Last week I published Part 1 of this article, which showed how the firearm has become a symbol of American Independence. Here I will show how this narrative could only be born through the use of force.
Guns as a Symbol of Dominance
The symbol of the firearm grew out of the first ventures to the New World. Christopher Columbus writes in his first log after making contact with the Arawak tribes:
"They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features....They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane....They would make fine servants....With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever they want." (Zinn, 1980)
In the two years after that encounter, 250,000 Arawak people would die by the arsenal of Spanish conquistadors; an arsenal that included some of the very first firearms that did not require multiple people to fire. Lasting through the 17th century, repeated clashes of armed White Europeans left the Native American people numerically decimated. As we moved into the time of the American Revolution, firearms were the wrench that loosened the English Empire's grip on colonial America. This revolution, for the most part, excluded the interests of Native Americans, women, and African-American's. Indeed, most militias that took up arms against the British excluded non-whites from membership mostly because non-whites formed the backbone of the economy that colonial Americans were trying to wrest from England (Zinn, 1980).
Now, centuries after the American Revolution, the birth of our country has become the stuff of legend. A mystical period of unmeasurable bravery and principled conviction. Amongst the symbols born out of the American Revolution lies the firearm, taking on a life of its own in our minds. A popular slogan shouts: "Guns don't kill people. People kill people!" Contrary to this realistic view of guns, we should note that the Winchester Model 1873 Short Rifle is still advertised as "The Gun That Won the West", and the Colt .45 has taken verse from Christ himself in asserting itself as "The Peacemaker".
Characterizations of the firearm probably grew out of its repeated use to conquer and further the cause of the United States. The Monroe Doctrine, The Indian Removal Act, The Trail of Tears, The Alamo, The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and the Confederate Surrender at Appomattox would never have happened without the firearm. The hands that carved the United States out of the North American Continent did so with powder stains under their fingernails. The firearm has played such an important role in American history that it has been canonized in our Bill of Rights.
Anthropomorphism and sanctification of the firearm have resulted in its deification--apotheosis.
American narrative was long written by the same people who did the conquering. Yet if European-Americans formed the geographical landscape of the U.S., we owe equal consideration to those who formed the social landscape. But those who have done so have a different revolutionary narrative: one that did not rely on force. Selma, The Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Civil Rights Acts of 1968, The Indian Child Welfare Act, and the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act are all examples of a different revolutionary narrative that was won with peaceful protest, pointed authorship, masterful oratory, and legislative advocacy.
The aim of this article series was to highlight the role that culture has played in the formation of the gun debate. As we saw in the last article, there was more than just one revolutionary ideology among those who declared independence from Britain in 1776. Since then, the different camps have taken firm stances on certain issues. As our society has gone from a primarily Anglo-Saxon focus to a multicultural focus, different narratives now compete for legislative clout. The Gospel of the Gun is now one of many interpretations of our history. Antoine de Saint-Exupery offers helpful insight:
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."--Antoine de Saint-Exupery
What is our "sea"? What immense expanse do we long for as a nation? Messing with sacred symbols, like the gun, produces great fear. Yet the gun has stolen important symbols from others on a regular basis. We find ourselves at an impasse of culture, not policy.