God And Guns: The Price Of Manifest Destiny

The other day I came across this in my Facebook newsfeed.

Hans Baldus

Obviously, as the Bible tells us that Adam was made from the dust of the ground and Eve from Adam’s rib, neither one of them should have a belly button. Unless of course, God, having fashioned man from his own image, actually has a belly button himself, but that would necessitate that God had a mother, and people just don’t seem to be willing to stretch their imagination that far.

Every depiction I’ve seen of Adam and Eve has them sporting belly buttons presumably because that’s what looks most natural to the beholding audience. It’s one of those instances of cognitive dissonance, I think, a situation where what one believes is so alien to the culture they inhabit, that the person is obliged to compartmentalize and hold two mutually exclusive truths at the same time — just making sure to keep them in separate boxes. And so, Adam and Eve can have belly buttons in spite of their divine manifestation.

As a Canadian outsider — where religion really isn’t a part of the national conversation — the manner in which both American discourse and culture are bound to religion has always struck me as kind of weird.

It’s not really all that surprising that religion is the fulcrum upon which the nation was built, given that America was settled by Pilgrims who had to flee religious persecution. As a concept, America was a place where you could let your freak flag fly, and an individual’s public expression of their divine beliefs was a central part of this. “Here, in America, we don’t need to be scared, we can practice our religion openly and proudly.” Being religious was deeply embedded in the very idea of being American, and now, centuries later, this vestigial sense of identity remains burned into the collective psyche. Religious convictions, like tracer bullets flashing through the sky, illuminate all that takes place on the ground, and as commerce is the engine that drives the country, religion has gotten uncomfortably mashed up in the politics that govern it, with supernatural explanations for policy carrying as much weight as those that are mortally reasoned.

Recently, a friend of mine who was in the midst of a crisis, retreated into prayer to seek divine guidance. He would “know” when God spoke to him. If he saw a bird looking at him and then flying off a post, he would know that God was telling him to take the job and move to a different city. However, if I came to him as an informed friend and explained to him all the reasons why moving might be a bad idea, it wouldn’t have any purchase for him. In his mind, God would never use me as a vessel through which his words might be manifest, but would only use a mystical tool — the communication had to be supernatural and it had to serve his interest.

This sort of obdurate commitment to a principle that lives beyond reason is the spine that gives body to the gun control debate in America, too. People pore over The Constitution as if it was an immaculate document, carefully parsing the Second Amendment in an attempt to decipher the message. Did the forefathers mean that only the militia — who at the time would have been comprised of farmers with slow-loading muskets rising out of misty fields to take on the King — have the right to bear arms? Or did they mean the entire nation should be an armed and waiting militia? People treat the constitution as if it was an oracle sent from the future rather than the past, and try to shake the truth free of it as if it was a Magic 8-Ball.

How 18th century thinking about gun control relates to the 21st century is beyond my understanding, and with the massacre in Aurora, we are once again forced to ask the question, “Why aren’t there stricter gun control laws in America?”

James Holmes, the young man responsible for the carnage at The Dark Knight Rises screening, entered the movie theater clad in body armor and armed with four legally purchased guns. We all know what he did. He’d been planning it for months and had purchased more than 6000 rounds of ammunition as well as countless other items designed to aid in the elimination of humans. When Holmes began to execute his plan, the people in the theater were thrown into the kind of nightmare they’d paid to see, not live — and for those who believe that guns serve as a necessary protection against such violent intrusions, it should be noted that not one person in the crowd fired back in self-defense.

The End Times come in many forms, I suppose. For some it came in the pitiless form of James Holmes, for others who wait for a specifically Biblical unfurling, they hope to see a fiery conflagration that will herald the second coming of Jesus Christ. Many welcome this idea, and they want to have their guns with them when Armageddon looms. This supernatural mentality has people all over the country hoarding weapons and constructing bunkers, and so when a man like James Holmes buys an obscene amount of weapons and artillery, it seems unremarkable — he’s just another self-reliant survivalist. Public safety, public sense, even, takes a back seat to personal liberty, and religious freedom and the right to protect one’s religious freedom, becomes the right to own all manner of paramilitary weaponry.

That our popular culture has an effect on our behavior seems so self-evident as to be beyond debate. In this situation, the murderer was literally posing as a character from the movie’s narrative. He called himself The Joker and he dyed his hair orange.

The connection is plain to see. This doesn’t mean the movie caused the shooting, but it does draw a straight line linking how what we see can influence how we behave. When a crazy person tried to kill Arizona Senator Gabrielle Giffords, it was after Sarah Palin had placed her on a “target list” and exalted her supporters, “Don’t retreat, instead — RELOAD!”

These cues, taken by people looking for an excuse to act on their burgeoning madness, lead to tragedy. It’s human nature that we’re inspired by the world around us, as it creates us just as we create it.

Just the other day my wife showed me this video:

The first thing I thought after seeing it was that if I was 12 years old I would immediately go out and try to recreate the prank. On a much darker scale, when Canadian psycho Luka Magnotti’s video of murder and desecration was posted on the web site Best Gore (a site that was to serve the artistic needs of amateur horror film makers) my morbid curiosity was such that I went to have a look.

Obviously, it’s a mighty big step from watching violence to committing atrocities, but my point is that we’re vulnerable. I would never for a second condone censoring art in any of its forms, but we have to accept the obvious fact that the more we’re exposed to violent culture, the more apt we are to be caught up in a violent culture.

Any attempt to limit the free market through which art, religion and guns flow is seen as an affront to the sacrosanct principle of American individualism. The individual rises and falls based on merit, the American myth goes, and there’s nobody to blame or praise but the individual. It’s opportunity that America offers, and people are given as much space as possible to be the person they’re destined to become. But this form of Manifest Destiny comes at a price, and often that price is paid in blood, as mass shootings — now as American as football and Levis — show us again and again and again. TC mark


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  • Kath

    “and for those who believe that guns serve as a necessary protection against such violent intrusions, it should be noted that not one person in the crowd fired back in self-defense.”

    the reason that not one member of the audience “fired back in self-defense” is that the carrying of guns was outlawed in that theatre. if one only one person had be carrying a legal firearm and had used it, fewer lives may have been lost in this tragedy.

    • Hannah

      I came to point out and mention the same thing. When guns are outlawed in public venues, then we are denied our right to defend ourselves and other law abiding citizens who become victims when criminals attacks. It rather should be noted that Marcus Cinemas would not allow concealed carry in their venue and must now face the consequences of that decision.

    • Dan

      I fail to see how MORE people firing weapons through tear gas and smoke in a dark movie theater would have saved lives. Having a gun doesn’t mean you can use it effectively or safely. More guns firing = more bullets in the air = more deaths.

    • http://duncansomerside.wordpress.com duncansomerside

      Dan 100% knows what he is talking about. How does the ability for everyone to have a gun save lives? That is beyond circular logic, it is pure stupidity. More killing machines allowed= more killings. We need to pull the bit on all guns to stop these atrocities from happening again.

      • steve

        how will it stop these random acts of violence from happening? banning firearms won’t deter criminals from continuing to purchase them and using them. duh. it will make the average citizen unarmed and unprotected.

  • kdg71342

    Just a quick note: I would imagine that the primary reason noone fired back in self defense that terrible day in Colorado is because it is illegal to carry a weapon into a theatre. Even those with a concealed carry license are limited as to where they can do so. Law abiding gun owners are not the danger.

    • watts

      and yet, holmes was a law-abiding gun owner minus the massacre part. and to the author, maybe we should start censoring violent art. i hate to say it, but the proof is showing more and more that, as a society, we just aren’t intelligent enough to deal with it.

      • kdg71342

        The drunk driver who wipes out an entire family is law abiding until he gets behind the wheel. Do you propose that we limit everyone’s ability to drive because of one persons insanity?

        A crazy person intent upon murder will do so.

      • watts

        haha nice try.

        1. drunk drivers aren’t intent on murder.

        2. cars are not designed to hurt people. guns are.

        3. a drunk driver can’t kill 12 people and injury 50 some others in one crash.

        4. CLEARLY law abiding gun owners ARE the problem. this guy was a law abiding gun owner and look what he decided to do with the privelege. if gun laws were stricter, this wouldn’t have happened. if everyone has guns, people can still be killed by guns. if no one has guns, no one can be killed by guns. period.

  • nightshaye

    Yes, my sentiments exactly- and “if I was 12 years old I would immediately go out and try to recreate the prank”- of course, that is the job of a kid, to recreate what they see. It’s so basic, to deny this could happen is madness. But by the same token if a person were to commit some act of bravery or kindness because they were inspired by a film, do you think the filmmakers would deny the credit? Of course not, they take credit for that kind of thing all the time.

    Just ask any filmmaker: the reason why they initially went into filmmaking was to influence people with some kind of “message”. Hmmm.

    However, I have to disagree with “religion is the fulcrum upon which the nation was built”. Oh no no no, this nation was built upon the idea of a land grab and money, the Pilgrims and other small groups are just that, small groups which by no means represent the vaster whole.

    Land, gold, and the monetary opportunities this come with. That is the fulcrum upon which the nation was built.

    So let that answer your question of “Why aren’t there stricter gun control laws in America?”

    The firearms industry is a huge one, which makes a LOT of money, so much that they can hire lobbyists for millions of dollars a year to make sure our “lawmakers” keep the industry intact.

    In all these centuries, nothing has changed.

  • nightshaye

    To those bringing up the point about ‘law abiding citizens not being the proble:

    Holmes was an exemplary “law abiding citizen” until this happened, and obtained all his weaponry legally.

    When do you think the next “law abiding citizen” who is doing everything right for now is going to come out blazing in a massacre like this?

    I don’t think it will be too very long.

  • Kath

    i would like to point out that both the UK and Australia tightened their gun control laws within the last few decades, and crimes committed with firearms have actually INCREASED in both locales. what does this prove? when “the good guys” (legal owners) cannot protect themselves and their loved ones, and criminals know this, they will take advantage of it by using illegal weapons against them. legal guns are not the problem, it is the criminals who (obviously) do not follow the laws–hence, criminals–that are the problem.

  • Quiet Observer

    You should read up on your American history. You couldn’t just let your “freak flag fly” as you say. Only Protestant’s were accepted in the New World and only some forms of Protestantism. If you weren’t Anglican in Massachusetts, you couldn’t vote and were probably forced to be kicked out of the state. Catholicism is one of the reasons of the Revolutionary war. It is referenced in the Constitution and is one of the Intolerable Acts that caused the colonies to go to war with Britain. The act allowed for the free practice of Catholicism in the newly attained area of Quebec after the French and Indian War.

    Secondly, it is well known that Holmes wasn’t wearing body armor. That was a false report. He was wearing a tactical vest which would hold things like magazines and have pouches for other things like that. The whole 6,000 rounds thing doesn’t matter because you can only shoot so much ammunition. at a time from a SEMI AUTO weapon. He didn’t have, nor is it legal to purchase a FULL Auto weapon. People who gripe about assault weapons usually don’t know the first thing about them. All weapons here are semi auto from the tiniest pistol to the largest rifle.

  • pmass

    I think we can still support the second amendment while at the same time taking steps like limiting the number of bullets a magazine is allowed to hold.

    • Sara

      So you can shoot less people? Riiiiight, that’ll help.

    • catch

      Why should we support the second amendment?

      • pmass

        Well, you don’t have to. But it’s still the law of United States that citizens can own firearms. Changing that law will require the support of a majority in 2/3 of the states (34 states) to be proposed and 3/4 of the states (38 states) to be ratified. Thus as long as there is a majority of people in at least 13 states which support the second amendment.

        From , the population of the 13 least-populous states is approximately 15 million people. A majority is a shade over 7.5 million people. Now, some of those least populous states are less likely to support the second amendment, but the majority are more conservative leaning. So let’s bump that number up to about 10 million. As long as there are at least those 10 million individuals who support the second amendment in the US (adjusting the number for population growth, of course), the second amendment is not going to change.

    • kdg71342

      Watts- RE: “haha nice try.”

      I’ll address each point:

      “1. drunk drivers aren’t intent on murder.”

      Perhaps not, however knowingly choosing to get behind the wheel while impaired shows a depraved indifference to the welfare of others that I find extremely disturbing.

      According to MADD: Over 1.41 million drivers were arrested in 2010 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That’s 1.41 MILLION people who KNOWINGLY chose to put other people at risk.

      “2. cars are not designed to hurt people. guns are.”

      True and not completely true. Guns are used for many other purposes- hunting, varmint control, shooting sports. Anything can be used as a weapon, it’s the user that determines the outcome. A knife, a baseball bat, a car- all seemingly innocuous things that in the wrong hands become a weapon.

      “3. a drunk driver can’t kill 12 people and injury 50 some others in one crash.”

      According to the CDC- in 2007 there were 12,983 intentional deaths that involved a firearm.
      in 2007 there 44,128 deaths that involved a motor vehicle.

      Every 52 minutes on average, someone is killed in a drunk driving crash (10,228 people in total in 2010). Every 90 seconds, someone is injured because of this entirely preventable crime.(Per MADD)

      In 2010, there were 10,228 fatalities in crashes involving a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher – 31 percent of total traffic fatalities for the year.(According to the US Dept of transportation)

      “4. CLEARLY law abiding gun owners ARE the problem. this guy was a law abiding gun owner and look what he decided to do with the privelege. if gun laws were stricter, this wouldn’t have happened. if everyone has guns, people can still be killed by guns. if no one has guns, no one can be killed by guns. period.”

      The main problem with this argument is that there is absolutely no way to get rid of EVERY gun, the criminals will always find a way. Leaving an entire population ewith no way to even those odds is ridiculous. In a Eutopian society- this would be a viable argument
      Additionally, no- he was NOT a law abiding gun owner. Law abiding gun owners don’t go on murderous rampages. He was however, a very deranged person. I think a question that needs to be asked is how did someone so out of touch with reality slip through the cracks in the mental health system. I question why somone as mentally ill as he obviously was wan’t under constant supervision. The system that failed here IMO is the healthcare system which treats the mentally ill as an afterthought. We don’t care for our mentally ill in the US in a way that is effective. They’re often left to their own devices and unable to get help until they are a danger to themselves are others.

      I’ve yet to see any discussion about this subject. Where is the outrage regarding this?

      • watts

        1. you’re right, you said a crazy person intent on murder will find a way, my point was thats never a drunk drivers motivation, while it is the motivation for disturbed people with guns and tons of ammo.

        2. every single purpose you listed involves hurting another living creature, no matter how you look at it, the primary purpose of a gun is to inflict pain, be it on a fellow human or an animal, no one has ever fired a gun with any other intention unless it is during target practice or shooting those little disks people throw in the air. the primary purpose of a car is transportation and it just so happens people hurt each other with them, but it is almost always accidental, whereas gun killings and injuries usually are intentional.

        3. i said one crash, not the cumulative number of crashes over a whole year. your stats don’t address or dispute my point. obviously a lot more deaths come from cars because way more people drive cars than own guns and shoot them everyday

        4. of course you can’t get rid of every gun, but its simple supply and demand. if the demand for guns is lower, the supply will be lower and thus a lot harder to acquire, especially illegally. if gun laws were stricter and guns less prevalent in society than it would become way more expensive to get guns legally and even more so illegally and, maybe, men like holmes wouldnt be able to afford the 4 guns, 6,000 rounds of ammunition, body armor and tear gas that he purchased. i dont know if this is actually true or if it would work so perfectly, but in theory it makes sense, and in european countries with stricter gun laws than america and lower gun crime rates than america it seems to be the case. and he WAS a law abiding GUN OWNER, just not a law abiding CITIZEN. the fact is he acquired the guns completely legally and no one could have done anything to take them away from him without breaking the law themselves.

        and yeah, it is terribly sad no one picked up on his mental illness. i dont know much about mental illness and i’m certainly no psychologist so i have no idea how easy it is to pick up on or miss this sort of thing, but it seems like this guy was showing no obvious signs of mental illness before doing this. i’d also say that its a huge shame that being mentally ill has such a negative connotation in american society and that it is considered a sort of taboo to have problems like these. its extremely hard for sane people to understand the mind of a mentally ill person, but hopefully we can start learning.

      • kdg71342

        I1. I agree with you, but dead is dead. But the sheer number of intoxicated drivers on the road suggests that while their intent is not to kill they certainly don’t care if they do. I simply find that more disturbing than the rare disturbed person who commits murder.

        2. Not every single purpose- sport shooting (skeet, target and trap) harm noone. As for killing animals- thats a whole other discussion. And gun injuries are usually unintentional and are often due to lack of gun safety education and/ or sheer negligence. I would absolutely be in favor of stricter regulations regarding education prior to gun purchases. I think my state’s law requiring a hunter safety course prior to purchasing a hunting licence is an excellent example of how to do this. I would have no problem supporting increased gun safety education.

        3. I disagree that a drunk driver could never kill/injure that many people. Theoretically it could happen- a crowded freeway and a couple of buses plus a drunk driver, it could happen and perhaps has. But my point in relating the statitics was to simply point out that the aggregate numbers are pretty astounding. I think that we are impacted more by death when it happens on a large scale at one time, but that doesn’t diminish the people who die in smaller groups or alone. Again- dead is dead. The people in a car crash or the people in that theatre- the loss is the same regardless if it’s done in such a dramatic huge fashion.

        4. You’re wrong he wasn’t a law abiding gun owner or a law abiding citizen- a murder who owns guns is neither. We’re just getting into semantics with this point. I think we agree- he’s a criminal.
        Per your point regarding his purchases- if he had the funds to purchase the things he did I doubt increasing the price would have detered him. The things he used aren’t cheap. Further, the booby trapping that he did in his apartment required substantial funds as well. And my understanding is that the things used there were all legal purchases as well. Increasing price won’t deter a determined crazy person.

        It’s my understanding that he was under the care of a psychiatrist. I actually do intake at a psychiatric hospital so I’m a little familiar with the plight the mentally ill face. The sad truth is, our society tends to sweep them under the rug or pretend they don’t exist. A great number of the mentally ill that I encounter have been unable to work due to their illness and as such have very limited resources. Medicaid is available for some, but the number of facilities that accept this payment is limited and outpatient care is almost nonexistant in my area. Further, Medicaid won’t pay for voluntary commitment- a patient must be sick enough that they are a danger to themselves or someone else before it will cover an inpatient stay. And then- they are rarely willing to cover the entire stay. In other words- if you’re cognizent enough to realize you need help- too bad. It’s a little better for the insured and Medicare patients but not much. It’s still a battle to find competent care especially if you’re over 18 but not old enough to be considered a geriatric patient. There is a huge gap in care availability. I don’t know the shooters situation- but I won’t be suprised if he needed inpatient care and none was available. But I think leaving the mental health issue out of the discussion is a mistake. Better care keeps people stable. Better care puts a safety net of professionals out there. Giving people access to better mental health care would prevent at least some of the violence. I don’t think anyone would argue that keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill is a bad thing. How we go about doing that is another question.

      • watts

        now you’re just deflecting on everything. obviously tons of people die from drunk driving accidents every year and its terrible and dead is dead and drunk driving should probably be punished more heavily than it is, but those are still all accidents. cars aren’t made or purchased with the intent of hurting other people, and guns are, so no, i dont think we should let the few idiots ruin driving for everyone and make cars illegal. everyone knows the risk when you get in the car and that an accident could happen, people dont expect to be gunned down going to a movie theater or to school. maybe they should start expecting it though, i dunno. guns are made to hurt people. people buy guns to hurt other people. unless you are in the very small minority who participates in shooting sports, you buy guns with the intention of severely injuring or killing other living creatures. even if you buy it for protection from others, you plan on protecting yourself by hurting the other person so much that they can’t hurt you back. your last point: money is money. if it becomes expensive enough, he can’t afford it, there’s no way around that.

        the point is, i dont know what gun laws should be or, if they become stricter, how much stricter they should be, but i dont see how giving everyone a gun would possibly make things better. it just makes no sense. having a gun doesn’t make you invulnerable to bullets. its not a shield, carrying a gun with you doesn’t mean you’ll be safe from other people carrying guns who want to shoot you. there are way too many situations i can think of involving passionate emotions that, now, are merely heated, but could easily turn deadly if guns are involved. i dont know if less guns is the answer, but more guns certainly isn’t.

  • http://twitter.com/christinalefou Christina (@christinalefou)

    I followed your argument right up to the point where you tossed in culture & art and its lack of regulation. Regulating deadly firearms and avoiding a theocracy are necessary. Regulating violence in the media is a whole other kettle of fish, and in my mind, completely unnecessary. Violence in the media is only cause for actualised violence when a warped mind decides to make it so.

  • http://jenxhernandez.tumblr.com jen

    I liked your article a lot. It’s a thoughtful piece by someone who is obviously educated, and it shows that you’ve pondered on the topic previously. I have to say that part about cognitive dissonance really got me because all throughout my studies in psychology, dissonance has been my favorite part- the way a human can believe one thing so strongly, and simultaneously believe something else that completely contradicts the first belief, and convince themselves that holding these two beliefs is completely rational- but this article was too all over the place. I thought it was going to be about the actual manifest destiny, and westward expansion, instead a I get a mini history lesson that leads to the topic of the Dark Knight. I don’t like it when titles deceive me.

  • http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/the-impotence-of-gun-control/ The Impotence Of Gun Control | Thought Catalog

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    this was excellent. look forward to reading more from you, michael

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