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The Radicalization of America's Gun Culture

by Dr. Michael S. Brown


Members of the great American gun culture who actively enjoyed their sport and celebrated their firearms heritage were once considered the backbone of America, both for their militarily valuable shooting skills and for their patriotism. Decades of deliberate attacks by politicians and the media have slowly relegated this important group to the status of a subculture that now feels out of place and at war with its own government.

Prior to 1934 there were no federal gun control laws. There was only an odd assortment of gun laws in various states and cities which were intended to disarm racial minorities and immigrants. As far as the federal government was concerned, anyone was free to buy a machine gun or even a cannon, and the level of gun crime was relatively low. Since the National Firearms Act was signed into law in 1934, the number of gun control laws at all levels of government have multiplied exponentially. So has the overall crime rate, which some argue is a direct result of gun control laws that discourage self-defense.

Although none of these laws reduced crime, each new law creates another way that a well intentioned gun owner can inadvertently end up in prison or ruined by legal costs. Some have been killed in raids by government agents. Much like laws passed to promote the failed war on drugs, each new gun law gives the police additional powers that threaten basic constitutional rights.

America's lawful gun owners are painfully aware of these facts. Since gun laws don't reduce crime, they wonder, what is the real purpose? This question has led to numerous theories that attempt to explain why the "ruling elite", which includes the media and many politicians, would want to eliminate civilian gun ownership in America.

American gun owners feel as if they are being slowly crushed. One writer recently described this decades-long campaign as a slow motion hate crime.

Frustration has been building in the gun culture for thirty years and has been accelerating with the faster pace of anti-gun attacks and the dramatic improvement in communications. Stories of outrageous persecution by government agencies now circulate like wildfire via the internet. Anti-gun bills introduced in any legislature are instantly made known to millions. Gun owners know the major players in the anti-gun lobby as well as they know the villains in their favorite movies.

Several successful novels have tapped into this frustration. The best known is "Unintended Consequences" by John Ross. This popular 861 page semi-fictional work details the noble history of the gun culture and how it has been attacked. The hero, Henry Bowman, is a talented engineer, gifted marksman, and gun collector who holds his temper for years in the face of growing bureaucratic oppression. He is finally forced to kill a team of heavily armed federal firearms agents who are planting evidence to incriminate a fellow gun collector. At this point, in the best cowboy tradition, Bowman leads a bloody covert revolution against the "jackbooted thugs" of the federal bureaucracy.

Ross uses the old stereotype of the American cowboy who is slow to anger and just wants to be left alone. This highlights the way in which the old fashioned values of the gun culture (truth, honor, tolerance, and personal responsibility) are in conflict with our current government. He also offers a scenario that holds great fascination for many gun owners who pass his book from hand to hand saying, "You've got to read this book."

Some observers of this cultural war wonder why large numbers of gun owners have not yet resorted to violence to preserve their way of life. Civil wars have started over less. Almost every gathering of lawful gun owners has a deep undercurrent of anger. They see each new gun law as a way to harass them and make it more difficult for everyone except criminals and the government to own guns. Solid, productive citizens complain bitterly about how good people have been arrested for unintentional violations of the myriad of gun laws. Each wonders if he could be next.

Although this group has been involuntarily radicalized, there are several things holding back a violent response. One is the fact that gun owners are a very law abiding group of people. They have a deep faith in the Constitution and are willing to give the political process a chance to balance itself. The second is that leaders of gun rights organizations, such as the NRA, are promising relief through the political system. The third reason is that the leaders of the anti-gun lobby are masters of propaganda and would gleefully exploit any minor incidents to further harm gun rights. It would take a massive wave of violent protests to affect any positive change.

Nobody knows if, when or how this group will reach its breaking point, but one must question the wisdom of infuriating millions of armed citizens.

Dr. Brown is an optometrist in Washington state and may be reached at He is among the handful of Directors guiding Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws, and you can read other writings of his right here.