Extreme gun culture and cult goes too far and threatens security
I have a closet full of weapons.
But nowhere in this cupboard is there ammunition. It’s locked away elsewhere, reflecting a rule I learned in my childhood. Firearms are powerful and even deadly tools. If you have one, it’s up to you to keep it safe. This is what the parents of a Michigan teenager failed to do, and their son murdered four of his high school mates.
It wasn’t that long ago that safety seemed like a gospel for gun owners and the gun industry. But something has changed. Responsibility was thrown in a twisted form of gun idolatry.
This change is detailed in a new book, “Gunfight” by Ryan Busse. He is a boss of the gun industry who has moved away from the industry he defended and the business he helped build. His book documents a shift in American gun culture and politics. Disclosure: Busse is a friend of mine. I bought one of my favorite rifles from him. We both live in the same town in Montana where the gun industry is a big economic player.
As we walk into our town of Kalispell, there is a notice board from one of our local gunmakers that says “We build the things they want to ban. As an “open carry” community, you can sometimes see moms and dads racing semi-automatic pistols as they push a swing across the playground.
At a recent high school orchestral concert, a parent wore a t-shirt with an AR-15 as a crucifix. The shirt read, “Guns are my religion. I am the priest. I don’t know what’s weirder, the t-shirt itself or the fact that he barely raised an eyebrow.
In 2019, local high school students held a rally in response to the police murder of George Floyd. About 100 vigilantes came to my town square, carrying large capacity semi-automatic rifles. They said they were there to “keep the peace”. I carried a cardboard sign that borrowed a quote from the Federal Supreme Court building: “Equal Justice Under the Law”. I looked for a parked car to hide in case gunshots rang out. Busse was there too, and we felt the change. As hunters, we understand the very reality of a single bullet traveling at 2000 feet per second.
Obviously, our local vigilantes weren’t some sort of “well-ordered militia” or even a sanctioned sheriff troop.
Busse’s company sold proven rifles, shotguns, and handguns that were made in America to high manufacturing standards for both legitimate and legal uses. It’s the brand he tried to build, a standard he tried to live up to. But Busse describes in “Gunfight” how guns have become political props and ideological symbols.
In this new tale, any attempt or even discussion of limiting the firepower in the hands of random people is denounced as tyranny. Industry spokespersons who have dared to question this narrative have seen their careers ruined. The end result is the sale of rocket propelled grenade launchers in the public square.
There are cultures on earth where you can find such a market for weapons, but they are failed states, not democracies. Democracies draw a line between accountability and unfettered freedom. Anarchy denies the existence of any line.
You don’t have to look far for this toxic mixture of anarchy and firepower. In Oregon in 2016, an armed group of disgruntled white men seized control of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, mocking federal authorities until a man, LaVoy Finicum, was shot dead by police in the area. ‘State of Oregon.
In Michigan in 2020, a group of gunmen took control of the state legislature.
Also in 2020, in Wisconsin, teenager Kyle Rittenhouse hit a crowd of protesters with his rifle. As a result, he killed two men and left one seriously injured. That same year, in Missouri, a lawyer and his wife pointed their AR-15 rifles and handguns at protesters and photographers, becoming Internet thrills.
It was not that long ago that these gun owners would have suffered a backlash from other gun owners. The idea is that irresponsible gun ownership anywhere is a threat to lawful gun ownership everywhere. Still, some want to make Rittenhouse, who has been acquitted of legal responsibility but still faces potential civil lawsuits, a folk hero. The Missouri lawyer is running for the Senate. The mastermind behind the takeover of the Oregon shelter is running for governor of Idaho.
I believe it is up to the gun owners responsible to keep our guns safe in our homes. It is also up to us to take responsibility for our communities if we want to maintain our freedoms and our democracy.
Ben Long is a contributor to Writers on the Range, writersontherange.org, a nonprofit dedicated to sparking a lively conversation about the West. He lives in Kalispell, Montana.