A fine article in the Washington Post this weekend by Christine Emba explored the cause of the American gun fetish. In America today there are about 393 million privately owned firearms—about 120 guns for every 100 Americans. That is far and away the highest rate of any country in the world, more than double the number of the next country on the list.
With so many guns available—and many of them military style guns designed to kill people efficiently—we ought not be surprised at daily mass shootings in the country.
The title of Emba’s article says it all: “Why do Americans want guns? It comes down to one word.” That one word is the “F” word: Fear.*
Attending the “Nations’s Gun Show” in Chantilly, featuring “rows of weapons and accessories—gun parts, AR build kits and body armor,” she found “one common emotion underlying the event: fear.”
When she asked sellers and buyers alike what gun ownership meant to them, “most replied with the same word: ‘protection’.” Protection from what? Pick your paranoia.
Gun violence now ranks as the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United Sates. The author proposes that “the paranoia that fuels gun-buying has come to seem like a mental health issue in its own right.” Out of control fear seems to characterize our current society.
The media coverage of gun violence feeds the paranoia and poorly understood ‘stand your ground’ and ‘castle doctrine’ laws perpetuate and protect a vigilante mind-set. Ignorance also feeds hatred.
She notes that there is a “sharp-edged individualism” behind gun ownership protection—it serves an every-man-for himself mind-set. Individual fear trumps collective safety.
Thomas Aquinas calls fear a mortal, that is a deadly, sin. Obviously, he is not talking about fear as an emotion but about fear as a choice. People and societies do, at times, choose fear and choose to make a worldview of fear and to build a lifestyle around it. Fear is an emotion we all feel, and especially when structures of family, culture, religion, and society are in meltdown.
Some fear is to be expected in times like ours and because fear is more widespread than usual, it is important to discern authentic fear from false fear–or, as Aquinas puts it, “chaste fear” from “servile fear.” The latter is what makes slaves of people.
To be continued.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 296f
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: Supporters of the previous tenant of the White House invoke the second amendment at a post-election rally, 11/7/2020. Photo by Ken Fager on Flickr.
Queries for Contemplation
Do you sense fear as reaching new levels in our society today? What means do we have to mitigate it?