A Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle like the one used in the Newtown killings
“There is an allure to this weapon that makes it unusually attractive,” Scott Knight, former chairman of the International Chiefs of Police Firearms Committee, said about the Bushmaster .223, the weapon used in the killings of 26 people at a kindergarten in Newtown. “It can get off a large number of rounds in a matter of seconds.”
The same weapon was used in the 2002 killings when two gunmen went on a killing spree in the Washington D.C. area
It’s hard to argue that murdering children with an assault weapon is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they said that a “well-regulated militia” could protect a “free state” at a time when the newborn nation was fighting for its life against the British Empire.
But this is not about rational arguments. Something much deeper is going on. Why are so many Americans afraid of losing their “right” to carry around practically any weapon of their choice? Why are they so emotional about it?
If you can’t be a master of the universe like the Wall Street crowd, you can at least be a master of death – and vice versa.If candidate Barack Obama sounded elitist when he said in 2008 that voters in old industrial towns, decimated by job losses, “cling to their guns or religion,” what he said was profoundly true.
After all, if you can’t be a “master of the universe” like the Wall Street crowd, who aspire to immortality by clinging to their derivatives and the religion of immortality through consumerism, you can at least be a master of death itself – and vice versa.
And while the NRA folks taunted Obama for his remark, they say as much in their own slogan, made famous by former spokesman Charlton Heston:
“I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”
That’s certainly a case of clinging to one’s guns and to the religion they symbolize. What religion is that? It’s the religion that underlies all others: the denial of death and the futile attempt at the conquest of death.
At the core of most, if not all, religions is a belief system through which we tell ourselves that death is not the end, and that, one way or another, we can survive death, defeat death, transcend death.
We tell ourselves and each other that “I am not an animal” – meaning that I am not a mortal, physical creature. I am something superior, above the animals, immortal, with a soul that can survive death.
And while there is no evidence to support this assertion, we cling to it – and to anything we can use to bolster it, be that a religion or other belief system, our medical and scientific advances, and the monuments and other legacies we build so we can live on through them after we’re dead.
Beyond that, we set out to destroy whatever threatens to expose the fact that we are, nonetheless, still abjectly mortal. And what better way to do that than to wield a weapon that can can kill dozens of our fellow humans in less than a minute?
As one of the Bushmaster ads proclaims:
Even if you never use it, just having your own assault weapon tells you that you don’t have to be the victim of death, but rather the master of it.
And yet, the fact that you need to tell yourself that you need it so badly that you’ll only give it up when it’s pried from your “cold, dead hand” is a measure of the terror that’s inspired by the knowledge of our own mortality.
We set out to destroy whatever threatens to expose the fact that we are still, inevitably, abjectly mortalIt’s why we humans are constantly at war with each other – placing the death outside of ourselves, so to speak. It’s why we go hunting strong, beautiful, iconic animals and carry their dead bodies home to put their heads on the wall and turn their skins into rugs. We are masters of the animals!
Except that we’re not. We’re not masters of anything – least of all our own lives.
Adam Lanza, the young man who gunned down children and their teachers in Newtown, was not simply a sick, crazy freak; he and his kind are also the product of a culture that exists primarily to help us deny our mortality, postpone our death, and fill our lives with ways of avoiding or being distracted from the inevitable. We are at war with death, and however we go about trying to deny it – with our guns, our religions, our civilizations, our wars, our scientific breakthroughs, our drugs and all the “stuff” we fill our lives with, death is the implacable outcome.
It’s nature’s way, and while the NRA will surely continue to win its battles in Congress and with kindergartens, neither the NRA nor the temporary high of holding an assault weapon is ever going to destroy the implacable truths of nature.