Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Peek at the Inner World of Firearms Fanaticism

This article on this front page of this morning's New York Times caught my eye:
Banished for Questioning the Gospel of Guns
The story is of a firearms journalist who has been effectively banished from the gun-publishing world for writing a column in Guns & Ammo pointing out that all Constitutional rights are restricted under some circumstances. He wrote, classically, that free speech - the right that nearly everybody agrees on - doesn't mean you can yell "fire" in a crowded theater. For writing this he has been fired from Guns & Ammo and essentially declared persona non grata by the industry that publishes on firearms, after a 40+ year career in that business.

The story is an interesting one for what it reveals about the subculture which these publications cater to. Intermedia, the company that owns Guns & Ammo and a number of similar publications, is a private company and has every right to say who can or can't write for them. This is manifestly not a case of this fellow's First Amendment rights being violated. And I suppose the fact that hatred, vitriol, and death threats (yes, there's a deep irony there) poured into his email box after the column was published is not really that surprising.

But the worldview behind the hatred and the firing are interesting - and, from the point of view of a democratic republic built on pluralism, disturbing. The money quote on the Times article is from Richard Venola, a former Guns & Ammo editor:
"We are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment. The time for ceding some rational points is gone."
To borrow a phrase, them's fighin' words. More specifically, they are a declaration of a state of war - a belief that there exists some group (however nebulous) of fellow Americans with whom both compromise and coexistence are impossible. No dialogue, discussion, or illuminating debate can take place. It is simply a zero-sum power struggle. It's them or us. The fact that this is consistent with much of the "self-defense thinking" of this same subculture is no accident - this is a mentality built entirely around existential zero-sum thinking.

This is not the worldview of a citizen in a wealthy, prosperous republic. This is the worldview of a religious fanatic determined at all costs to impose their view upon the rest of the world. And it is, unfortunately, a self-sustaining system: when others point out (as the fired columnist did) that absolutism is not how our system is supposed to work, that is taken as opposition that must be eliminated and proof that they are under existential threat.

The fact that, if magazine readership is a guide, there may be some 400,000 such folks is disturbing. Likely only a fraction of those are true fanatics, the kind willing to threaten violence (or even commit it) in their cause. On the other hand, the fact that even at 400,000 strong they are a tiny minority of the population means that they will not succeed in their quest to dominate the policy landscape on firearms. So there is some comfort in that.

The folks the wrote the Constitution understood, better perhaps than we do, that there would always be fanatical factions willing to stop at nothing to impose their views on the rest of us. And while we may wish that we could all be rational citizens, there will always be those that refuse rationality in the name of dogma. At the least, we can seek to understand them and contain their influence so the rest of us can live in peace.