Despite all the publicity, it seems unlikely that the vaunted Million
Mom March will lead to more gun control legislation, and it might even
cut the other way. Thanks to the Second Amendment Sisters, the media
weren't able to play it as if all the women in America were rising with
one voice to demand more government controls. The NRA reported that its
membership lines were ringing off the hook over the weekend. The Senate
passed a meaningless resolution commending moms and apple pie, but the
most likely result of the overblown publicity is to activate
What's more interesting about the march is what it conveys about the
condition of American culture. That's appropriate because the gun issue
is much more a cultural-divide issue than it is a political or policy
issue. I can hardly imagine that anybody thinks mandating trigger locks
will prevent another Columbine; the lust for controls comes from a
gut-level hostility to guns that goes way beyond anything remotely
rational. On the other side, responsible gun owners who don't share the
cultural hostility to guns are befuddled by the attitude and respond
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It is dangerous and inaccurate to talk of a unitary "American
culture," of course. America contains many cultures and subcultures, and
none of them, thank goodness, is truly dominant. But there are dominant
media or media-hyped cultures that become influential because they get
attention. Some of the cultural manifestations on display at the
gun-control march are worthy of some attention.
I'm reminded of a mordant Oliphant cartoon years ago at the time of
the "Hands Across America" silliness (remember?), which Oliphant
dedicated to "all the social director loons who periodically invent
things for other lemmings to do." The notion that the world can be made
ever so much better by a bunch of people getting together and feeling
good about how good they feel is genuinely strange, a cultural oddity
worthy of sociological study (if there were a Sociology Department in
the country capable of an objective study, which is unlikely). It's not
as strange as the notion that public policy should be determined by who
can get the largest number of lemmings to show up for a day on the Mall,
but still strange.
The whole numbers game is a curious cultural artifact in itself. The
fact that the media accepted the Million Mom moniker even when it was
obvious nowhere close to a million would turn out is odd and probably
another reason to disapprove of Louis Farrakhan. Then they played the
numbers game on Sunday. As Doug Thompson, in his "Rant" column in
Capitol Hill Blue noted, "March organizers claimed as many as 750,000
wandered into the Mall for the march, a lie so blatant that even the
Washington Post couldn't buy it [although NPR and numerous other media
did]. Although the U.S. Park Service no longer provides 'official'
estimates of such events, a Park policeman we know said the crowd 'may
have topped 100,000, but not by much.'"
The real point is, why should we care? Well, yes, numbers sort of
matter in a country that claims to be a democracy of sorts, but only at
election time. The truth or falseness of a proposition or position has
nothing to do, however, with the numbers of people who subscribe to it.
The idea that an error must be taken seriously if millions of people buy
into it is another curious cultural artifact. If it were possible to
eliminate violence against children done by people with guns, who
wouldn't be for it? But mandatory safety locks or giving the government
even more power to control people by regulating the terms on which they
can own guns is perhaps the least likely way to accomplish such a noble
outcome. The fact that enough people embrace an error to wander on the
capital Mall for a while and then go shopping doesn't make it either
true or false.
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Here's another curious cultural artifact. Many of the speakers at the
rally were moms who had lost a family member. Many of their stories were
emotionally wrenching, but the notion that their pain should dictate
public policy of any sort is truly weird. There might well be some
therapeutic value in expressing their pain and having others share it.
But the idea that passing a law will do anything to ameliorate it or
compensate for it is so off-the-wall that it's difficult to believe
anybody really believes it. But some people at least act as if they do.
The most curious cultural attitude has been noted, but probably not
often enough. It is the idea that responsibility for horrific human
activity is to be placed not on the human beings who did it, but on some
inanimate object. The tendency to see a gun not as a tool or a piece of
metal whose use is determined by a human being but as a talisman of evil
that creates evil action by its very existence is a superstition so
primitive it is difficult to believe anybody buys it. But apparently
many people do.
(Lest certain readers start to feel smug about those goofy
left-wingers with their primitive mental processes, let me hasten to
point out that the lust for drug control rises from the same primitive
mental process: seeking to blame irresponsible human activity on a
chemical rather than on the human being who behaves irresponsibly and
imagining that a government ban will exorcise the evil. Maybe it's an
American thing rather than an ideological thing.)
Leave aside for a moment that the march's organizer, Donna
Dees-Thomases, is a professional publicist on leave from CBS-TV who just
happens to be the sister-in-law of Susan Thomases, one of the Clinton
administration's leading lights. Ms. Dees-Thomases certainly has the
right to organize a political event, and it is obvious that she is quite
skilled at it. But one shouldn't mistake a well-organized event planned
for months for a spontaneous outburst of grass-roots authenticity.
Well, perhaps there's no real harm done. The marchers seem to have
had a good time, the media loved it and many women who have experienced
tragedy had a chance to express their grief and sadness. That's not all
bad. What is sad is the pervasiveness of the belief in this country that
the only way -- or even an appropriate or intelligent way -- to deal
with tragedy is to give the government a lot more power over peoples'
lives. If that is really the prevailing culture -- which I don't
believe for a moment -- the country is in worse shape than I thought.