There are those that claim Flyover Country America, awash with toxic masculinity, is in the grip of an evil gun culture. It is an issue I’ve repeatedly addressed, here and here. In the first of those articles, I ended:
Gun culture? Hardly. The term is useful not in defining anyone or any coherent philosophy, but in slandering those that believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility. Words do matter. Perhaps it’s time to take some of them back. We begin by challenging–each and every time–the mere premise of ‘gun culture,’ ‘common sense’ gun regulation, ‘assault weapons,’ and similarly weakly definable attempts to seize the rhetorical initiative.
In their place, exalt liberty, which has the very great advantage of being what is embodied in the Constitution. Let our opponents explain why they want to take away liberty and substitute their failed ideas. Put them on the defensive for a change.
But now comes one Matthew Walther, writing in The Week, to explain an apparent subset of the gun culture, a particularly adolescent and pernicious cult, the cult of the AR-15.
What do the perpetrators of the massacres at Sandy Hook, at Aurora, at Orlando, and at Sutherland Springs have in common? They were all men under 30 and they all used versions of the same kind of firearm, the AR-15, the semi-automatic version of the military’s M-16 and the bestselling gun in America.
More common, less elite folk might think the greatest commonality is mental illness and the manifestation of evil, but they’re probably all members of the gun culture and the “childish” AR-15 cult.
If the killers had all worn Mickey Mouse sunglasses or been found with Metallica tattoos, it would be considered noteworthy. It’s not biased except in the sense that reality itself is biased against childish gun enthusiasts. But whether he wins his edit war or nay, he has done a great service by reminding us what we’re dealing with whenever we try to argue. He fits a profile, of revoltingly adolescent, video game-addicted LARPers who think that their hobby of playing dress-up with murder weapons is a constitutional right.
The AR-15 is not just a gun. It is a hobby, a lifestyle, an adolescent cult. An entire industry has grown up around the endless array of accessories and modifications that allow these weapons to fire more quickly and more accurately with greater ease, to be reloaded more efficiently, and to resemble their military-issued cousins more closely. As a correspondent for one enthusiast website puts it in his breakdown of the best recent ‘gear’:
A particular type of rifle in a vast ocean of rifles is “a lifestyle, and adolescent cult”? Of course, people such as Walther—rather an ironic name considering his scorn for guns and gun owners—doubtless think the same of those that own pickup trucks, or dare to imagine the Second Amendment says what it means and means what it says.
Like virtually all journalists, or at least those published in the Leftist media, Walter knows little about firearms or the accessories he mocks. The AR-15 family was designed as a military rifle. All magazine-fed rifles are designed to be efficiently reloaded. There is no way, no accessory, to speed that process. All firearms are designed for accuracy, and it is the inherent accuracy of the AR-15 family that has helped make it popular. Fringe devices such as bumpfire stocks—owned by few–can slightly increase rate of fire, but at the expense of the accuracy that attracts shooters. Notice too Walther characterizes AR-15 ownership as a “hobby”:
Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people who participate in this hobby are good natured, law-abiding, sane, and decent. They are also childish and callous. They give the game away with their talk about firing out of vehicles and “fighting” at close quarters or otherwise. The NRA is full of it when it says that the AR-15 can be used for hunting. So could a bazooka or a grenade launcher. An atomic blast would also get the job done on the white-tailed deer front, I’ll warrant.
So some gun owners are “good natured, law-abiding, sane, and decent.” How generous of Walther. If it were otherwise, we’d surely know about it, no? But what Walther giveth, he also taketh away: “They are also childish and callous.” Mark Twain famously said there is nothing so much in need of reforming than the habits of others, an aphorism Walther appears to have taken to heart, but without an understanding of Twain’s intended irony. One can only imagine where Walther finds people talking about firing AR-15s, or any other weapon, out of vehicles. Granted, in some specialized schools, such techniques are taught, but there is no such generalized talk abroad. Walther’s demonization of firing in close quarters also reflects his lack of knowledge of guns and tactics, for most deadly force encounters with firearms are indeed conducted at close range, many indoors.
Walther’s ignorance and unreasoning hatred is nowhere so obvious as his attack on hunters. Hunters choose guns for that pursuit based largely on the appropriateness of the caliber for the game they seek. They want ammunition that will quickly and mercifully take game, but not excessively damage the meat. AR-15s are indeed useful hunting weapons. They are accurate, light, rugged, corrosion-resistant and have excellent ergonomics, all useful factors in a hunting arm. Their .223 caliber cartridge, however, is seldom used for deer. It is effective on smaller animals, however, and is commonly used on varmints of various kinds. Explosives tend to obliterate, rather than preserve, the meat and trophies hunters seek, and nuclear weapons are rarely used on anything other the largest and most dangerous game, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, say.
Walther decries Americans, and even some of his own acquaintance, who not only respect the Constitution, but have—horrors!—actually purchased guns, including, apparently, AR-15s.
Which is why I am not optimistic about our ability to pass any kind of meaningful legislation. The Republican Party owes too much of its support to people whose economic well-being it gleefully neglects but whose ill-considered attachments to dangerous toys it has safeguarded as a kind of poisoned consolation prize.
Unlike some, Walther claims to believe the banning and confiscation of AR-15s would not stop mass killing outrages, not that he’s very happy about that:
But I do not think I could tell the parents of a slaughtered 18-month-old baby that there is absolutely nothing we can do.
I’m reasonably sure Walther knows better than to use this dishonest rhetorical trick, but because he’s lecturing lesser beings, he probably considers nothing off limits. Following the Sutherland Springs attack, some of the more honest of the Left have gone so far as to admit that there is nothing we can do to prevent such outrages, including banning firearms and accessories. As usual, they are wrong. There is something we can do: allow, and encourage, school staff, congregations, honest citizens everywhere to carry concealed handguns. That alone will stop killers, and will surely deter some.
But the question remains: is there an identifiable “gun culture,” and more specifically, an “AR-15 cult”? I addressed the issue in my earlier article:
Gun ownership, however, crosses all cultural boundaries. Usually, one of the few things people of distinct cultures have in common is gun ownership. They may own a single handgun, or an extensive collection of a variety of firearm types. And while some portion of gun owners share—more or less—a common vocabulary and jargon, this is not exclusive to gun owners, nor does using certain specific terms identify membership in a gun culture. Many people pick up firearm terminology from movies and television.
Firearms are essentially tools, and because there are a wide variety of different uses for firearms, there are a wide variety of different firearms to meet those needs. Tools are generally owned with no regard to the conventions of a broader culture, the Amish being an exception, though even they use a wide variety of tools.
One may argue that because they are weapons, firearms are not in the same category as tools, but this does not stand up to the most minimal scrutiny. A wide variety of common tools such as screwdrivers, hammers, saws and chisels, can also be employed as weapons, and have been. In the late 1800s, cowboys often used the butts of their Colt Single Action .45s, in a pinch, to hammer staples as they strung barbed wire.
The ownership of a single article, or even many examples of such articles, does not a culture make. Many gun owners also own a variety of knives, often more knives than guns, but no one argues they are members of an evil and destructive ‘knife culture.
Well, not sane people, anyway.
It is surely richly ironic that the supposed AR-15 cult was greatly increased in number by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and their gun banning, anti-liberty minions. When Americans, even those that never before owned guns, were convinced Obama intended to deny them their freedoms, and particularly AR-15s and similar guns, their sales skyrocketed, and have remained greatly increased. Americans are rightly zealous in defense of their fundamental liberties. That’s a worthy culture.
How many of us, by the mere possession of things, are members of a “culture?” Are duck hunters members of a shotgun culture? Are the owners of electric drills members of a power tool culture? I own facial tissues; am I part of a Kleenex culture? And what of the sugared breakfast cereal culture? Are dentists charter members and boosters, if not necessarily consumers?
I’ll make one concession: by my belief in the necessity, value and easily understood language of the Constitution, I am a proud member of American culture. To what culture do those that would abandon the Constitution and its protections belong? Does Walther, and those that find him persuasive, belong to that culture?