I'm hugely enjoying Kurt Andersen's book about how our country became the world's #1 purveyor of kookiness. "Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire" is filled with right-on observations.
Andersen chronicles our nation's love affair with fantasy from 1517 up to the near-present -- which is where I am now in the book.
Today I read the Gun Crazy chapter. The following excerpt is one of the best descriptions of gun nuttery I've ever come across. Andersen is a hunter and gun owner, so this makes his characterization of gun wackos even more believable.
One set of fantasies has had more current, awful, undeniable real-world consequences than any other: the one that recast owning guns as among the more important rights, as American liberty and individualism incarnate. During my lifetime, the love of guns has become a fetish. It is picking our pockets and definitely breaking our legs.
...Today only about a quarter of Americans own guns -- but the average owner has three or four. Fewer than eight million people, only 3 percent of all American adults, own roughly half the guns. Members of that tiny minority of superenthusiasts own an average of seventeen guns apiece.
Let me put a finer point on what I'm saying.
Very, very few of the guns in America are used for hunting. Americans who own guns today keep arsenals in a way people did not forty years ago. It seems plain to me that that's because they -- not all, but many -- have given themselves over to fantasies.
The way I did as a child and still do on the rare occasions I shoot, they imagine they're militiamen, Wild West cowboys, soldiers, characters they've watched all their lives in movies and on TV, heroes and antiheroes played by Clint Eastwood and Mel Gibson and the Rock, like Davy Crockett or Butch or Sundance or Rambo or Neo (or Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor).
They're like children playing with light-sabers, except they believe they're prepared to fight off real-life aliens (from the Middle East, from Mexico) and storm troopers, and their state-of-the-art weapons actually wound and kill.
Why did gangsters and wannabe gangsters start holding and firing their handguns sideways, parallel to the ground, even though that compromises their aim and control? Because it looks cool, and it began looking cool after filmmakers starting directing actors to do it, originally in the 1960s, constantly by the 1990s.
Why are Americans buying the semiautomatic AR-15 and rifles like it more than any other style, 1.5 million each year? Because holding and shooting one makes them feel cooler, more like commandos. For the same reason, half the states now require no license for people to carry their guns openly in public places.
It's the same reason, really, that a third of the vehicles sold in America are pickups and four-wheel-drive Walter Mittymobiles, even though three-quarters of four-wheel-drive off-road vehicles never go off-road. It's even the reason blue jeans became the American uniform after the 1960s.
We are actors in a 24/7 tableau vivant, [living picture] schlubs playing the parts of heroic tough guys.
Spectacular mass killings happen in America far more often than anywhere else, and not just because we make massacre-perfect weapons so easy to buy. Such killers are also engaged in role-play and are motivated by our besetting national dream of overnight fame.
The experts say that most mass killers are not psychotics or paranoid schizophrenics in the throes of clinical delusion; rather, they're citizens of Fantasyland, unhappy people with flaws and failures they blame on others, the system, the elitists, the world. They worry those resentments into sensational fantasies of paramilitary vengeance, and they know that acting out those fantasies will make a big splash and force the rest of us to pay attention to them for the first time.