Nuclear test mushroom cloud 1950s by InnoventionAustralia
In the so-called gun control debate we throw around terms like "assault weapons ban" or "expanded background checks" as if these represent the real problem. Let me state simply that: assault weapons, background checks or even the capacity of a magazine clip are not the problem. The problem at heart is with our culture of violence. As a society, we believe that violence is the answer to our problems. And until we change this fundamental belief innocent people will continue to die.
The Rifleman as Morality Play
Many of us grew up in the late 1950's and early 1960's watching a show called, The Rifleman. The show was a western, starring Chuck Connors as the widowed rancher Lucas McCain. His claim to fame was a modified Winchester 1892 rile. Publication material for the show states that: " The unique feature of the Rifleman's rifle was a screw pin attached to a large loop lever positioned to trip the trigger when the ring was slammed home; this allowed Lucas to fire the rifle as fast as he could work the lever, emptying the magazine in under five seconds." As a young boy, I absolutely loved this show and wanted the rifle he used. We had toy ones and we played "Rifleman" using our weapon to bestow law, order and justice when we pretended to be cowboys in the old west. I still watch the reruns every Saturday morning. I still feel the old thrill when the half-hour shows embark. But, as I grew older, I slowly began to realize that the "hook" of the show -- this rapid fire Winchester rifle -- was not the true source of the thrill.
The real thrill had to do with the fact that each half-hour episode was a short televised morality play. In these plays good regularly triumphed over evil and this is what I loved. Lucas McCain was a good person with high compassion and moral standards. But in these morality plays, quite often the violence associated with the use of the gun as a trump card was being regularly taught to us as young children -- even if the intent was otherwise. Good triumphed over evil, but the rifle was the hook. Violence was the hook.The Cuban Missile Crisis
We have come to believe in our country that violence is the answer to many of our problems. This may be due in part to the mythology surrounding the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II.
However, if we take a closer look at things we will discover that "violence" often was not actually the essence of the solution. An example of this is the Cuban Missile Crisis. For those of you who did not actually live through this event, the Cuban Missile Crisis was a nuclear weapons standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the fall of 1962, humanity nearly had a nuclear war.
The Cuban missile crisis happened when I was in the third grade. We military kids were extremely sensitive to this event because our parents were involved in the alerts and because they knew and talked about what could happen in a nuclear strike.
My uncle was a B-52 navigator and actually showed us training film he had about the nuclear tests. So in the third grade I knew what a nuclear mushroom cloud looked like, the shock wave and the subsequent radiation. We also knew that because Fairchild Air Force base (where our parents were stationed) was a B-52 post, that it was a primary target--where we lived was a primary target.
We knew we were ground zero in case of a nuclear attack. We had bomb alert drills in school where we had to hide under our desks. But we school kids knew this was a futile activity. We knew that even if we somehow survived the blast, which was not likely, that we would not survive the radiation.
Many people think that this crisis was solved by the nuclear might of the United States. This is actually untrue. In his memoir of the event entitled: Thirteen Days Robert Kennedy recounts the horrible events of those days and the peaceful negotiation that brought the crisis to an end.
At one point he describes a letter from the Soviet leader, Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the counter-part to President Kennedy. In his letter Khrushchev wrote:
Armaments bring only disasters. When one accumulates them, this damages the economy, and if one puts them to use, then they destroy people on both sides. Consequently, only a madman can believe that armaments are the principal means in the life of society. No, they are an enforced loss of human energy, and what is more are for the destruction of man himself. If people do not show wisdom, then in the final analysis they will come to a clash, like blind moles, and then reciprocal extermination will begin.
We were taught as children that Premier Khrushchev was the personification of evil. But this segment of his letter to President Kennedy during the negotiations of the Cuban Missile Crisis clearly shows that he both understood the significance of violence and deplored it. Is it any wonder then that he proved to be a sound negotiating partner?
Our Modern Tragedy: The Belief in Violence
In the United States of today, we are awash in guns because we believe in violence. This is not a revelatory statement; it is an observation.