Early this past week an email went round with the subject line “Gun Store on Main Street.” It started thus:
“It can’t happen here”… Sinclair Lewis
Or could it? There is a proposal in the works to open a guns and ammo store on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, between Mikado and Off Main. The Board of Selectmen will be taking the matter up at their next meeting, a week from today, Tuesday, October 10. Check the Times for details and confirmation.
The sender then called for people to pack the selectmen’s meeting and “do whatever we can to prevent this from happening.” (The proposal is no longer on the agenda for the October 10 selectmen’s meeting, but will most likely be coming up in the future.)
I don’t know the sender, but I did recognize many of the original recipients. (Having had a “blind copy fail” recently, I’m not going to snark at this guy for not concealing their names and email addresses.) One of them forwarded it to a friend of mine, who forwarded it to me.
By then this was a hot topic in the Islanders Talk Facebook group, from which I quickly learned that there was more to it than was told in the email, and the next day the Martha’s Vineyard Times posted a story, “Gun Store Plans to Sell High-End Shotguns,” that clarified the matter even more.
In short, the proposal has been made by the man who runs Vineyard Time, an existing Main Street watch and jewelry store that caters to a well-heeled market. According to the MV Times story, these shotguns are used for skeet shooting and sell for between $20K and $100K.
The price range does boggle the mind, or it would if I hadn’t lived on Martha’s Vineyard long enough to realize that I share these hundred square miles with plenty of people who live in a whole other world. Among the other stories reported this week, in the Boston Globe as well as the local press:
A south Florida woman, who claimed to be a psychic, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Boston to hiding more than $3.5 million of income that she was paid by an elderly Martha’s Vineyard woman to “rid her of demons through repeated exorcisms,” according to a press release issued by acting U.S. Attorney William Weinreb’s office.
In the wake of the latest, and worst, U.S. mass shooting, it’s not all that surprising that the proposal, details of which are still sketchy, caused some alarm. My own initial reaction wasn’t exactly blasé, but my contribution to the Islanders Talk discussion was a question about the economic feasibility of a gun shop on high-rent Main Street. If indeed the proposal is to add inventory to an existing shop that already caters to the very affluent, it doesn’t seem off the wall.
But still, well — “guns on Main Street” is one of those phrases whose impact is greater than the sum of its parts.
My own attitude toward guns and gun control evolved rapidly after I moved here in 1985. In Washington, D.C., I didn’t know any hunters. Guns were the province of law enforcement (about whom I’d been somewhat leery ever since my antiwar organizing days) and criminals (who didn’t even pretend to be on my side). On the Vineyard it wasn’t long before I was meeting hunters and families of hunters and learning that hunting had a long, long history on Martha’s Vineyard. It was more than a sport; like farming and fishing, it was part of feeding oneself and one’s family, and as with many other essential activities traditions had grown up around it.
Not to mention — the hunters and fishermen I met tended to be environmentally savvy, and much more knowledgeable about woods and water than I was.
So I have no trouble maintaining the distinction between “gun owners” and “gun nuts.” Gun nuts all (I’m guessing here) own guns, but gun nuttery goes well beyond gun ownership: it veers into the territory occupied by the more fanatical forms of ideology and religion. It deals in symbols and slogans. Fueled by the National Rifle Association (NRA) since the late 1970s, it has become an integral part of the right-wing platform, and yes, it is related to white supremacy and a particular view of masculinity.
For a concise explanation of how this happened, see “How the NRA Made the Gun a Symbol of Tribal Identity,” Adele Stan’s October 4 column in the American Prospect.
As George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant, frequently points out, appeals to reason alone are generally ineffective against the deep-rooted moral convictions embodied in these symbols. This has not stopped the proponents of reasonable gun-control measures from circulating countless charts of gun-violence statistics and wondering why gun nuts don’t immediately see the light and stop insisting on their right to own as many assault rifles as they want.
In the current political climate, the chances for progress look pretty bleak — and it seems that even some liberals and progressives have adopted the right-wing view that the 2nd Amendment guarantees the right of all (white) citizens to bear arms, no questions asked.
In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, looking for signs of hope and a way forward, I came across this story in New York Magazine from last December. Subtitled “An Experiment in Empathy,” it tells of more than a dozen individuals “on both sides of the gun debate . . . [who] had agreed to meet face-to-face, tell each other their stories, and try to understand one another’s points of view.” The stories are riveting, and not easy to read. Position papers, polemics, and charts of statistics are a lot easier. But better than any other single piece I’ve read recently, this one conveys what “we the people” are saying and hearing when we talk about guns.