Reality Check: Guns & The American Experiment

“We should dispense with the aspiration to ‘be liked’ or to be regarded as the repository of a high-minded international altruism. We should stop putting ourselves in the position of being our brothers’ keeper and refrain from offering moral and ideological advice. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

– Excerpt from Memo PPS23 “Review Of Current Trends, U.S. Foreign Policy” by George Kennan, head of the U.S. State Department Policy Planning Staff. Written February 28, 1948, declassified June 17, 1974.


Every second the American experiment remains in motion, human nature is on trial. This is what we have unleashed upon civilization. Ours, this mostly unfettered, stumbling mish-mosh of haphazard choices, is the playground for what price there is for freedom. It entertains both its most glorious triumphs, what the 16th president called “our better angels,” and the despicable depths of depravity, something the same man unleashed on half the nation. It is our blessing and curse, a tightrope balance between the brass ring and bone cancer. Most of us live somewhere in its comfy middle, but we are without fail the heaving breath of its legacy. We cannot escape it anymore than we can escape our very DNA.

And make no mistake; there is no escaping the violence of human nature. It is in our blood and our Bible and our founding. At the barrel of a gun, we broke the chains of tyranny, tore through the natives and stomped the rebels, forged the West and built the shining cities. It is through massacre and destruction across the globe could we fulfill Thomas Jefferson’s promise to be the world’s beacon of light, taken to epic heights during horrific world wars and ill-fated police actions and black ops and foreign coups.

It is within human nature, as in all nature, to dominate. Manifest Destiny, American exceptionalism, “Damn the torpedoes,” “From the halls of Montezuma,” “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” and on and on. The American experiment is its proving ground. Through the deepest forests and the mountains’ majesty, over the bloody terrain where the flag, may it wave, is planted with the wind of domination. And with domination comes the fear that it will be threatened, as in the children’s game of King Of The Hill; the British Empire knew it, the Church knew it, the Kaiser knew it, and we have known it for two-plus centuries.

This American experiment is also a forward moving concept, never backwards. We may glance back with nostalgic eyes and see a time we wish to return to, emulate, celebrate, but it’s hard to deny it hasn’t been paved with gore and guts and the grand old gun.

We are ultimately the sum of our parts, this fantasy that by the barrel of the same gun we can also cease the march of the cult, the criminal, the vigilante, the government. You might ask how that worked out for David Koresh and the hundreds of religious militants armed to the teeth in a fortified compound in Waco, Texas. That is if they hadn’t been plowed under by U.S. tanks and burned alive by the government.

Koresh knew right then that the gun is our most illuminating symbol of freedom. The gun defines us. The gun provides us the free will that Cain enjoyed in order to choose to either slay his brother or walk away. The gun provides the American experiment with its human nature hypothesis; dominate, protect, eradicate.

When the gun lobby talks about the right of ownership, it is correct. It is the ownership of dominance, the fulcrum against fear; the fear of the brown guy, the foreigner, the dark stare from the stranger, the terrible chance that somewhere in the mist lurks someone who needs to be taken down. It is the core of our myths, our American story bloated with greed and lust and the man in the white hat taking down the one in the black hat, so we can all go home fulfilled with our comforting dose of dominance. It is Jesse James. General Custer. Al Capone. Rambo.

The gun is the core of our American experiment: To shoot or not to shoot. The right to bear arms and become the predator or the victim or live peacefully—not because it is demanded or bellowed or craved or even urgently needed, but because we choose to live free or die, or both. This is the grand bargain. It is non-negotiable. It exists without guilt, what the Buddhists understand as “just is.”

We, the Americans in this great experiment, own this choice, that precious moment of time between whether to take a life or turn away, just like we own the burning of innocents abroad, the countless assassinations and invasions and colonizations, the secret overthrow of democratic governments for fascist regimes that afforded us the right of domination to cultivate industry, swell our economy and expand our horizons. Guns are the beat of our national anthem; of rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air, and our heroes of war and “Remember The Alamo.”

It was as if after the Newtown massacre, everyone suddenly woke up. Where have you been? What did you think this was all about? This freedom? This human nature? This America? It was as if it were 9/11 all over again, and we awoke to the realities of a world we created; and not in any calculated plot to have enemies we nurtured and provoked and partnered with come back to kill our citizens, but because it is the toll that is paid for our pursuit of dominance, to achieve the quintessence of our human nature.

And now we are going to regulate this mess, pass laws that will curtail the minutest segment of this groaning beast?


It’s the guns. It’s the games. It’s the movies. It’s the music. It’s the streets. It’s the economy. It’s the media. It’s everything but us, free, dominant and imbued with our nature.

Can you recall a single law passed since the Civil Rights Act that has actually granted anyone more freedom? How much safer are we? You might ask the kids in Columbine who were wiped out during the first Assault Weapons Ban.

Oh, but we’ll pass something, and it will assuage our guilt for being human and American and dominant and in fear and draped in the ignorance of feeling for just a fleeting moment as if we are entitled to safety from ourselves.

The sun will set and then come up again and those who need to get whatever weapon they wish to get will do so, as will those who wish to get the illegal drugs they procure with little effort every single day. And we’ll continue to be so pleased with ourselves that we are just and moral, while also being completely free.

This, of course, is the aphrodisiac of human nature; denial. It is how we humans cope with all this nature.