Ira Chernus: Gun Ownership as Sin -- A Strategic, Secular Proposal for Gun Reform

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: Ira Chernus, guns, gun control, Religion Dispatches, sin

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado and author of “MythicAmerica: Essays.” He blogs at

When you look at a gun, do you see danger or safety? It all depends on the angle you’re looking from, risk perception experts say. The gun control debate is ultimately a clash of competing worldviews, and it’s very fraught. Each side draws on symbolic narratives—I would call them myths—with deep roots in the American past.

The big challenge for gun-control advocates will be to summon up a master-myth, a story that takes aim at the heart of the great American love affair with guns—and that will be a tricky shot.

First, a tour of the contested terrain.

Have Peacemaker, Will Travel

Richard Slotkin called 20th-century America the “gunfighter nation.” That was the title of the last volume of his trilogy, the classic study of the central role that frontier violence has played in America’s cultural self-perception. But the two earlier volumes suggest that the whole trilogy might well have borne that name.

Guns have always symbolized “the frontier.” And for vast numbers of Americans, the cultural idea and ideal of the frontier have symbolized what they think their nation is all about. Out on the frontier, the classic story goes, a man simply must have a gun and the freedom to use it. He couldn’t survive without it. He needs it to get food for his family and to defend them in times of danger. But as long as potential enemies out there know that he’s got his gun—and he knows when and how to use it—there isn’t likely to be much danger. That’s why his gun is a “peacemaker.”

(I use the word “man” here very intentionally. The gun is obviously highly gendered symbol, America’s favorite mythic image of traditionally masculine virtues: strength, courage, rugged independence, protection of family… the list goes on and on.)...

Read entire article at Religion Dispatches

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