Former US President Bill Clinton has just made a really interesting speech, that I think raises fresh questions in my mind about gun control.
Former President Bill Clinton warned a group of top Democratic donors at a private Saturday meeting not to underestimate the passions that gun control stirs among many Americans.
“Do not patronize the passionate supporters of your opponents by looking down your nose at them,” Clinton said. ” A lot of these people live in a world very different from the world lived in by the people proposing these things.” Clinton said. “I know because I come from that world.”
One thought I had as a result of Bill’s speech, from my conflict experience is applying what I call root cause analysis. Why are guns so important to the core demographic group who own most of them: white males without college degrees in rural and ex urb areas? I suspect that it is because they are afraid. They are fearful about the future.
They see a world that they no longer understand, in which minorities and women are moving up and they are moving down and their future realistically is pretty bleak economically. They have not shared in much of the economic growth of the last 40 years. There are no well paid jobs coming to their area or local towns any time soon. They don’t respond to this by understanding what is going on, its causes, the new economy, globalization etc. Or by changing, moving, getting better educated themselves. They respond to it conservatively with fear, and guns help them feel less fearful, as if the forces that are affecting them are something tangible that guns could help with to see off those pesky women and minorities….
And so what do well healed, well educated, urban liberals do with their fear? Do we seek to understand it; talk to them and ask them about it? No, we make it worse by trying to take away their guns, their comfort blanket, their totem of some power remaining. The Second Amendment to them is a last remaining guarantee that white males still count….
They always thought President Obama would come and take their comfort blankets, their guns away, because he is African American; and lo and behold, as in their worst fears, that is just what he is doing. I say all this not to patronize white males. I am one. Not to say what a bunch of wimps they are, though like many people in the human race, some are pretty paranoid; though given their view of the world and some of its reality, even that may be understandable. And not to say the President is flat out wrong, but that unlike Bill Clinton, he is not really understanding the psychology of what is at stake. He is, as a result, likely to fail in his efforts to make us safer, worthy though they may be. The direct frontal assault on guns is typical policy wonk out-of-touch with the emotions of those involved President Obama approach, and this is why it will fail.
It does raise a wider issue. If we want to avoid a reactionary back lash from white males such as those central to gun culture. If we seriously want to re-unite the country around needed to solutions to our broken education system, to rebuild our manufacturing capacity, and move forward competitively in the world economy, then we need to find a way to address the deeper fears of this group, without conceding them the power of veto over the catching up women and minorities are doing. Life is not a zero sum game in which women and minorities progress need take away from white males, provided society and the economy are moving forward in a gainful way. And it is not…
The gun control issue is to me a symptom of a far deeper malaise in America and it is not the one seen by fearful white males. It is a failure of nerve, of education, of science and of government well described in Edward Luce’s excellent recent book ‘Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent’ that I will review in a separate post.