Fear, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew, would paralyze a nation more quickly than anything else. In recent years politicians have rather cynically used that information to sway voters. Fear-mongers, such as Trump, tend to have the upper hand because, ignoring FDR, we’ve given in to our fears. The shootings in Las Vegas on Sunday night are only one more example. The NRA, which has doggedly insists that the only way to combat guns is with more guns, defends its rhetoric yet again as 59 people have needlessly died just for attending a concert where a madman checked 23 guns into a hotel room with him far above. Conceal and carry is no solution to fear. Guns have no place in the hands of a fearful public.
A profound sadness accompanies such insane violence, supported almost unequivocally by the GOP. It’s not a matter of someone armed in the crowd shooting back; the shooters take the initiative of taking their own life when some hidden trigger tells them they’ve murdered enough. We see the pattern over, and over, and over. We are a violent people. A violent people have no business having easy access to weapons. As long as money has politicians in its wallet this will never change. We’re all afraid of those who have the guns. And Washington has a perverse love of money. Those of us who don’t have guns are easy to push around. That’s what America is all about anyway.
As this past election showed, and continues to show, a candidate without a mandate may easily buy the White House. The causes held so dear by the Republican Party—guns, no healthcare, tax plans that favor the wealthiest—all of this plays to our fears and gives them power. If we weren’t afraid, what need would we have of guns? After many decades of helping the poorest be an active part of this country, Washington is now intent on dismantling the aging safety nets we’ve put in place. Retirement is a reality for a very few. Medical costs are, even with Obamacare, still a constant worry for many. Natural disasters come and we can’t mobilize even to help our own. But we’ve got guns. Fear itself has come to define the home of the brave. It is said that Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester, never let the mansion built on blood money be finished for fear of haunting. That is one fear we apparently no longer have, even though guns have no effect on ghosts.
The proofs for my article on the Bible in Sleepy Hollow are now here. It will be appearing shortly in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. For those who know my previous academic work—hi, both of you!—this represents a departure from the familiar for me. Some years back, floundering for a teaching position like a fish that’d flipped out of the acadarium, I talked to a colleague who confirmed what I’d long suspected: study of the biblical text is dying. Face it, nobody cares about J, E, D, and P, or even Q, anymore. We’ve made our point. The Bible is a composite document with many sources that people can still tuck under their arms on the way to the polls. It’s so easy to forget that this text is the basis for so many lives and eternal plans. While we scholars have been arguing with one another, culture has moved on. That’s why I looked at the Bible in “Sleepy Hollow.”
If the Bible isn’t relevant, why bother studying it? If the main character—dare we call him protagonist?—of the New Testament says to turn the other cheek and his “followers” advocate for gun ownership it’s time to ask what went wrong. Scholars know the Bible, but do we know the Bible? Long ago meaning slipped away from academics. Consider science. We can question global warming because the science has become a topic of conversation among specialists that the rest of us can’t hope to understand. Instead of trusting that they know what they’re talking about, we politicize it. Scientific research, even in major universities, is funded by interested third parties. You know, some scholars don’t think there really was even an E after all.
The Bible no longer means what the specialists say it does. I may have spent years of my life and thousands of dollars to speak as an expert, but I soon learned nobody was listening. Meanwhile, culture marches on, somehow supposing if two Corinthians walk into a bar the rich man in his tower makes the best sense, according to the Good Book. Indeed, if you want to find out what the Bible says, all you need to do is head up the Hudson Valley for a season. Or listen to those who hand out tracts and purchase firearms. What could possibly go wrong there? My article will be out in a few weeks. If you’re one of the two who read it keep in mind that there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Everything’s industry. It has haunted me for some years now that we’ve let our corporate greed run away with our imagination so that nothing but “industry” remains. We don’t wish to interfere with the gun industry. The guns we like the best are those designed especially for killing lots of people. We feel happy having them in our homes. We’ve supported industry. Time was when society had more than just industry. Education, for example, was not an industry. It was just education. No measurable outgoes but a better society. Now we quantify and try to measure, thinking there’s something magical about numbers. My, what big ammo you have! The better to shoot you with, my darling. Think of it as the people killing industry.
After all, if you spend all that money on an expensive automatic weapon and don’t kill anyone with it, haven’t you wasted your money? Well, wasting money is good for industry, so we shouldn’t be too harsh. Most people know better than to take their weapons out and blow away those they don’t like. I would feel better if more people were like Pedro Reyes. (We, however, want to build walls to keep his kind out.) Reyes is an artist who had people in Mexico City turn their guns in for useful things. He had the guns smashed with a steamroller, at an army base, no less. The metal from the guns he melted down and made shovel heads so that people could plant trees. Over 1500 guns were turned in. The biblical allusion has already been made, but we would rather, in this country, ignore the good book we love so.
What would the gun industry do if people stopped needing to defend themselves so much? What if people felt less fear? What if politicians, instead of cynically using fear to win nominations, and elections, had the best interest of citizens at heart? Guns are for wars, and wars are useless. We have far more to offer one another than pools of blood and gore and guilt everlasting. Does it not strike anyone as odd that mass shooters intend to die at the end? We could use more shovels to bury them all. Wouldn’t it be even better if, before the shooting began, their guns were melted down and cast into useful tools? One might, in an optimistic mood, call such a thing an industry.
Politics is about power. Say what you will about the Bible, but at least they were clear about it in those days. Kings were alpha males, not public servants. In the light of Orlando we can see how little has changed. Random acts of violence grow more and more lethal and the politicians filibuster, inflating the room with hot air to avoid this issue because this is an election year. An election year where one of the candidate’s cheers can barely be distinguished from “Sieg Heil” and we have put ourselves into a place where such a tragicomedy was possible. Maybe even inevitable. Meanwhile fifty people are dead, joining the many innocents who just happened to be at the wrong place—is there any right place in a land of abundant assault weapons?—in a land of limited freedom. The press argues about exactly what type of gun was used. Maybe that model should be taken off the shelves.
Our alpha males have, at least in states like New Jersey, and increasingly on the national front, modeled bullying. Bullies are nothing without their threat of power used against you. In the same day when schools and social programs emphasize over and over that bullying is unacceptable, bellowing bulls insist on their way and the crowd goose-steps in ecstasy. Those who are different are dangerous. After all, straight white men were here first. They won this country fair and square through genocide, as any Native American can tell you. And you get your way by refusing to compromise. Refusing to reason. Give vent to testosterone and call your opponent out for being a female. Land of the aggressive, home of the grave.
Gun violence may not be preventable completely in a nation where guns are a commodity just like anything else. Religion is a commodity. The ninety-nine percent are a commodity. The spoils are there for the taking by a bully and his thugs. It used to be that organized crime was illegal. Now it’s politics. How much did you pay in taxes last year? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know there was an exemption clause just for being rich. I grew up in a family with simple morals. Right and wrong. We learned that taking something that didn’t actually belong to you, or not contributing when everyone must, is wrong. Taking what’s not yours is stealing. And that especially includes lives. How naive we were! Politics is about getting your own way. Guns make that possible. Heil to the thief.
Gun violence is out of control. While experts dither and bicker about whether this or that act was done by “terrorists” they choose to ignore that gun violence is terror, no matter who’s pulling the trigger. The world in which bearing arms was declared an amended constitutional right was a world of muzzle-loaders. Like in those movies where someone took their shot, missed, and has to reload, feverishly pouring gunpowder down the barrel while the enemy closes in. Firearms were obviously deadly, but limited in their capabilities. All things being equal, it is easy to understand why such a right would be granted. Almost nothing is equal any more, however.
Consider this: weapons are now sold that can rapidly and repeatedly fire rounds that, in the wrong hands, can kill many people before anyone even has the time to react. These guns are useless for hunting, and their only purpose is to kill other human beings. We have been manufacturing them and selling them for many years and laws are such that most people could, if they choose to participate in the insanity, stockpile such weapons against a day when they will actually be used for their intended purposes. Consider also that the government, strapped for money to funnel to military causes, has shifted and narrowed the definition of mental illness so as to “normalize” people who would have, under other circumstances, been in institutional care. Add to this the increasing globalization that has effects that psychologists and sociologists are only now coming to see build stresses and strains in brains that evolved to be among their own “kind” and to distrust the “stranger.” And these stressed minds have easy access to powerful firearms. Who has the right?
I grew up in a different world. Yes, the Vietnam War was going on, but those who returned were exhausted by and despised the violence to which they’d been subjected. The pointless killing of others was culturally and personally just that: pointless. Fast forward half a century. Now we live in a world where seeing violent death represented is a daily occurrence. Even in simulation it is realistic. Mass murderers make videos presenting themselves as so heroic as to inspire followers. We no longer trust religion. We no longer trust the government. We no longer trust the American Dream. Wealth is bottled up where it can’t be reached and guns are distributed like candy. Are all things equal? Hardly. And yet those running for the highest office in the land worm for ways to keep the gun lobbies pleased. If we could only go back to muzzle-loaders and the time it took to reload—time in which even an unbalanced person had to think about what he, or now she, was about to do. Equality has, unfortunately, become as much a fairy tale as the right to bear arms.
Once something becomes socially acceptable, it is nearly impossible to change. I’m no prude, but I remember when “swearing” in public was considered bad taste. When I was a tween (and there was no such thing as tweens then) I heard a guy talking to a friend in a department store. They were on the other side of those kinds of shelves where you can see through to the other side. One of them cussed and his friend said, “Man, you shouldn’t say that when there’s a little kid just there.” I wasn’t shocked by the word; I’m more worldly than most people grant me credit for being. Still, the sentiment was appreciated. These days I dodge f-bombs all the way to work. It’s effing acceptable.
The tragic multiple shooting in San Bernardino to which I opened the paper yesterday morning was completely dispiriting. The statistics showing more multiple shootings than there have been days in the past year while Republican hopefuls chain their wallets to their pockets backing the NRA should give anyone pause to reflect, no matter their party. Our gun madness has led to a collective deathwish for our country. The only acceptable solution, according to the GOP, and Texas, is to get more guns out on the streets. The Old West is called “Old” for a reason. We should’ve become more civilized by now. Instead we accept fantasy for reality.
In a land where politics is making love to gun lobbies, the surest investment is the casket industry. It has become socially acceptable to shoot lots of people and then kill yourself or get yourself shot. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t read about such an incident in the news. Swift, decisive action is called for but we’re mired down by politicians who need ever so much more money to campaign. Bread and circuses. I know responsible gun owners. It has become clear that the only real solution now is to do what is socially unacceptable. Give up our guns. If those who are responsible gun owners were willing to lead by example we might stand a chance against a socially acceptable plague that we’re unwilling to name. Even US citizens can be terrorists in their own country.
Sarah L. Winchester, it is said, was a haunted woman. The widow of William Winchester, she was heir to the tremendous amount of money brought in by sales of the renowned Winchester rifles. Fearing the haunting of all those killed by the weapons, she built what has now become a tourist attraction—an unfinished mansion that was intended to prevent those ghosts from living with her. With the spate of recent multiple shootings, we might wonder how many other gun manufacturers are living haunted nights in their comfortable homes. A recent petition has been circulating to stop Spike’s Tactical from producing The Crusader assault rifle. Predictably, the sales have been so overwhelming that the religious rifle is on backorder.
The Crusader, as the photos reveal, is emblazoned with Psalm 144.1 “Blessed be the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.” It also features a Crusader’s cross and trigger setting labeled, Peace, War, and God Wills It. Blasphemy in carbon fiber. I suppose I’m hopelessly naive, not being aware that guns could be purchased online, but the overwhelming demand is nevertheless disheartening. It used to be that the Christians were the good guys. You certainly didn’t have to worry about them shooting you. That was the job of the heathen. So many multiple shootings took place this summer than I couldn’t keep track of them all. I live in a world where guns play no role and I wonder if everyone wouldn’t be happier if we didn’t lay down our arms and learn how to get along.
Of course, the Bible is a book where violence against enemies is permitted, and, in places, even encouraged. Society has repeatedly declared that there is no need for experts trained in how to interpret the Bible, and this is what happens. Psalm 144 is a poem for deliverance from enemies. Historical criticism would likely place the piece as written during a time of war. The era in which the majority of the Bible was written was anything but peaceful. Those parts of the Good Book that are particularly extolled are often those that suggest that the answer to war is peace and that setting aside your own will for the well-being of others is something we should all be doing a bit more often. But we cannot deny that “Peace, War, and God Wills It” aren’t part of the violent worldview we also encounter in sacred writ. I wonder what Mrs. Winchester would have had to say about such mixing of the Bible with guns.