Up in Arms by George Merrill


I’ve been following the gun debate in several newspapers and magazines and trying to make sense of it. Among the articles I read, I found these:

“Threatened by long-term declining participation in shooting sports, the firearms industry has poured millions of dollars into a broad campaigns to ensure its future by getting guns into the hands of more, and younger children.” The New York Times

“If the [gun] industry is to survive, gun enthusiasts must embrace all youth shooting activities, including ones ‘using semiautomatic firearms with magazines holding 30 – 100 rounds.’” Andy Fink, Editor, Junior Shooters Magazine

I’m getting a clearer idea of what’s happening to our country with regard to guns. I can’t say knowing more makes me feel better. Perhaps even more than guns, I find the mind-set of gun advocacy the most troubling. Paid advocate for the gun lobby, Dave Grossman, predicts, “Americans must accommodate to a future of armed people everywhere.” He means that we must be armed to be safe.

The more I read the more depressed I felt.

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” is the gun lobby’s present mantra. What’s obscured by the slogan, however, is what happens when all the good guys are armed. We will have at least twice the number of guns out there and exactly who is or who is not the good guy will never be finally determined except over someone’s dead body, and even then we won’t be sure. One college student recently shot another student six times in a street scuffle in Philadelphia. Neither were bad guys. Good kids, good upbringing, as they say. A good guy suddenly became a bad guy because he was carrying a concealed weapon. When the police arrived the student said, ”I have a permit.”

The boy who was shot said, “Please don’t let me die.”

The good guy formula muddles the deeper issue. More guns lead to increased gun violence. “More American civilians have died by gunfire in the past decade than . . . killed in combat in the Second World War.” [The New Yorker]

What’s bankrolling the proliferation of firearms is an arms industry that needs to increase its sales or go under. What troubles me most is how, insidiously, in recent years, in order to insure its survival, the arms industry, working with the NRA has initiated a marketing campaign that effectively defines gun ownership as the signature guarantor of personal safety.

Large multimillion-dollar corporations and their advocates determining social policy is a frightening prospect. Increasing profits will be their primary motive, not society’s well being.

Product sales increase when people are taught to be afraid if they don’t buy. By creating a catastrophic mentality (armed people everywhere) populations can be moved to behave primarily out of fear. We see this fear mongering attempted regularly in political debates.

Author and gun advocate, Dave Grossman, describes society as populated by sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs. “If you want to be a sheep, you can be a sheep and that’s okay… but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is no sheepdog there to protect you.” This is a view of a society dependent on a heavily armed citizenry to settle grievances, an ideology that reveals a thinly disguised contempt for our country’s average citizen and our law enforcement systems. What’s most disturbing is how promoting gun ownership as a personal security measure foments an atmosphere of fear and suspicion of one other, the kind of atmosphere that foments the optimum conditions for their use in settling personal grievances.
Recourse to violence is invariably the failure of imagination. When I consider the formidable powers of American ingenuity (and we are a remarkable people in that regard) I know we can do better. To start the process, letters to our legislators make a good first step.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Letters to Editor

  1. William Burton says

    Gun control is a straw dog. The issue is mental health in the United States as well as the pandering to violence by the race baiting of the Obama administration.

  2. Carol Voyles says

    Thank you, George. for your common sense. As a conservative friend pointed out, the French have gun control, but have also suffered losses. Let’s avoid not seeing the forest for a tree, though. There are far fewer gunshot fatalities in France than in the United States; and as you have pointed out, more gun carrying results in more gunfire – even among the members of our “well-trained militia” who haven’t been judged mentally ill.

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