And yes, we do have a gun culture.
I grew up in Vermont and my family were hunters. The annual hunting seasons were looked forward to every year. It was another time for cousins and relatives to get together and enjoy each other’s company. For us younger cousins, it was more time with our best friends that also happened to be our cousins. Family was like that. Most of our socializing was with cousins and relatives. I could look around in my classroom at school and always see a couple of cousins.
That point in time where us younger folks graduated to carrying a real rifle or shotgun in the woods and uplands was a mile marker in our lives. Often, the firearm was handed down from one generation to the next. Firearm safety was drilled into us long before we carried a real firearm. It seemed the age most of us graduated to a real deer rifle or bird gun was about 12 years of age. And, at least in our family, it was not about killing some game. The younger hunters all wanted to get their first deer, the older hunters seemed to be less serious about the kill and more appreciative of the time together. I swear the hunt was more just an excuse to be together with the people you loved. That time when we started carrying a real firearm represented a time when us younger cousins were officially part of the gathering afield. And, there were the stories, the stories from past years and the current year too. The stories were often as good as the hunt was. We all got to know the punch lines on the old stories and these would be loudly contributed by the chorus of listeners. There was a great oral tradition that was part of these family hunts.
After the hunting seasons were over, the rifles and shotguns were carefully cleaned, oiled, and put back in some gun cabinet where they were proudly displayed. I say “displayed” because these rifles and shotguns were beautiful examples of the American gunmaker’s craft. They represented the fine skills of the craftsmen of Winchester, Remington, Browning, and Marlin firearms. Later, Ruger would join the group of great American gun manufacturers. All of us awaited anxiously the new catalogs from the gun manufacturers displaying their latest offerings each year and something new we would be proud to carry in the woods of Vermont.
These were sporting arms and the culture they were part of was a sporting culture. The wood on these guns was beautifully checkered and the more expensive guns had fancy and skillful engravings on the metal. They were utilitarian and beautifully made at the same time.
Now, the difference between then and today. We were not very conscious of the 2nd Amendment, and probably, in all honesty, not conscious at all. Yes, sometimes a gun was used in a robbery, but the use of guns to commit crime was not that prevalent in the Vermont I grew up in. Where guns were used in crime, we usually thought of the gangster days of Prohibition and then the more recent Mafia crime families in the big cities.
I just do not think we really had much of a gun culture then. The frontiers of this country were settled, the country had grown to 50 states and the continental United States was pretty complete and settled. The days of the Wild West and the Indian Wars were something we saw Hollywood give us on television and in the theaters, but these were portrayals of a time long past for most of us. Our battles were in far off places like Vietnam and later the Mideast Wars.
But something changed – and it is hard to understand, but the change came, and with it a gun culture we didn’t use to have. We became much more sensitive to our 2nd Amendment rights. Some of this resulted with the handgun and “Saturday Night Special” laws that grew out of a country that turned to assassination of our leaders in the turmoil of the late 20th century. We also developed a drug culture and a gun violence that seemed to be part of the illegal drug trade. Guns grew the power of those that needed to project more power, usually for the purpose of committing crime or to defend against some imaginary enemy or threat.
The growing concentrations of poverty in parts of our country also have been places of higher levels of crime and gun violence. The market for high quality sporting arms was gradually replaced by a market for weapons of war, military style firearms designed to kill people. The gun manufacturers saw the sales of these military type weapons explode and they used their influence and lobbying efforts to promote this new gun culture and sensitivity to the 2nd Amendment. Now, we see assault style weapons as the guns used in gun violence all around the country. And, we see a culture very protective of the right to have and use these arms. The 2nd Amendment is now a bigger part of our consciousness than since the Amendment was adopted at part of the Bill of Rights in 1791.
Today, we view the 2nd Amendment politically as a weapon in urban warfare. It is how we arm ourselves against ourselves. This is the gun culture we now have. We kill each other with the guns we fight to buy and own so we can be ready for urban warfare. You heard this on the lips of those that attacked the Capitol on January 6th. They are ready for armed revolt and even invite it.
I hardly recognize us anymore, and I thank God for every day that I live in Vermont, a state that always seems to stay out of what is not so good about us, a state that usually has one foot in the past, and for good reasons.