In the midst of the furious debate on gun violence in America following the Newtown massacre, this space has dedicated over 2,000 words to the silly idea of trying to regulate human behavior and ignore the very core of the American psyche; the gun. Admittedly, the summation had gone a tad Mark Twain, floating majestically above the fray by clearly pointing out how utterly helpless we are as a species. Oh, Mrs. Clemens’ baby boy, how we miss ye. And so this week we’ll get into the nitty gritty by exploring more salient concepts like money and power found in the economic and cultural ties firearms have had in the formation of what we like to call our Holy Trinity.
The Holy Trinity of the American Experience is tobacco, booze and firearms, in that order. These three elements are the cornerstone of this republic. They provided a texture to the lofty rhetoric of Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, the clarion call of Patrick Henry and the musket blasts of the Minutemen. You can almost touch their influence in Thomas Jefferson’s radical screed of defiance aimed at an empire that dared possess the tangible fruits of rebellion; tobacco, booze and firearms. Free labor and land grabs may have made this country an unstoppable force for international power in a gilded age of white, Anglo-Saxon, male supremacy, but it was the Holy Trinity that provided the fuel.
The first British colony, Jamestown, Virginia became the birthplace of European colonialism in North America on the strength and riches of “brown gold.” Tobacco built the American Colonies and made Virginia its most powerful hub. The might of Virginia sent notice to the Continental Congress that slavery be left out of its native son’s “all men are created equal” idiom and put fellow Virginian George Washington in charge of the Continental Army. It is why today it houses the capital of the nation.
This was made possible by tobacco.
John Hancock, whose name by no mere coincidence appears first and largest in the signing of Jefferson’s Declaration Of Independence, sparked the tax wars with Great Britain over what is known as the Liberty Affair. Hancock’s importing of Madeira wine, among other goods, brought to the continent on his famed sloop, the Liberty, helped build a personal empire, which found itself under siege of crippling leans by the British government, summarily turning the entire operation into a smuggling ring. And although the tax on tea, which sparked a seminal stir to revolution, it was pre-dated by the outrage over the price of wine, rum and scotch that led directly to the closing of the ports in Massachusetts, home to the foment of revolt in the words and deeds of its most vociferous patriot, John Adams.
This was made possible by booze.
And, well, as discussed over the past weeks in this space, none of these business dealings and high-minded talk of free states amount to a hill of beans without firearms, which aimed by the rabble at the mighty British Army forged a nation from the hoary shenanigans of land barons and importers. It then provided the force to stretch the shenanigans further west and inevitably across the globe. If the French had not butted in by sending us a statue of a lady holding a torch, a far better symbol of the United States might be a man smoking a cigarette while holding a bottle of whiskey and a rifle.
However, despite its enduring mark on our nation, the Holy Trinity has consistently come under scrutiny by an equally commanding force in the forging of America; religion. It is to these shores the persecuted wished to openly worship without fear of government reprisal. Their stake in the power vacuum was a vital part of such draconian measures played out in the Prohibition Era and the William Morris trials of the late-1990s; both emerging triumphant in the moral outrage that occasionally cloaks the vox populi when trepidation over prolonged hedonism comes home to roost. To a lesser extent we have seen this pogrom against firearms in the push for the Brady Handgun Violence Act and the Assault Weapons Ban of the early ‘90s.
This balancing act of capitalistic profligacy and moral turpitude is why anyone doing what this space and the Reality Check News & Information Desk purports to do; sit back and enjoy the show. It is law, politics, protest and crime; it is MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and the TRUTH anti-smoking movement of the past two decades and Just Say No and Gun Control advocacies butting up against the mighty arms of the Holy Trinity; Big Tobacco, Anheuser-Busch, the NRA.
Big Tobacco had quite a run, hampered in the last two decades by heavy laws prohibiting smokers from enjoying in almost any indoor, and now in some cities like New York, outdoor locations. Hits against targeting advertising towards teens and massive warnings of just about any possible malady that could be contracted due to the use of the product, would not have been possible if the heads of seven of the major tobacco companies had not testified under oath to Congress that nicotine was not addictive. It was self-inflicted wounds, but has yet to make a huge dent in the habit. Over 50 million Americans have died as a result of smoking in the past decade.
Booze, and its most powerful lobby, Anheuser-Busch, have never wavered, surviving the drunk driving attacks of the 1980s and a bout with the satellite tv movement later in the decade. Before DirecTV all-but cornered the market by making a deal with the National Football League, about as influential and powerful property in the nation, satellites were primarily used by sports bars, which provided “stolen” feeds of out-of-town games directly from networks with the NFL receiving no revenue. But the usually unflinching league, which spits sponsors and networks out like sunflower seeds, buckled when beer conglomerate unleashed its full potential, the results of which opened an entire media industry up for home use. Around 750,000 people have died of alcohol related deaths in the past decade.
And so now we have a blowback on firearms, which, by any measure of reaction, is warranted. Kindergarten children being mowed down in class by military-style kill-machines by another in a long line of anti-social, middle-class white nerd males is bad publicity. Dead children is a tough one; which the NRA in its infinite wisdom has predictably decided to suggest providing more guns to “good people,” as if it is tough enough distinguishing between the good and bad people. But just as Big Tobacco could not have its CEO’s telling the consumer base its product is a drug, and Anheuser-Busch could not be bothered with the NFL’s lost profits, the NRA cannot go to the White House or on Meet The Press and agree to start putting leans all over their cash cow.
Roughly 320,000 people have died in the last 10 years due to gun violence.
Not sure what this tells us, beyond the notion that industry, economy, and tradition trump human life. It is a high price some of us pay to live in a land that’s vital resource is the worship of the Holy Trinity.