High Noon and Gun Control

My friend Joe Segor, whom I’ve had a couple of enjoyable evenings with in Miami, had a good comment on “A Secular Argument for Gun Control.”  He writes:

“An excellent essay. Unfortunately, it won’t convince the gun nuts. Not even those who can understand the argument. The people at the top of the NRA are there to protect the arms industry. Most of the rest have a fanatical belief in the right to own firearms. A friend of mine is rational on every subject except guns. He is beyond persuasion.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Usually I let my occasional comments rest quietly in the Comment section where they die a peaceful death in 24 hours (or earlier).  But here is what I said to Joe:

“I doubt any gun nut would make it through the first paragraph, or even stumble on the site unless they think New Oxonian is a new British micro-brew.

There is only one good analogy for the cowardice and lack of moral resolve the national government shows in the stare-down with the gun lobby.

It’s a scene we all know from watching too many Hollywood Westerns–a collage:

The good but morally conflicted tenderfoot sheriff from back East who takes the place of the former sheriff (who was last seen galloping out of town while the gittin’ was good) is trying to restore law and order to Dry Gulch.

But the town is held hostage by a gang of roustabouts who shoot first and ask questions later. And prefer not to ask questions. The sheriff asks them politely to put their guns away. They spit, take a slug of whisky and knock his hat off. Then they go upstairs to visit Miss Kitty, rob the bank (again) and ride out of town to terrorize some stage coaches hauling gold from Joplin to San Francisco.

The sheriff [strains of “Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin’”] wags his head and wonders why some men are just plain ornery. His glance becomes steely. He reaches to his side and remembers, he’s got a gun too–a gift from Aunt Emma in St Louis when she heard he was going to Injun country. By gum, he says, I’ll do it. “Somebody’s got to! I’m tired of being pushed. I think I ought to stay,” says Will.

In the movie, there will be a showdown between the sheriff and the quick-triggered outlaw in the black hat and matching whiskers, the smartest in a gang of eight whose next-smartest member can only count to five but can shoot a rattlesnake through the eye from half a mile away.

In Washington, there won’t be–a showdown I mean–even though that sad city is just as surely being held hostage by a gun totin’ mob as Dry Gulch. And just like in High Noon, they own the law, the lawmakers and a few judges. Hell, what kind of American are you effn you don’t carry a Bible in your right hand and a gun to defend it wif in your left.

It’s even worse than I just painted it, because the guys with guns–Joe’s gun nuts– probably love High Noon and they think they’re the sheriff.  After all, don’t Gary Cooper solve his little problem because he knows how to use a gun?  And don’t it make his pacifist Quaker wife Amy look like a silly stewing woman–until the end where she gets spunky and tussles with Miller to give the marshal a clear shot and BANG problem solved.

So pardner, whaddya reckon?

It isn’t the gun owners we need to go after: a lot of them can’t count to five either. It’s the gang. It’s the NRA with their belief that they own the law and the lawmakers and ain’t no sheriff strong enough to do nothin’ about it nohow. They seem to be right. Where is Grace Kelly (Amy) when you need her?

Know what I think? That the best line of that paradigmatic film belongs to Martin Howe: “The public doesn’t give a damn about integrity. A town that won’t defend itself deserves no help.”  Aren’t we fickin sick of public outrage that lasts for two news cycles and then dies away?   My argument, you’re right, will persuade no one in the Miller gang.  But we have empowered them and we are too cowardly to take their guns away.  And you can’t do that with guns. Apparently you can’t do it with votes either. This isn’t Hollywood: we are caught in a real life Western. Welcome to Hadleyville–Dry Gulch.

13 thoughts on “High Noon and Gun Control

  1. “It isn’t the gun owners we need to go after: a lot of them can’t count to five either.”

    Oh Dear. This post is a catalog of category errors.

    Begin with counting.

    Count to 5 every second, 324 every minute, 46,500 daily. That’s the daily average of Firearm background checks 08-12. This doesn’t account for 2012/2013 clearing of the shelves from Dec 12 to summer 13. BTW when weapons and ammunition are being cleared for several months faster than they can be produced by the Global Market*, so fast merchants refuse your money with “out of stock, no backorder” as the status, that’s an arms race. Under conditions of a domestic arms race it’s not nuts to have a gun. It’s nuts not to be armed when your neighbors are moblizing for Iwo Jima.

    *you may thank Clinton for the Global Munitions Trade having access to American markets. Mind you the only ammo available for months was indeed Russian.

    • Fascinating. Next time I watch High Noon I shall keep a tablet and pencil handy to mark down all the category errors. But it’s a pretty basic movie; imagine what you could do with a Shakespeare tragedy like King Lear.

    • Oh dear, VCXXX writes a comedy of errors, pure farcical comedy, with a major part of the humour coming from slapstick hypocrisy and lack of genuine cognition of the logical recognition of the necessity of gun control. The irony is that there is a need for such a redundant prehistoric debate to exist in the civilised world where other societies have recognised the obvious and banned personal ownership of firearms. Evolution is the solution… Regrettably this comedy of errors writ by XXCV is lacking the genius of Shakespeare’s own insight into the reality of society.

  2. I have done my national service, done my active duty and seen the terrible, awful, irreversible finality of gun use with the result that I am condemned to live in the shameful shadow of those bitter memories of my own savagery. And that is my point, gun use is not some abstract matter that can be resolved by civilized debate, it is something that taps into the bestial, violent savagery of our nature. Rules and regulations will not subdue this aspect of our nature. Our nature cannot be subdued but it can be transformed. I have seen a transforming vision where all human life is regarded as sacred(but first I had to do a Muggeridge). The Catholic Church calls this the seamless garment of life. This is the belief that we may not take life for any reason, whether that be for military purposes(war), judicial purposes(execution), medical purposes(abortion and euthanasia) or other reasons(homicide).

    If we want gun control we must supplant our savagery with a sweeping ethical vision that values life before all else, with no exceptions. We cannot call for gun control and at the same time commit military murder, judicial murder or medical murder, because that exposes us as unprincipled hypocrites. And our hypocrisy fatally undermines our arguments for gun control.

    • It’s interesting how ‘duty’ is defined. Bertrand Russell would define that ‘duty’ as one which it was a citizen’s obligation to disobey. I wonder who this ‘we’ is. Where I live we do not have capital punishment, we have laws against ownership of guns, and in international wars, our ‘troops’ are sometimes sent as peacekeepers and medical aid. Do those people calling for gun control in America, advocate capital punishment and foreign invasions? I don’t think so. They call for an end to all the killing. I do not agree that these are not matters to be resolved in civil debate, as history has proved otherwise. They can be and have been.

      • Steph, New Zealand is a most admirable society that produces marvellous rugby players, not quite as good as our own(grin) but still pretty damn good. Unfortunately it is hard to replicate elsewhere the wonderful attributes of your little islands.

        It’s interesting how ‘duty’ is defined‘. I am using the term ‘active duty’ in the conventional sense that most people would recognise.

        I wonder who this “we” is.‘ In the first paragraph that would be devout Catholics. In the second paragraph that would be concerned people who want to limit gun ownership in the USA. Context matters.

        Do those people calling for gun control in America, advocate capital punishment and foreign invasions? I don’t think so.‘ ‘Those’ of course are a diffuse group representing many shades of opinion. The opinions that matter are those of the political leadership and in particular those of the President. He has not unequivocally opposed capital punishment, he vigorously prosecutes foreign wars, has not renounced war as an instrument of foreign policy, sanctions murder by drone and supports abortions. And he advocates gun control of only a limited kind. My point is that the mixed morality of his position is a fatal weakness as it makes him appear as a hypocrite and that undermines his efforts to obtain consensus.

        I do not agree that these are not matters to be resolved in civil debate, as history has proved otherwise. They can be and have been.‘ Civil debate requires a consensus about civility coupled with a willingness to yield to greater interests. In the USA civility is declining, partisan bias is increasing, the willingness to yield is almost absent and industry lobbyists wield great power. Under these conditions civil debate remains an exercise in futility, as we have seen. What is required is bold leadership(of the Gordian knot kind) by a strong president who has not been morally compromised. Obama is not strong, is not bold and has been morally compromised. The same can be said of the Democratic Party who are, I think, liberal in name only. Civil debate can certainly play a role in persuading moderates to support the cause.

      • oh dear Peter, I regret I could not proceed beyond your unsubtle condescension. Beer and rugby, indeed the state religion. However our culture is more concerned with our contributions to the advancement of knowledge achieved in the arts and sciences and the ecological balance of the environment. And our ‘little islands’ of Aotearoa – Te Ika-a-Maui, Te Waipounamu and Rakiura are not isolated from the rest of the world with our opinions, ideas and laws. Ngā mihi o te Tau Hou.

      • Steph, my er, condescension, cleverly conceals a real admiration for your country. It is the preferred destination for those of us who choose to flee these crime-infested and corrupt shores. The assimilation process is eased by the fact we share the same state religion and I unashamedly confess to being an ardent devotee of the religion. You omitted the third part of the trinity of our religion, that is the ‘braaivleis’, known to you as the grill. Our version of the state religion even has its own language but we have nothing that compares with your inspiring ritual of the haka.
        Ek wens u ‘n gelukkige nuwe jaar.

      • You are mistaken. Aotearoa New Zealand has no state religion and freedom of religion has been protected since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840). You have missed the point of secular society, government and education and freedom of ideas. Aotearoa is not unique in this. I’d be careful about reducing the haka to a ‘ritual’. There are several forms of haka which are ceremonial performance dances.

    • I do agree that the late Pope’s culture of life theology was nuanced and rich and that something like that has to undergird a discussion of the issue. It irks me that some of the most conservative Catholics in the United States Congress are vigorously pro-life on the abortion question and vigorously pro-gun (in its positive form, pro-Second Amendment Rights) in opposing even sensible restrictions, such as the caliber of weapon and background checks and “gun show” purchases. The new pope is actually very good, in his bluffness, in pointing out the contradictions of conservative Catholicism on issues like this. But the conservatives will say that owning a gun is not using a gun violently, and they will also say that having a gun in the right hands deters violent men. Thomistic logic fails at precisely this point, unless you regard the entire gun culture as sinful in se, which I think (but who am I?) it is possible to do because it conforms to the “thoughts, deeds, words, actions or omissions” criteria laid down for serious sin in Catholic thought. It certainly encourages violent and murderous thoughts, even if these are defended as thoughts directed against other violent and murderous people. It is tribal and vicious and not about moral virtue at all: it is about money and politicians, an ancient toxic blend that now poisons American society. I do sympathize with Stephanie’s point of view but it is terribly naïve. This is not about good and bad at the level or human innocence and blame but about arms, weapons, and lucre. It is a gigantic problem in America not because people are unlike people elsewhere, who may have far stricter laws, but because those countries that have been able to remove guns and gun violence from society are not gun-manufacturing dependent. The United States trade in weapons is simply staggering in economic terms. It is a visible reminder than America grew strong, rich and then fat on profits from armaments and weapons manufacturing after the War. It sells guns like comic books and indeed the two cultures have a lot in common at the fantasy level–look at what the mass killers read. Anyway, my dears, I do not think the consistency of Catholic theology is the cure for this and I am quite sue that moralism isn’t because there are plenty of articulate moralists talking about guns in the United States already. The debate has been going on for decades and has unfortunately become predictable, even in the face of tragedies like Sandy Hook that are supposed to “change the discussion.”

      • Yes, agreed that politically conservative Catholics have an incoherent position. I can only recommend that they go back and read the Gospels once more. They might just perceive the radical nature of Christ’s teachings. If I must fault Christianity it is because they have shrunk back from the true import of Christ’s teachings. As you point out, there cannot be any doubt that the gun culture is sinful.

        Robert Ardrey wrote that we, homo sapiens, should not be defined as tool using animals but instead as weapon using animals. The fascination with weapons and the innate urge to use them is deeply embedded in our nature, which explains our reluctance to discard them. As long as we possess them we will succumb to the temptation to use them. The existence of the mammoth arms industry is evidence both of our fascination with weapons and our urge to use them. Film, television, print and games media reflect and amplify the fascination. Meaningful controls on gun ownership requires four things: that we curb our fascination with weapons, control our urge to use them, stop glamorizing the use of weapons and neutralize the political power of the arms industry. Our score so far is 0 out of 4.

        I do not think the consistency of Catholic theology is the cure for this and I am quite sure that moralism isn’t
        Gun control is a moral decision. The moral arguments should be made as strong as possible so that the political process of implementing moral choices has the best chance of success.

  3. I believe that since the advent of nuclear weapons in the USA, the 2nd amendment is mute. What good is a gun against an nuclear bomb……I rest my case…..

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