Brown/My Turn: Byproduct of our times
A month after I arrived in Taos, N.M., I felt the need for spiritual replenishment, so off I went to a local dance studio for a combination movement-meditation session. As expected, it was very “valley,” a nod to Taos’ similarity to the progressive, New-Agey bubble that is Franklin County.
There was a difference, however. Whereas most residents of western Massachusetts would drive to such affairs in a Prius or another green vehicle, most of those found in the studio’s parking lot were beat-up pickup trucks. In Northern New Mexico, practicality trumps environmental ideology. If there is an iconic image that defines Taos County for me, it’s that of an elegant woman in her 60s, adorned with a faded denim jacket and turquoise jewelry, her white hair streaming to her waist and seated behind the wheel of a battered Toyota Tacoma 4x4 (minus a tailgate or tail light. Vehicle inspections don’t exist in New Mexico). And, of course, with a big, happy dog, the ubiquitous pet of choice out here, hanging out the passenger window.
When I mentioned this prevalence of pickups out in Taos to a friend of mine in Greenfield, his response was, “Well, you must see a lot of gun racks.” I thought about that and realized that I had seen absolutely none since my arrival. Such an observation might appear odd in view of the fact that we are bordered by Texas, Arizona and Colorado, not exactly bastions of gun control. Farther to the south, the Albuquerque Police Department is under scrutiny for excessive use of deadly force (they recently shot and killed a deranged man armed with a knife) but that is more an anomaly than a pattern.
Despite my isolation in a fairly (though not completely) placid environment, I still keep track of issues “beyond the bubble” and one of the most potent is America’s never-ending love affair with guns. I’ve always tried to get to the root of this national obsession. We can start by debunking the notion that those who stockpile assault rifles and reams of ammunition do so because they “Love the Constitution” and are “Defending Freedom.” This is a self-serving delusion that needs to be called out as such. We’re hearing more and more from the anti-government movement, a collection of psychopaths, racists and potential mass-murderers who only come out into the limelight whenever a progressive is in the Oval Office. It is no coincidence these and other hate groups have proliferated since Barack Obama became president.
To be fair, most American gun owners don’t fall into this category. Nor are they prompted by their undying affection for the Second Amendment. If anything, this rush to overarm is fueled by two factors: fear and powerlessness.
There is a lot to be fearful about in these turbulent and transformative times. Let’s not pretend that such an attitude is confined to one particular cultural attitude. Anyone reading this can succumb to a sense of dread, although how one deals with it might differ greatly. Some meditate while others bunker up with a houseful of AR-15s. Either way, fear is debilitating, like a rabid dog that chews through your mind. Fear can be based on tangible realities or become a self-perpetuating madness that blows a minor issue out of proportion. I am well acquainted with both. And I have no illusions as to the violence and irrationality inherent in the human race.
Powerlessness has increased over the years thanks to a political system that cares less about the American citizen and more about the fat-pocketed corporate donor. Politicians pander to us but they really don’t care what we have to say. On the day-to-day front, we are played as nonentities by Big Oil, Big Insurance, Big Medicine and what have you. Try setting up something as simple as telephone service and you are greeted not by a human being, but a machine pretending to be one. Being put on hold by a robo-voice is the perfect metaphor for our lack of control, I understood why normal, “law-abiding citizens” go bonkers and shoot up a school, a business or a restaurant. Unbearable frustration, rage and 300 million guns (the number currently in our nation) are a bad combination.
Having a gun gives people a false sense of power. Unfortunately, shooting a laptop, a flat-screen or your car won’t get you Internet service, cable TV or a lower rate on your auto insurance. It will, however, increase the chances of you killing a family member, a co-worker or yourself. To pretend that you’re defending yourself against the government might seem laughable to the residents of Syria, Egypt and the Ukraine. Having to buy health insurance isn’t “tyranny.”
In conclusion, fear and powerlessness are real afflictions of our modern age. But those constitutionalists who rush to defend the Second Amendment might heed the current wave of attacks on separation of church and state as guaranteed by the First.
Daniel A. Brown lived in Franklin County from 1970 to 2014 as an artist, writer, amateur historian, and photographer before moving to Taos, N.M. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.