can help them.
That’s just the first layer. It turns out that these violent men have enormous influence. What’s the price of gun control? “I’d argue that we’ve sacrificed generations of progress on health care, women’s and workers’ rights, and climate change by reflexively returning, at times like these, to an ill-informed call to ban firearms, and we haven’t gotten anything tangible in return. ” It’s hard to know where to begin. The author seems to believe that we– Americans– are as we are, and will never change.
The struggle over gun control is not a struggle over the historical essence of the violent American soul. The gun buyers, which Baum identifies as ” middle-aged white men with less than a college degree” have bought into a very contemporary argument that says that any gun control, even limiting the sale of ammunition online, is a slippery slope that can only lead to a ban on all guns. We can either stop trying to regulate guns or we are “needlessly vilifying guns.” There’s no in between.
This isn’t about identity. It’s about media– especially that hidden-in-the-open network of right wing radio–used to perpetuate ignorance and fear and poison debate. There is no slippery slope; no one’s identity is dependent on an unrestricted market in firearms. The solution is open debate and careful regulation– of media monopolies as well as guns. Baum seems to have swallowed Wayne Le Pierre‘s extremist NRA masculine myth whole, and now he’s determined to find the reality behind the stories. It’s not there.