Political Animal


April 20, 2013 9:07 AM GUNS AND PANIC

You can't expect people to live under the constant threat of unemployment, let alone be unemployed for months and years at a time, and expect them to feel secure and that others are looking out for them.

By Jamie Malanowski

Good morning, ardent Washington Monthly fans. I am pleased to be among you. A bit daunted, too; compared to the news-gorging, policy-devouring flamethrowers who usually occupy this spot, I’m a old spitballer trying to get by on craft and guile. But I’ll do my best.

As Mr. Peabody used to say to his boy Sherman, let’s turn the Wayback Machine to last Monday, and visit a story that took place before the onslaught of news events became so torrential that poor Matt “Losing Steak” Lauer found himself in West, Texas at the fertilizer factory explosion while everybody outside of West, Texas was gripped by the events in Boston. The story I’m referring to, of course, is the Senate’s refusal to pass the new gun control legislation.

The story has already been well-masticated, but even at this late date, I was especially struck by a comment by Stuart Stevens in The Daily Beast the other day:

“It was not lost on many of those paying attention that the provisions of the Manchin-Toomey legislation would have done nothing to prevent the Newtown massacre. The lack of such deprived this very logical president from making a logical case of support based on the Newtown tragedy and instead forced him to push the emotion of Newtown further and further. On a certain ironic level, this placed Obama in the same position as President George W. Bush making the case for the invasion of Iraq based on mushroom clouds rather than on hard data.”

A Bush comparison? Yikes!

Put me down as one of those who believes that the anti-gun forces don’t really have a good psychological insight into what’s driving many gun owners. I think it’s fear, not of black helicopters coming to take away everybody’s hunting rifles in the middle of the night, but an animal fear, not entirely irrational, that things are headed in the wrong direction. The economy is not producing enough jobs, and nobody feels secure. The housing market has not recovered, and nobody feels secure. An education doesn’t guarantee a job. A lifetime of work may not guarantee you Social Security. And though I pull Paul Krugman’s columns up to my chin like a security blanket, I don’t like the size of that debt. Throw in teenage terrorists, a juvenile North Korean dictator, and an ethic of individualism that excuses all sorts of selfish behavior. There’s a low grade fever of fear infecting the country that in some places is building to panic, and no one is really addressing it. You can’t expect people to live under the constant threat of unemployment, let alone be unemployed for months and years at a time, and expect them to feel secure and that others are looking out for them. I don’t think buying a gun is an answer; I don’t think owning a gun will bring relief. But do I think that someone who wants to own a gun to enhance a sense of security is crazy? No, I don’t, not really. An improved economy may not ensure for gun control, but there’s no hope until things get fundamentally better.

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.


  • T-Rex on April 20, 2013 10:17 AM:

    That, of course, was exactly what Obama meant when he said that in times of insecurity people cling to their guns and their Bibles. Of course, that remark, which is actually both true and not particularly insulting, was milked for all it was worth as an insult to gun owners and religious people, but it was a pretty obvious psychological fact. Religion gives people comfort, and guns give them a sense of security, no matter how misplaced.

  • Nancy Cadet on April 20, 2013 10:31 AM:

    It's fear , all right, but more specifically fear of black and brown people, the " blahs" as Rick Santorum said. Gun nuts and other right wingers generally are so threatened by the end of white supremacy that their politics are steeped in resentment and anxiety. The resentment is due to the belief, aptly described by Atrios, that there 's a super secret excellent welfare benefit that only " those people" have access to. A great comment I heard on the radio during the search for the Marathon bombers was about the neglected history of home grown terrorism, that is the Ku Klux Klan.

    Yes, high levels of under and unemployment are hurting us, but the American love affair with violence poisons our discourse, and rots many people's minds.

  • rrk1 on April 20, 2013 10:42 AM:

    The growth of inequality to epic proportions has wrung the sense of security from the 99%. Despite falling violent crime rates (at least for the moment) people feel they live in a jungle, and they do: it's an economic jungle where the laws of prey and predator prevail. That is exactly what happens when the rich get richer by robbing the poor. Resort to gun ownership is perhaps understandable on that level. But it doesn't explain irrational opposition to universal background checks or the interest in military-style assault weapons. Is it paranoia or just a macho, testosterone-driven display of mine-is-bigger-than-yours?

    There are people in the hinterlands of the homeland who think urban blacks and Hispanics are going to spread through the countryside when the sinful cities are turned to pillars of salt. Frontier mentality except it isn't redskins they're worried about.

  • jjm on April 20, 2013 10:48 AM:

    Why isn't the massive firepower purchased by the Tarnaev brothers also an issue?

  • Milt on April 20, 2013 10:51 AM:

    I believe you are right but let me extend the line of reasoning a bit. "Insecurity" indicates a lack of control over a situation and people need to feel they are in control of their lives. Think back to yesterday and what did the television news hawks stress - the police were in control of the situation and they were progressing in an orderly fashion. Doctors stress the same thing when you look up at them from an operating table. And of course politicians say the same thing in times of economic stress.

    On a more personal level, macho white guys who are often farther down the economic and societal level must feel their control slipping away all the time as they have less and less say over their jobs, family and future. Thus the only way they can feel they have some control is to arm themselves.

    I'm sure on a conscious level few of them think men-in-black are going to take their guns but it is far easier to justify their actions and needs by building a fantasy (check out all the fantasy movies and video games that support this behavior). At the same time, by banding together under the flag of the NRA they have the illusion of strength in numbers and as a result they can build fantasy castle walls behind which they can retreat and from which they can feel safe and in control of their lives.

    I don't think this is going away until individuals feel they have a meaningful say in the government, the economy and the forces in the society in which they live.

  • Neildsmith on April 20, 2013 10:58 AM:

    It's sort of hard to argue anymore that there aren't crazy people willing to kill or blow stuff up for any number of reasons. Religion, mental illness, political ideology - oh, wait those are all the same thing. There really aren't that many, though. The half a dozen massacres every year may simply not ever be preventable given the proliferation of guns and bomb making materials.

    I pretty much despise gun owners, hunters, and target shooters. I think they callously ignore the damage their hobby has done to society over the years. If they harbor fantasies that they can hold off the evil police who might someday take their weapons, they need only see what happened to the Boston brothers yesterday to realize they don't stand a chance no matter what sort of weapons they stockpile. Harboring such a fantasy, as others have pointed out, means they want to retain the option to shoot cops and US military personnel if they decide they don't like the way America is going. Yikes!

    Where do we go from here? I believe it is time to think of all gun owners the same way we think of drunk drivers and consumers of child porn. They are a menace to a free society. They abuse their freedom in ways that injure others and they should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Neildsmith on April 20, 2013 11:11 AM:

    And there is money to be made too! We are a sick, sick, sick, society.

    "Since Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009, shares of Sturm, Ruger are up an astounding 671%. Competitor Smith & Wesson is up a less impressive (though still incredible) 231%. Cabelaís, which is a major gun retailer, has rallied nearly 900%. For comparison, the S&P 500 is up about 83% over that time."


  • JaaaaayCeeeee on April 20, 2013 11:27 AM:

    Krugman, Brad DeLong, Joe Stiglitz, Mark Thoma, Duncan Black, Dean Baker, Mike Konczal and others point out that debt/deficit hawksterism backfires, actually raising debt and giving us lost decades(along with Ben Bernanke, the Boston Fed, Korchalata, and even the IMF is finally admitting it). Yet a lot of politicians in Europe are reacting by saying they expect no growth for a long long time.

    So, honest, smart economists document that our unemployment is man-made, unnecessary, and counterproductive, for all. While the news media peddles austerity, and aren't about to turn on their influential sources and advertisers.

    Look at who profits from austerity, by which I mean unnecessarily high unemployment and underemployment. No wonder most news media and pols say that cutting spending is our most urgent task (not unemployment and growing poverty). The news media reports mostly anything BUT how we need to replace sequestration with reconciliation, of budgets that actually add up.

    Watch them float that Social Security cuts were Obama's idea, or avoid reporting on how the House Republican budget is just as arithmetic-challenged as ever, or ignore what austerity policies and sequestration is doing to the unemployed, or fill the news with talk of 2014 or 2016 potential races. Anybody else sick of hearing the latest campaign strategy autopsy or analysis?

    Income and employment is down at all levels, and it's not structural. It's an economic recovery being held back, by deliberate fiscal policy. At least in 1937 they could claim ignorance, for turning their backs on the unemployed and cutting spending and investment.

    Abandoning the unemployed, to impose austerity, is very profitable in the short term, and cuts pesky government, regulation, and even provides excuses to privatize more, so taxpayers get less for more. 80% of Federal revenues now come from payroll taxes, and corporate taxes used to provide 35% of revenue, but now provide 9%. Has news media even covered Obama's or Senate Democrat tax proposals?

    Look at who profits. 42 of 45 Senators who voted down any controls on internet, etc. arms trafficking, got pro-gun money, with record fund-raising since Newtown (Guardian and Sunlight). You could sell out your mom for a Senate seat and get a measly $174,000/year plus benies, or you can supplement it, hugely, by representing big money (not voters). Just winning a senate race can cost more than $10 million.

    Although I think that Krugman keeps many of us sane, we have to pass the Disclose Act, and eventually do what other democracies do to avoid devolving to oligopolies - make voting easy, limit campaigns like Canada, publicly fund campaigns, and amend the Constitution to fix what has culminated in Citizens United.

    Economists aren't going to do these things for us.

  • James on April 20, 2013 11:42 AM:

    In fact, just about all of the ills you have named are the direct, causal fault of Republican policy, the very policies that these doofuses and dipsticks have been voting into office for the past, ohhhh, thirty years and more.

    Kind of like this:

  • MuddyLee on April 20, 2013 11:44 AM:

    Thanks for the Mr. Peabody and Sherman reference. You might be an old guy IF...

  • Rick B on April 20, 2013 2:23 PM:

    "... whatís driving many gun owners. I think itís ... an animal fear, not entirely irrational, that things are headed in the wrong direction."

    YES! You've got it!!

    It's caused by a combination of first a national conservative political party beholden to corporate and wealthy families whose only popular grip on power is to spread and exploit fear, together with second the massive social changes that have occurred since WW I with the population growth and urbanization, industrialization and post-industrialization of the economy, and the resulting social changes as the new modern urban workforce requires social and economic equality and reduces the social power of religious institutions.

    The second factor is direct result of the growth of the industrial age and the replacement of subsistence farmers by food-growing machinery. The first factor is the backlash from large institutions and wealthy families who lose power and wealth in the new industrialized and bureaucratized egalitarian society.

    The U.S. system of government gives disproportionate power to rural low-population density parts of the nation - as those of us in Texas cities who are gerrymandered into a few Democratic Congressional Districts can attest.

    Most of you above are correct, but especially @James at 11:42 AM. Much of the damage to the economy is caused by plutocrats trying to hand on to power. It was more difficult for them while America was fighting wars against an existential enemy like the Fascists or the USSR. The collapse of the USSR in 1989 has allowed the plutocrats to hamstring every reasonable action by the federal government to a much greater extent. America does not face an international enemy today which could take advantage of Mitch McConnell's intransigence to destroy our nation, so he can do it.

  • bmorejoe on April 20, 2013 10:46 PM:

    Please. Spending thousands of dollars on guns is somehow a not-crazy response to economic insecurity? Guns are expensive. Sorry, no sale. Also, I think you miss the big (crazy) obvious - the guns are for use against THOSE PEOPLE. Currently including the president of the country as well as liberals, democrats and of course people of color. Same subterranean forces that crippled the union movement in the fifties. Will we ever see the end of it?