David Altheide writes: The future of guns in our society may be better understood if we knew more about what they mean to people and why people buy them.
Fear is a major factor for many firearm purchases. Recent trends in gun sales suggest that many citizens are becoming more fearful: Gallup poll data suggest that Americans are more fearful, at near-record high levels, about big government, compared to big business or big labor. This fear overlays the long-term public fear of crime and terrorism.
Reactions to mass killings, particularly the shooting of first-graders at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut, sparked a national debate about gun control. But that, in turn, has heightened fear about government’s role in regulating assault weapons, especially popular semi-automatic models like the AK-47 and AR-15 that are bought and sold throughout both the US and the world.
Public reaction to the latest assault weapon massacre is disturbing in view of worldwide trends. Studies show that price increases for semi-automatic assault weapons reflect public moods and fears about social instability. According to author James Barr, in many countries, “The Kalashnikov index is effectively a futures market for violence.” More than 80m AK-47s circulate between countries in predictable patterns that are associated with social instability.
The cost of this weapon doubled and tripled in Iraq and Afghanistan just before the US invasions of those countries. Afghan arms merchants are selling the model favored by Osama bin Laden for $2,000, while Syrians are paying more than $2,100. Demand and prices fall only when citizens believe that things are settling down.
I’d be a bit wary about the idea of viewing the rise or fall of gun prices as a universally reliable index of social stability.
Each time there’s a new rush to buy assault weapons across America, it seems to happen for the same reason: buyers are afraid these weapons are going to get banned.
And even though fear of government is very much a part of American DNA, among those for whom this fear calls them to go out and buy more guns, I see little evidence that it serves as a driving force for broader political action — beyond perhaps attending an occasional Tea Party meeting or paying annual dues to the NRA.
In other words, as vexed as many Americans might be about the power of Big Government, so long as gun control doesn’t go further than a few cosmetic reforms like reducing permitted magazine sizes, then Americans who are afraid of having their guns taken away will remain quite content with the status quo. Indeed, sustaining the fear that gun ownership is under threat, ironically has the effect of legitimizing gun ownership.
The result is this utterly circular reality: that the freedom so many gun owners care more about protecting than any other freedom is the freedom to own a gun.
The government can assassinate U.S. citizens, monitor all electronic communications, use taxpayer money to bail out banks, fight wars without authorization of Congress, serve the interests of corporations above those of the electorate, and all of this will provoke little more than some idle grumbling.
Do anything else — just don’t take away our guns. Try and take away our guns and we’ll start another revolution!
I have my doubts. I don’t think there’s any prospect of an administration that would actually attempt to institute serious gun control — and even if it did, legislation would never get through Congress. But neither do I think in the unlikely event that such gun control was implemented would it provoke a revolution.
However fiercely independent Americans may once have been, that fierceness has given way to a more pervasive docility.