The other day I made the mistake of looking at the community Facebook page that a friend of mine runs here in Our Little Town.
Not that looking at the page is a mistake in itself, mind you. He does a nice job of keeping the conversation lively on issues of local importance or just issues of local focus that by any objective measure have no importance whatsoever, even to those directly involved. It can be a fun page that way.
Once in a while, though, he decides to touch a nerve – he’s politically active enough that you know it’s deliberate when it happens – and on that day he asked what the community thought about a local chain store deciding to ban its shoppers from carrying guns as they browsed the housewares.
You would be surprised by the number and vehemence of people who cannot imagine going shopping for small appliances without packing heat. Or you would if you’d been living under a rock for the last decade and had missed the nearly sexual longing for guns in American culture that has wrought havoc upon what had just barely been a rational conversation about firearms to begin with. And it all brought to mind a single question:
When did Americans get to be such cowards?
It’s not like this is an isolated occurrence, or something that only happens in Our Little Town, after all. Everywhere I go these days and on every media outlet in whatever format, some overwrought and needlessly loud person is getting in my face about their supposed right to carry firearms anywhere they damned well please, up to and including into my own home and any classroom in which I teach. Even setting aside the legal issues raised by such asshattery and foolishness, it is still an astonishing thing for someone to admit in public.
Who on earth is so scared of their own shadow that they need heavy artillery just to walk out their own front door?
Answer: a surprising number of Americans, that’s who.
We have become the most timid, fraidy-cat nation on earth. All across this once proud republic there are legions of the jelly-spined trying to shore up their failing nerve by taking guns into stores, hiding them in their cars, concealing them in their pockets, purses, backpacks, waistbands, and jackets, and even carrying them over their shoulders and into restaurants in order to buy a burrito with some semblance of confidence, all the while pretending to be actual heroes instead of the shivering wannabes they so clearly are. They stroll down the streets of small-town America is if they’re in 1990s Mogadishu – a city most of them couldn’t find on a map – ready to do battle with whatever leaps out and shouts “Boo!” at them.
You never know when that burrito will fight back, now, do you?
Or the five-year-old down the block. Five-year-olds can be awfully ornery.
Oh, sure. They talk about self-protection, as if their fetishized dependence on ever-larger weaponry would do themselves or anyone else any good in an actual crisis. Worse, they talk about protecting others. You can see the little flash of hope in their eyes that perhaps this day, of all days, they will jump in and, with time for a pithy little quip beforehand of course, Save The Day by fighting against the kind of movie bad guys who never hit what they aim for and die like flies as soon as the hero points his chrome-plated .50-caliber “Compensator” in their general direction.
The reality, of course, is different.
There is a reason why nearly every police department in the State of Wisconsin opposed the concealed carry law when it was rammed through a compliant, bent-over legislature a few years back. Cops understand where real danger lies, and surprisingly enough it rarely comes from criminals. Most criminals aren’t that motivated. Jittery over-armed nerve cases with hero complexes, though, there’s a problem.
There is also a reason why the military trains its soldiers as hard as it does. You’re useless in a firefight without constant, strenuous training, the kind of training the wannabes can’t even imagine and certainly aren’t about to subject themselves to voluntarily because it’s too much like real work. Without that training you’re just shooting randomly into a crowd.
In an actual crisis those legends in their own minds would simply add to the body count – first by slaughtering the innocent around them and then by dying themselves, quite possibly at each other’s hands, which would at least be justice of a sort.
But even that’s unlikely.
Statistically the more likely outcome of this discount-store arms race would be either a) two pointlessly armed jitterbugs squaring off against each other in a comic-book re-enactment of some Old West showdown, only significantly less amusing once the people around them begin to die, or b) one pointlessly armed jitterbug having his gun fall out of the waistband of his underwear where he’d jammed it for easy access and having the damned thing go off (because you and I both know that the safety will not be on), after which all bets are off because once the first shot is fired every pistol-packing manly man in the store will drop and return fire until there is nobody left to bleed.
All of this was accurately predicted by the police departments when they spoke out, but somehow it made no difference when they said it and I doubt it will make any difference when I say it.
Legislatures all over the nation are shoving through new laws to make this legal just as fast as they can cash those lobbyists’ checks, so it looks like this is will be the new normal here in the Land of the Free (tm) for the foreseeable future. Get used to it. After all, those who need toasters must have their firearms to safeguard themselves while they stand in line at the cashier. They stand ready at the draw, eager to prove … um … well, something, I’m sure. Don’t rightly know what, really. Not sure they do either.
There is no rational way to explain this, because it is not a rational need but a phobia. We are scared of our neighbors. We are scared of our countrymen. We are scared of our own shadows. And we will have our hot lead safety blankets to calm us down, by thunder, even if it means turning American civil society into something that looks like a battlefield except without the organizational clarity.
Because we are cowards, we Americans. We didn’t used to be.
When did it change?