Following Friday’s horrific mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, the fake newspaper The Onion published a short satirical piece in which the word “gun” is replaced with the kind of physical descriptions that might be given by a visitor from another world:
“It’s my God-given right and a founding principle of this country that I be able to own a [piece of metal that launches other smaller pieces of metal great distances, one after the other], and if a few deaths here and there is the price we have to pay for that freedom, then so be it,” said Lawrence Crane of nearby Danbury, CT, who is such a staunch advocate of the portable deadly-pellet-flinging apparatuses that he keeps multiple versions of such mechanisms in his home, often carries one with him, and is a member of a club whose sole purpose is to celebrate these assembled steel things and the small bits of metal they send flying.
Committing a sort of deliberate naturalistic fallacy, the article’s grim, angry humor derives from the disconnect between morally inert physical descriptions of the object in question and the talismanic power its very name invokes in American culture. How could a human invention hold such sway over us as a people?
The latter question is taken up by Garry Wills in a blog post for The New York Review of Books:
The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).
The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?