The Gun: Function and Purpose—What is at Stake.

The Gun: Function and Purpose—What is at Stake.

By James C. Whiteside

                Abstract:  Power is conceived as force.  Guns are cherished for their force especially when no connection to society is recognized or when the connection is conceived as one of power.  Gun possession, use and abuse is overwhelmingly male.  Gun crime varies significantly by country, state, gender, age and economic advantage.  As such guns can be seen to serve as personality buffers of various hues and levels.  Sales can be multiplied by fear.  Countries with imperial agendas play on war as power that supposedly enables individuals, supposing they aren’t killed by it. In gun design no effort is made to protect the victim.  Laws which attempt it are circumvented.


                The first contradiction about guns then, is that yes, they give some men meaning. It gives them the perception of power over others.  Of course, when indiscriminately used, guns give those men real, absolute power over others.  Guns tend to be used that way when their owners lack any connection to a community or to sufficient people therein, which is usually the case in mass killings but in individual assaults as well.  This is the first order of alienation.  So the question remains should the society support or allow that meaning which such gun ownership provides?


                In contrast gun ownership does not seem to give women any such meaning.  A rather slick and somewhat facetious national policy could be established on the basis of allowing only women to own or possess guns.  At least the effect of such a policy would be to reduce the killing by possibility 95%.  And if trained and carefully used it would also provide women with somewhat more effective means to protect themselves since they are so often gun victims.  But that would merely play into the hands of the gun industry’s sales and avoid reaching to the base of the problem.  The policy might actually even increase violence for a time as men tried to take away women’s guns for their own perceived power and status.


                Some women have already been heard mouthing the generic propaganda phrases of the gun lobby and perhaps are vulnerable to it or becoming so.  Neither does gun ownership give all men meaning or purpose.  The numbers of men committing such crimes within the U.S. varies enormously by state.[i]  Why should this be so?  Other nations have chosen otherwise and again the numbers vary enormously by country.[ii]  How can this be so?  What then is the character of the persons this fantasy effects which varies so much by state, by country, by gender, by age, by economic advantage?


                For the most part we can say that guns serve as personality buffers along with so much else in a consumer society.  With all the delusions and brokenness of life in this nation, loss of jobs, life purpose, and community: guns serve as a panacea for a collective alienation.  They become part of what Juliet Schor has called “the materiality paradox.”  That is, material goods are sold to satisfy needs that material commodities cannot satisfy.  That inability to satisfy insures the manufacturers a permanent market[iii]  Add fear and you produce a remarkable marketing tool and insure a profitable market for any product.


                Such fear does not occur by itself nor is its use merely restricted to products.  It requires advertising.  Fear sells every war, inspires attacks against every minority, and provides supposed corrections for every body imperfection, real or imagined.  Later in this analysis I hope it can be seen how fear by means of guns gives the broken individual meaning just as Chris Hedges has pointed out war gives this society meaning.[iv]  Advertising sells products and propaganda sells war.  Is there a difference?


                “We are raised on deception, through advertising” the eminent American historian Barbara Tuchman has said.[v]   Thus we are easy prey for many escapist tendencies and young men are a particularly easy prey for such guile.  They need education, socialization, stability, function and purpose.  They want means and action.  They get guns.  Guns appear to provide it all or at least enough diversion from examining life and purpose and function too closely, so as to avoid having to make the effort to understand all three or grow up into them.


                Whatever lethal results occur from these deceptions are then treated as civic “collateral,” to be condemned but for which responsibility is denied.[vi]  Denied even though quite obviously guns’ lethal quality flows from their very design and function.  This is true whether the use is civil or military.  Suicides among American military personnel are increasing and though much of it appears to occur at home, there is very little reportage of where it is occurring and how or with what it is conducted but it doesn’t take much to guess as to how.[vii]


                Although there seems to be considerable effort within the industry to provide design safety for the shooter, very little effort is made to provide safety by design for any innocent civil victim.  Quite the opposite is the case.  There was a great deal of design effort to get around whatever legal restrictions were imposed by the last gun law on civil use.  And there certainly will be a substantial effort this time as well.  Recently such design efforts have gone so far as to incorporate a special feature called a “bullet button.”  This allows the circumvention of the law prohibiting a detachable grip.  A bullet tip, or other “tool” being necessary to push the button, circumvents the law’s definition prohibiting “detachable” grips removable by hand.  A “tool” is necessary.[viii]  Guess how that got into the law?  Hair splitting is the design specialty of industry lawyers at negotiations.


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[i] Firearm & Injury Center at Penn.  Firearms Injuries in the U.S. By state, Fig. 3, p. 7 (version2009)

[ii] Ibid. By country, Fig. 4, p.8

[iii] Juliet Schor, Plenitude. (New York, Penguin, 2010), p. 40-41.  Cited in John Bellamy Foster & Brett Clark, “The Planetary Emergency.”. Monthly Review, Vol. 64 No. 7, Dec. 2012.

[iv] Chris Hedges.  War is a  Force that Gives Us Meaning.  New York, Public Affairs, 2002.

[v] Bill Moyers, “Barbara Tuchman, Historian.” A World of Ideas.  New York, Doubleday, 1989, 10

[vi] Eric Lichtblau. “N.R.A Leader, Facing Challenge in Wake of Shooting, Rarely Shies From Fight.” The New York Times, Dec. 21, 2012.

[vii] “When Israel moved to have many soldiers store guns on base rather than at home, its military suicide rates plunged.”  Nicholas D. Kristof.  “Looking for Lessons in Newtown.”  The New York Times, December 20, 2012.

[viii] “Bullet Button” Used to Get Around California Gun Laws.” CBS Channel 5, May 1, 2012