Put your guns away: Open carry and the American experience

Put your guns away: Open carry and the American experience

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Open carry protest

GLASGOW, July 4, 2014 — As Americans are inundated with the stark images of open carry activists visiting stores and restaurants with semi-automatic weapons strapped to their backs, we are left to wonder where exactly the wheels began to come off.

The U.S. has long stood alone among industrialized, western democracies with its sloppy, unabashed love affair with guns. The Second Amendment to America’s Constitution has created a frightening rift among the population with regard to the role of firearms in American life, and what an appropriate interpretation of that amendment looks like. Can we agree that carrying semi-automatic weapons into shops and restaurants is a bit much?

Apparently not. Today, Americans are more apt to shout each other down or troll one another via social media than to participate in any meaningful discourse. The world is a busy place, and opinions vary widely as to what is right, wrong, and who ought to decide it all. The number of gun deaths in the U.S. last year, 11,419, should serve as an invitation to sane discussion, but it has not.

Not every open-carry activist is crazy, nor are law-abiding gun owners responsible for every gun death which occurs in the country. The issue lies not in individual choice, but in the way guns are inexorably woven into the fabric of American life. It is this curious phenomenon that presents the greatest obstacle to reducing gun violence, coupled with the belief of so many Americans that owning and brandishing firearms is almost a civic duty.

American culture has long celebrated the victory of the kill, be it in entertainment, video games, or the so-called sport of shooting animals. By connecting the violent taking of life with a the glory of conquest, a dangerous disconnect is born in our subconscious. As a society, we must decide whether we truly value the lives of others or not. If people believe they need guns to feel safe, America may already have passed the point of no return.

For gun activists, the NRA, and those who champion the Second Amendment, no justification is considered necessary for why they carry weapons. They believe the Constitution not only protects their right to do so, but promotes it. Many in this group believe that they constitute the last line of defense against an impending maelstrom of lawlessness.

Others mistrust the government so much that they are convinced only their guns ward off the liberty-shredding tentacles of state tyranny. A person who possesses this vision of the world may well be beyond reasonable discussion.

A neutral discourse on the merits of so many people carrying guns around is unnecessary in almost every other western, industrialized democracy; gun ownership remains a fiercely debated topic in the US. Whether guns are used to settle arguments, defend one’s home against potential invaders, or kill innocent beasts, people are increasingly unwilling to consider an America with less weapons.

The unfortunate trend appears to be even more deaths (many accidental), more violence, and the accompanying burden on the legal system, which trickles down to the taxpayer. It is indeed a needless cycle of wasted life, money, and time.

Is there some visceral joy in firing a weapon? What are the rest of us missing? We find ourselves, as a culture, enjoying such rapid advancements in technology and interconnectedness, and yet, when it comes to this one subject, we remain completely disconnected. Disagreements devolve into vitriol more quickly than they used to, and the ensuing arguments and confrontations are more frequently engaged in by people with firearms, with predictably grim results.

It is time to discuss the Second Amendment, what it means today, and how best to incorporate and determine its value and meaning moving forward. It is possible to have an opinion about guns, rights, and personal ownership without carrying semi-automatic weapons into crowded commercial areas. Open carry activists are not helping their cause by these displays, and the resulting unease only serves to widen the chasm between two opposite camps which must find a patch of common ground soon.


Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.

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