GUNS AND PANIC

You can’t expect people to live under the constant threat of unemployment, let alone be unemployed for months and years at a time, and expect them to feel secure and that others are looking out for them.

Good morning, ardent Washington Monthly fans. I am pleased to be among you. A bit daunted, too; compared to the news-gorging, policy-devouring flamethrowers who usually occupy this spot, I’m a old spitballer trying to get by on craft and guile. But I’ll do my best.

As Mr. Peabody used to say to his boy Sherman, let’s turn the Wayback Machine to last Monday, and visit a story that took place before the onslaught of news events became so torrential that poor Matt “Losing Steak” Lauer found himself in West, Texas at the fertilizer factory explosion while everybody outside of West, Texas was gripped by the events in Boston. The story I’m referring to, of course, is the Senate’s refusal to pass the new gun control legislation.

The story has already been well-masticated, but even at this late date, I was especially struck by a comment by Stuart Stevens in The Daily Beast the other day:

“It was not lost on many of those paying attention that the provisions of the Manchin-Toomey legislation would have done nothing to prevent the Newtown massacre. The lack of such deprived this very logical president from making a logical case of support based on the Newtown tragedy and instead forced him to push the emotion of Newtown further and further. On a certain ironic level, this placed Obama in the same position as President George W. Bush making the case for the invasion of Iraq based on mushroom clouds rather than on hard data.”

A Bush comparison? Yikes!

Put me down as one of those who believes that the anti-gun forces don’t really have a good psychological insight into what’s driving many gun owners. I think it’s fear, not of black helicopters coming to take away everybody’s hunting rifles in the middle of the night, but an animal fear, not entirely irrational, that things are headed in the wrong direction. The economy is not producing enough jobs, and nobody feels secure. The housing market has not recovered, and nobody feels secure. An education doesn’t guarantee a job. A lifetime of work may not guarantee you Social Security. And though I pull Paul Krugman’s columns up to my chin like a security blanket, I don’t like the size of that debt. Throw in teenage terrorists, a juvenile North Korean dictator, and an ethic of individualism that excuses all sorts of selfish behavior. There’s a low grade fever of fear infecting the country that in some places is building to panic, and no one is really addressing it. You can’t expect people to live under the constant threat of unemployment, let alone be unemployed for months and years at a time, and expect them to feel secure and that others are looking out for them. I don’t think buying a gun is an answer; I don’t think owning a gun will bring relief. But do I think that someone who wants to own a gun to enhance a sense of security is crazy? No, I don’t, not really. An improved economy may not ensure for gun control, but there’s no hope until things get fundamentally better.

Jamie Malanowski

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.