Downtown View:The Toxic Culture of Guns

By Karen Cord Taylor

Everyone is saying race relations are at a new low. We have to have a conversation, a dialogue, a national catharsis of speech.

I can’t figure out how any of this will help unless we get rid of the gun culture. Good and kind Americans of any color can work it out. But we cannot have a civilized society if we believe we must possess a gun to feel safe. No one, including police officers, can resolve any dispute if pointing guns at one another is how we handle conflict. If you live in the gun culture, you’re wary all the time. What a terrible way to live.

First, there is no one in civilian America who needs an assault rifle. They have one either because they intend to kill scores of people, including little children. Or, more likely, their “hands” are too small, and they need a dose of fantasy manhood to get through the day. If such people were actually a part of the National Guard, I’d say go for it. That’s our militia, and there should be no problem arming members of that group, who presumably are there to protect us.

Everyday pistols, rifles and shotguns are also popular. What kind of a world do people live in that they need guns to feel safe?

Why did Philando Castile, the school nutrition services supervisor who was shot in Minnesota by the cop, have a permit and carry a gun? He was supposedly popular with his co-workers and had a sweet temper. Reportedly his girlfriend, who was self-possessed enough to record the aftermath with her cell phone and post it to Facebook as it was happening, had a license to carry also. Why did she think she needed one? A gun didn’t end up making them safer. It might even have contributed to the cop losing his cool.

Then there are the mothers, one from Idaho and another from Milwaukee, whose toddlers picked up their loaded guns, pulled the triggers and the mothers died. What kind of a world did those mothers live in that they needed a loaded gun in their pocketbook or car? If that were Syria, maybe I could understand it. But Milwaukee?

No longer the home of the brave, America is filled with cowering folks arming themselves against who-knows-what imagined threats. It doesn’t seem to help. It is now more likely that an American will be killed by a gun than in a motor vehicle accident, according to the Economist. (The gun culture practitioners say they are wrong, but I’m going with the Economist.)

I’ve never understood the gun culture because I grew up with guns. Four long ones, unloaded, rested on a rack on our living room wall. I was not afraid of them, but I never touched them. Even my little brother, sometimes known for his bad choices, stayed away. Our father had been in the Army’s military police during World War II. He knew how to shoot, though, because he learned growing up. When our ancestors settled our farm, wolves were still around on the prairie, threatening the livestock. Although the wolves were mostly gone when I was a child, our father used his guns to kill foxes that got into the chickens. He took his gun hunting, and we enjoyed pheasant, quail and rabbit, foods that are now aspirational and pricey.

But ours was a farming culture, not a gun culture. No one was afraid of anyone else. I never saw some guy with small “hands” brandishing his gun to impress us with his manhood. We expected that life would be peaceful, and it was.

If you are reading this, you probably live in downtown Boston. Not many people here are afraid either. For one thing, we have more restrictive gun laws than some states and fewer guns. That means we have fewer gun deaths. Also, we don’t have much crime in the downtown. We walk around at night taking care, but usually trusting we’ll be safe.

Some parts of Boston are not as safe as the downtown. Perhaps I am naïve to believe that our police force is a good one, determined to treat people fairly and also get rid of the gun culture that exists in those neighborhoods. But I’m counting on their professionalism.

I didn’t know James Madison personally. But it’s hard to imagine him and his cohorts who wrote the the US Constitution tolerating the idea that some guys thought they needed assault rifles or that everyone would be packing as they went to class or drove down a highway.

            Paul Ryan, certain Supreme Court justices and the National Rifle Association didn’t know James Madison either. His language, however, is pretty clear: “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.” It’s all about the militia. I realize I’m better educated, maybe even smarter, than certain justices of the Supreme Court, who apparently can’t read. I hate that.

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