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Like Prohibition, the fight over guns is about something else

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tags: gun control



Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of "Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education."

A quarter-century ago, while casting about for a dissertation topic, I decided I wanted to write about alcohol prohibition. In a nation of so many drinkers, banning booze was obviously futile. So why did we try so hard to do it?

Then I encountered a book by a UC San Diego sociologist named Joseph Gusfield, who convinced me that Prohibition wasn't really aimed at ridding America of beer, wine and whiskey. It was instead a "Symbolic Crusade" — to borrow Gusfield's book title — by native-born Protestants, who seized on prohibition to affirm their historic dominance over immigrants and Roman Catholics.

I've been re-reading Gusfield in the wake of the Oct. 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College, which has sparked renewed controversy over guns on campus. A week after the Umpqua rampage, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law barring concealed weapons from California campuses. Nineteen other states have passed similar measures, while 23 leave the matter up to individual schools, and eight explicitly allow so-called campus carry.

But this controversy isn't really about guns, any more than Prohibition was about drink. It's about different ways of seeing the world and — most of all — about who will gain the symbolic upper hand.

Consider Texas, which passed a law in June letting people bring guns into college buildings. They were already allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus, but the new law, which will go into effect next August, lets them pack heat in classrooms and offices as well. ...

Read entire article at The Los Angeles Times


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