Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dan Baum on "gun guys": A classic liberal "concern troll" routine

The Oxford American presents an interview with Dan Baum, author of a book called Gun Guys based on a large number of conversations with gun owners and gun fans: Jullianne Ballou, Author Interview: Dan Baum 03/18/2013.

He used some of his research for an article, Happiness Is a Worn Gun: My concealed weapon and me in the August 2010 Harper's.

In the interview and the article, he strikes a liberal concern troll pose on guns, which he frames in Harper's this way:

I got hooked on guns forty-nine years ago as a fat kid at summer camp—the one thing I could do was lie on my belly and shoot a .22 rifle—and I’ve collected, shot, and hunted with guns my entire adult life. But I also grew up into a fairly typical liberal Democrat, with a circle of friends politely appalled at my fixation on firearms. For as long as I’ve been voting, I’ve reflexively supported waiting periods, background checks, the assault-rifle ban, and other gun-control measures. None interfered with my enjoyment of firearms, and none seemed to me the first step toward tyranny. As the concealed-carry laws changed across the land, I naturally sided with those who argued that arming the populace would turn fender benders into gunfights. The prospect of millions more gun-carrying Americans left me reliably horrified.

At the same time, though, I was a little jealous of those getting permits. Taking my guns from the safe was a rare treat; the sensual pleasure of handling guns is a big part of the habit. Elegantly designed and exquisitely manufactured, they are deeply satisfying to manipulate, even without shooting. I normally got to play with mine only a few times a year, during hunting season and on one or two trips to the range. The people with carry permits, though, were handling their guns all the time. They were developing an enviable competence and familiarity with them. They were living the gun life. Finally, last year, under the guise of "wanting to learn what this is all about," but really wanting to live the gun life myself, I began the process of getting a carry permit. All that was required was a background check, fingerprints, and certification that I’d passed an approved handgun class.
He wanted to "live the gun life myself." Why not become a hit man and get paid for it, dude?

I'm guessing that for most people there is a big difference between enjoying hunting or recreational shooting or needing to use a gun for self-defense in a dangerous profession, on the one hand, and a hankering for "living the gun life" on the other. I wonder how many soldiers, cops or security guards, whose profession actually requires them to carry firearms and use them under well-defined circumstances, think of the themselves as "living the gun life"?

Baum doesn't quite define "living the gun life" as seeking a constant testosterone high. But he comes close. He describes two general attitudes toward everyday life, which he calls Condition White and Condition Yellow. In the interview he defines them this way:

Most of us live in Condition White, which is being fairly oblivious to your surroundings. When you put on a gun, you can't be that way. At least I couldn't, and most of the people I talk to who wear guns say the same thing. You're always aware that you're wearing it. The responsibility is so awesome — in the genuine sense of the word—because of how dangerous a gun is. I think that I liked Condition Yellow, to a degree. I never left my credit card on a store counter; I was a better driver. You really don't want to screw up when you're wearing a gun, and not wanting to screw up bleeds into other areas of your life. But I got worn out from constantly watching for crime. Ultimately I realized that I really didn't need to carry the gun, though many gun guys will say you're crazy not to wear a gun. Bad things happen all over the place and you need to be ready. It's almost a chromosomal thing; either you feel safe in the world or you don't.
Strap on a gun and Be All That You Can Be.

He does provide some debunking of standard gun-nut paranoia. Describing gun classes he took in Boulder CO, in Harper's he recalls a policeman describing ways they can get away with breaking the law on gun possession and usage. And he writes:

Both classes were less about self-defense than about recruiting us into a culture animated by fear of violent crime. In the Boulder class, we watched lurid films of men in ski masks breaking into homes occupied by terrified women. We studied color police photos of a man slashed open with a knife. Teachers in both classes directed us to websites dedicated to concealed carry, among them usacarry.org, an online gathering place where the gun-carrying community warns, over and over, that crime is "out of control."

In fact, violent crime has fallen by a third since 1989—one piece of unambiguous good news out of the past two decades. Murder, rape, robbery, assault: all of them are much less common now than they were then. At class, it was hard to discern the line between preparing for something awful to happen and praying for something awful to happen. A desire to carry a gun seemed to precede the fear of crime, the fear serving to justify the carrying. I asked one of the instructors whether carrying a gun didn’t bespeak a needlessly dark view of mankind. "I’m an optimist," he said, "but we live in a world of assholes."
But this pitch is meant to establish his credentials as a moderate, even a "liberal" on gun regulation. He then proceeds to make standard concern-troll arguments, that, gee, gun proliferators have feelings, too. Did you know they don't trust the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence? Those mean libruls just don't understand how down-home folks look at things!

When it comes right down to it, "Condition White" is for pussies, Real Men stay in "Condition Yellow" where they can bond with other Real Men:

Condition White may make us sheep, but it’s also where art happens. It’s where we daydream, reminisce, and hear music in our heads. Hardcore gun carriers want no part of that, and the zeal for getting everybody to carry a gun may be as much an anti–Condition White movement as anything else — resentment toward the airy-fairy elites who can enjoy the luxury of musing, sipping tea, and nibbling biscuits while the good people of the world have to work for a living and keep their guard up. Gun guys never stop building and strengthening this like-minded community. When I mention that I’m carrying, their faces light up. "Good for you!" "Right on!" "God bless you!" The owner of a gun factory in Mesa, Arizona, spotted the gun under my jacket and said, with great solemnity, "You honor me by wearing your gun to my place of business."
It's not until the end of the article that he declares that if lots and lots of people start carrying guns around all the time, "We’ll also be, in our own minds, a little sexier as we make ourselves more dangerous."

This doesn't strike me as the kind of guy I'd want in my place of business. Or anywhere else around me, actually.

With a show of listening to the proverbial both sides, he comes down squarely on the side of the gun proliferators. From Harper's: "An armed civilian might be even more useful during a massacre than a police officer; cops hit the people they’re aiming at less than half the time — in some departments much less. That might be because criminals identify police by their uniforms and so get the first shot off. A civilian might have the element of surprise."

In the interview, he goes all in with the NRA scenario:

You take a situation like a movie theater—like the Aurora shooting. From the gun guy perspective, nothing could possibly be worse than one guy with a gun intent on killing people. When the New York Times sneers at the idea that a licensed gun carrier could have made a difference, the gun guys all say, "What?! We all wish there could have been a cop there. But there's not always going be a cop there. We're not going to put police everywhere." None of us wants to live like that. And frankly, police aren't well trained to shoot anyway. The people who do mass shootings are cowards. They always kill themselves when the police show up. If somebody had been in that Aurora movie theater and had stood up and fired a shot at James Holmes, and he had seen a muzzle flash come at him, well, we don't know exactly what he would have done, but I assure you it would have upset his rhythm. Now, would there have been a gunfight in that theater? Maybe. The gun guys would argue that a gunfight is better than a massacre. And I think the gun guys are kind of correct when they say that it has to really give you the willies to imagine ordinary citizens as empowered as we are not wanting to have armed citizens around when something happens. If you would rather have lunatics killing people totally unopposed than having armed citizens there, you must really want ordinary citizens to be very weak and very disempowered. That must be important to you. The gun guys don't get how that could be. And I don't either, to tell you the truth. All of us who carry guns wish we had been in that theater. [my emphasis]
Or at least all of them nursing adolescent hero fantasies. Good grief!

But they must be Real Men, 'cause that thar sissy New York Times "sneers" at the pore boys who carry guns 'cause that's what Real Men do. Or something.

This is the kind of cowboy fantasy that the NRA and other gun-proliferation organizations promote. To anyone not caught up in comic-book type fantasies, it's pretty obvious that if well-trained police officers miss the person they're aiming for at a 50% rate, untrained civilians are unlikely to do any better.

But since Baum cheerfully refuses to acknowledge that anything about gun proliferation contributes to violent crime in any way - but he's a good Democratic librul, he just happens to agree with the NRA and the gun nuts on this one issue! - he don't know how come them libruls thank the gubment should be sayin' who can carry a gun and where or how:

To the unfamiliar, guns are noisy and intimidating. They represent the supremacy of force over reason, of ferocity over refinement, and probably a whole set of principles that rub some people the wrong way. But a free society doesn't make people give a reason for doing the things they want to do; the burden of proof falls on those who would forbid. I started out thinking widespread concealed-carry was a bad idea. But in the absence of evidence that allowing law-abiding citizens to carry guns is harmful, I come down on the side of letting people do what they want.
In the interview, he makes the liberal concern-troll pitch this way:

The Condition White, Condition Yellow thing gets to the root of the politics around guns. Conservatives tend to focus more on the individual and liberals more on the collective. I'm really no less a Democrat now than I was when I started this project, but I understand now that there's real value in encouraging people to be vigorous individuals within the collective. Just as a machine works better with high-quality parts, the collective works better with high-quality individuals. There are many ways to be a high-quality individual without a gun, but when you're living with guns, and especially when you're carrying guns, you're a pretty high-quality individual to the extent that you're aware and in the moment and observant and correct and polite. You don't mouth off to people; you don't flip the bird to someone who cuts you off on the road—because you never know where confrontation could end.

From the gun guy perspective, liberals have this bizarre desire to have a society of placid, dependent people, people who look to others to protect them. To the gun guys that's irrational, because while the police keep us safer in the aggregate, in the individual moment that something terrible happens to you, the cops won't be there.
A Real Man is just more of a high-quality Real Man when he's carrying a piece. And sexy, too, you know!

Except, you know, to those dadgummed feminists and such. From the interview:

Women really hate it—and they talk about it all the time—that men are making laws about women's reproductive rights. And gun guys really hate it that people like Dianne Feinstein and Charles Schumer are making laws about people's gun rights. Dianne Feinstein and Charles Schumer don't know anything about guns. It's offensive in the exact same way.
Dang hypocritical wimmin! Why don't they just shut up and admire mah gun?

In the interview, Baum also gets around to moaning about the "plight of the middle-aged white man in this society." If you haven't figure out the liberal concern troll routine by now, this whacks you over the head with it.

Do I even need to add than in neither the interview nor the article does Baum talk about the role of white racism in the way his good ole boy white guy gun-proliferation fans talk about guns and how they perceive crime?

And to complete the concern-troll picture, he mentions that he thinks the NRA is "a hideous organization." The printed version doesn't indicate if the interviewer pressed him on what that means, i.e., does he mean he prefers the even more radical Gun Owners of America? But he proceeds to bolster the NRA's loony idea to arm school teachers.

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