This morning, a gunman killed a former co-worker and injured eight others outside the Empire State Building in New York City. Details are still emerging about what triggered the attack but it looks like it was a dispute. A dispute? A dispute is when you get angry at someone, shout at them, and maybe shove them a little. A dispute is not taking out a gun and shooting indiscriminately in a jam-packed metropolis at rush hour. That's not a dispute, that's barbarism and insanity.
I have written multiple pieces on gun control since the Colorado shooting but this piece is not just about that -- it's about the wider gun culture in the United States. Whether it's the gunmen in Colorado, Wisconsin, Texas and now New York, the anarchists threatening to attack the political conventions, or the militias training like small armies in a remote part of the country in preparation for some government-sponsored genocide, we clearly live in a society that is becoming increasingly psychotic and trigger-happy.
The U.S. has long had a love affair with weapons and what they represent -- the cowboy. From the flintlock fowlers used in Colonial America to the modern AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Americans across generations have not only used guns for hunting and self-defense but to experience a sense of control and power that only a firearm can impart. Having been shooting at a gun range myself, I can attest to that feeling. However, the romantic vision of the cowboy as a heroic outlaw is a romantic vision for a reason, namely, not everyone who fancies himself a cowboy has the character of a Gary Cooper or John Wayne. Most self-styled anarchists are not committed to any greater cause than their own imagined fears and a desperate need for control, and most outlaws are not heroes but simple criminals.
As Americans, we have to take responsibility not just for our actions but for our views, since those views lead to the creation of a culture that has very real consequences in the physical world. Today's shooting is a case in point. Whether the shooter was just settling a "dispute" with someone or whether he was a madman intent on wreaking havoc, the fact remains that he believed in the power of violence and yes, the gun. Supporters of the Second Amendment will make the case that this has nothing to do with guns, but it absolutely does, because guns are a powerful symbol of free-wheeling aggression.
Even more disturbingly, they are glamorized as a form of the American spirit. Guns are instruments created for a specific purpose and nothing more, yet to millions of Americans they represent freedom, and therein lies the problem.
Tying guns to freedom is the most twisted interpretation of our fundamental right that I have ever heard of. Freedom is a state of a society and a state of mind, but it has nothing to do with guns. Guns do not protect our freedom because there will always be someone else with an even more powerful gun or more ammunition waiting around the corner to take away our freedom. What will we do then, move on to rocket launchers and grenades? It's an unwinnable battle that violates common sense. The real freedom we need is the freedom to be able to walk around without the fear of our fellow citizens shooting us by design or accident.
I can accept that excessive law-making will not necessarily solve the bigger issue of our mindset, but the irony is that the very same people who yell about how gun control would strip them of their freedom, how a communist government might show up at their door one day to suppress them, and how our declining moral values are creating the violence in society, are the ones who elevate guns and the mindless violence they represent from the inanimate tools that they are to something sacred that was handed down to us by God.
Nobody likes or wants more laws than are strictly necessary to run a peaceful and fair country, but in the absence of people reining in their irresponsible worship of guns, the government will have no choice but to apply more regulation to this arena. When it suits their purpose, gun rights advocates say that guns are no different from any other weapon such a knife or even a baseball bat, yet they continue to use guns as the pre-eminent symbol of liberty. If guns are indeed nothing special, then why are they symbols of anything except good engineering, and in that case, why are they so important to the integrity of our nation in the first place?
Sanjay Sanghoee is the author of two thriller novels. Please visit www.sanghoee.com for more details and to sign up for updates.