“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”The Bible, New International Version, Psalm 20:7
I am currently listening to Rob Bell’s podcast series about guns. This isn’t my first listen, but in light of the most recent mass murder in Texas (Odessa), I wanted to return to Bell’s insight. For those who do not follow the RobCast, the episode I just finished is Episode 58: Politics and Guns, Part 5- The Question at the Heart of the Empire. In summation, Bell refers to the story of Solomon when the Queen of Sheba says to him, “Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” Bell then explicates the passage, clarifying the context to reveal the irony of the queen’s statement. Solomon was blessed by God, and the queen identified the reason for this blessing; however, in the verses that follow, the writer of 1 Kings provides an account of Solomon’s splendor–not for the purpose of illustrating God’s blessing, but for the purpose of illustrating Solomon’s irresponsibility. Solomon summoned forced laborers to build his temple. As the leader of an unshackled nation of slaves, he, in turn, enslaved others for personal gain. Bell underscores the warning of the prophets against injustice and the self-seeking appropriation of wealth at the hands of an oppressed minority. He ends the podcast with the verse quoted above from Psalms, and then he asks “Who has the chariots? The oppressors have the chariots…Can you see why so many people in the western world…miss some of the central themes in the Bible? Because we’re the ones with the chariots.”
My reflection on the topic of Gun Reform led me to return to this podcast series. Our nation cannot agree on a solution to thwart gun violence and prevent mass murder. One side pleads the protection of the 2nd amendment, proclaiming the need for citizens to defend their own lives and property. The other side declares the amendment irrelevant, asserting the need for strict regulation, but what lies beneath these claims? What makes a solution to gun violence elusive?
In psychoanalysis, a fetish is an object assumed to hold power, without regard to its relationships with those who bear it. The power is imaginary. It does not actually exist. A child believes her comforter has power to protect her from the unknown dangers present at night. She pulls it to her chin and rests in comfort. Awakening unharmed, she has no need to refute her belief because she has no proof that the object did not, in fact, ward off evil in the night. This is an example of the power held by a fetish; the child imbues her blanket with power it does not actually possess. In the case of many Americans, guns hold the same imaginary power as a child’s security blanket.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying guns have no power. I think we can all agree that any object that can be wielded to slay another living being is powerful, indeed. Nevertheless, a gun on its own, without need for use, has no power. Sitting on a shelf, untouched, it poses no threat; likewise, it provides no defense. In this regard, I feel that to many Americans, a gun is no more than a fetish object–existing in a closet, under a bed, in a glove compartment, providing comfort against unknown, unrealized foes lurking around corners. I assert that few American citizens ever find themselves requiring a gun for self-defense. Harvard Injury Control Research Center has published the following findings regarding Gun Threats and Self Defense Gun Use:
- Guns are not used millions of times each year in self-defense.
- Most purported self-defense gun uses are gun uses in escalating arguments, and are both socially undesirable and illegal.
- Firearms are used far more often to intimidate than in self-defense.
- Guns in the home are used more often to intimidate intimates than to thwart crime.
- Adolescents are far more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use one in self-defense.
- Criminals who are shot are typically the victims of crime.
- Few criminals are shot by decent law-abiding citizens.
- Self-defense gun use is rare and not more effective at preventing injury than other protective actions.
These findings were collected by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, a department of the Harvard School of Public Health, and you can click the link for more detailed citations of how these claims are supported.
Ultimately, gun people are threatened by the thought of restricted access because to them, a gun represents safety, security, and freedom from (potential/imagined) tyranny. (As my wise husband pointed out, the weapons of 21st century tyrants are not automatic or even deadly–the weapons to fear are digital and intellectual, but that is a post for another day). The gun is a concrete symbol of American ideals, and I believe many Americans fear that the restriction of guns is tantamount to the restriction of those specific ideals. Like the child is compelled to clench her comforter in the night, gun wielding Americans clench tightly to their arms, in the unlikely event that they would have to protect themselves from armed assailants. The unfortunate reality is that this symptom–this fear–could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As more and more people gain access to guns–by whatever means–there are more and more chances that gun violence will occur, and just because you have a gun, it does not mean it will protect you when the moment of crisis arises. Fear compels behavior. Fetishes assuage fear, but they do not prevent death. They do not prevent critical injury. They do not prevent trauma.
In conclusion, I assert that our collective American problem is not so much a gun problem or a mental health problem, but a fear problem. The apprehension regarding safety, security, and freedom from tyranny compels a vast chunk of our population to clench tightly to this idea that our armaments are the magical glue holding our democratic republic together. On a final note, here is a link outlining the incidents of mass murder that have occurred since the beginning of 2019. Not one mentions the intervention of armed civilians in mitigating or preventing crimes. It hasn’t happened. An armed civilian “good guy” has yet to forestall the execution of mass murder in this country.
Some trust in chariots, some trust in guns…