I hope Josh won't mind my printing this entire letter from his site. (Please click over there for all the great journalism on this and other topics if you haven't already.)
From TPM Reader SS …
I’m a pretty left-of-center liberal. Read TPM regularly. Donated nearly $1,000 to BHO’s re-election campaign. But I was raised with guns. More to the point, my childhood was steeped in gun lore: I learned to hand-load ammunition when I was 10 and 11, and - by the time I was 14 - my dad was trusting me to prepare my own handloads. I could (and to some extent, still can) recite chapter and verse of firearms arcana, from muzzle velocities - a product of the type of gunpowder used in one’s handloads; of the weight (in grains) of a projectile; of the length of a gun’s barrel (the longer, the faster); of the temperature and elevation at which one is shooting - to impact energy (measured in footpounds), to trajectories (flatter for heavier bullets; some calibers have an innate advantage over others), and so on.
I bring this up to establish my bona-fides.
The gun culture that we have today in the U.S. is not the gun culture, so to speak, that I remember from my youth. It’s too simple to say that it’s “sick;” it’s more accurately an absurd fetishization. I suppose that the American Gunfighter, in all of his avatars, is inescapably fetishistic, but (to my point) somewhere along the way - maybe in, uh, 1994? - we crossed over into Something Else: let’s call it Gonzo Fetishization. The American Gunfighter as caricature.
The guns that I grew up with (in the late-1970’s and 1980’s) were bolt-action rifles: non-automatic weapons, with organic fixtures - i.e., stocks - and limited magazine capacities. As a pre-adolescent, weaned on the A-Team and the nationalist inanity of the Reagan years, I still remember marveling at the gorgeous glossiness - at the beauty - of my dad’s Sako “Vixen” .222 Remington, with its hand-checkered French walnut stock.
I was raised nominally to hunt, although we didn’t do much of that: once a year, at most. More frequently, we’d go to the range and shoot at targets. So I grew up practicing, and enjoying, what’s commonly called benchrest rifle shooting. I still do so (to a limited extent) today.
Most of the men and children (of both sexes) I met were interested in hunting, too. Almost exclusively, they used traditional hunting rifles: bolt-actions, mostly, but also a smattering of pump-action, lever-action, and (thanks primarily to Browning) semi-automatic hunting rifles. They talked about gun ownership primarily as a function of hunting; the idea of “self-defense,” while always an operative concern, never seemed to be of paramount importance. It was a factor in gun ownership - and for some sizeable minority of gun owners, it was of outsized (or of decisive) importance - but it wasn’t the factor. The folks I interacted with as a pre-adolescent and - less so - as a teen owned guns because their fathers had owned guns before them; because they’d grown up hunting and shooting; and because - for most of them - it was an experience (and a connection) that they wanted to pass on to their sons and daughters.
And that’s my point: I can’t remember seeing a semi-automatic weapon of any kind at a shooting range until the mid-1980’s. Even through the early-1990’s, I don’t remember the idea of “personal defense” being a decisive factor in gun ownership. The reverse is true today: I have college-educated friends - all of whom, interestingly, came to guns in their adult lives - for whom gun ownership is unquestionably (and irreducibly) an issue of personal defense. For whom the semi-automatic rifle or pistol - with its matte-black finish, laser site, flashlight mount, and other “tactical” accoutrements - effectively circumscribe what’s meant by the word “gun.” At least one of these friends has what some folks - e.g., my fiancee, along with most of my non-gun-owning friends - might regard as an obsessive fixation on guns; a kind of paraphilia that (in its appetite for all things tactical) seems not a little bit creepy. Not “creepy” in the sense that he’s a ticking time bomb; “creepy” in the sense of…alternate reality. Let’s call it “tactical reality.”
The “tactical” turn is what I want to flag here. It has what I take to be a very specific use-case, but it’s used - liberally - by gun owners outside of the military, outside of law enforcement, outside (if you’ll indulge me) of any conceivable reality-based community: these folks talk in terms of “tactical” weapons, “tactical” scenarios, “tactical applications,” and so on. It’s the lingua franca of gun shops, gun ranges, gun forums, and gun-oriented Youtube videos. (My god, you should see what’s out there on You Tube!) Which begs my question: in precisely which “tactical” scenarios do all of these lunatics imagine that they’re going to use their matte-black, suppressor-fitted, flashlight-ready tactical weapons? They tend to speak of the “tactical” as if it were a fait accompli; as a kind of apodeictic fact: as something that everyone - their customers, interlocutors, fellow forum members, or YouTube viewers - experiences on a regular basis, in everyday life. They tend to speak of the tactical as reality.
And I think there’s a sense in which they’ve constructured their own (batshit insane) reality.
One in which we have to live.
Thanks for reading. I apologize for having gone on for so long. Hope that you’ve found it interesting,
I'm fairly sure that a lot of this relates to what David wrote this morning, unfortunately.