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Signatures of the gun culture

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted June 3, 2002

Anthropologists study a culture by interviewing individuals and observing group meetings. Now that communications are mostly electronic, an easier way to gather data is to monitor email lists and bulletin boards.

Many Internet correspondents set their email program to automatically add a quote or slogan at the end of each email to support their beliefs. These are called signatures or ".sig files" and in no other American subculture are they more popular or seen in greater variety than in the gun rights movement.

Anyone who wishes to understand this segment of society would be well advised to scan these brief sub-messages. They reveal a depth of knowledge that belies the image of the ignorant redneck gun owner. Let's read a few and you'll see what I mean.

Invoking the words of respected historical figures highlights the concept that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Many signatures have included this popular Benjamin Franklin truism:

"Those that give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety."

A popular quote from Thomas Jefferson is actually his quotation of brilliant criminologist Cesare Beccaria:

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man."

Famous authors are often quoted in email signatures, especially Robert Heinlein, whose science fiction novels influenced a generation of baby boomers. The most famous Heinlein aphorism is:

"An armed society is a polite society."

Even before the groundbreaking work of Prof. John Lott, this statement was a powerful reminder of the positive effect of guns on human behavior.

Author William S. Burroughs contributed this gem:

"After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it."

Some gun rights activists use their signature messages to change the terms of the gun control debate. Rejecting the anti-gun concept that guns are useless and dangerous, they include slogans like these:

"Guns protect moms and kids."

"Save a life, teach a woman to shoot."

"Self-defense is a basic human right."

"When did they revoke innocent until proven guilty?" expresses the feelings of many gun owners who believe they are being treated like criminals.

Another popular theme is to highlight the stupidity of the opposition. An activist named Sam Cohen came up with this one:

"The philosophy of gun control: Teenagers are roaring through town at 90 MPH, where the speed limit is 25. Your solution is to lower the speed limit to 20."

A speaker at the Million Mom March uttered this infamous malaprop:

"If someone comes at you with a knife or gun, say, 'I know you're upset.' We all want to be valued as human beings."

This rather crude apothegm has been popular for years:

"Gun Control: The theory that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her panty hose, is morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound."

A new group called "Pink Pistols" promotes the firearms rights of sexual minorities; some members have modified the previous statement to read like this:

"Gun Control: The theory that Matthew Shepard hanging from a fence post in Wyoming is morally superior to Matthew Shepard explaining to the local sheriff how his attackers got those fatal bullet wounds."

Famous firearms instructors also contribute their share of quotes. Col. Jeff Cooper, considered the father of modern pistolcraft, said:

"Owning a handgun doesn't make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician."

Massad Ayoob, the most famous currently active instructor stated:

"The irony is, if you're willing to kill a perpetrator, you probably won't have to."

King Leonidas
King Leonidas

I believe the most popular and significant signature of the gun rights subculture is an ancient challenge issued by King Leonidas of Sparta. In 480 B.C., he and 300 of his Spartan warriors occupied the narrow pass at Thermopylae to delay the onslaught of the gigantic Persian army. Historians put the size of the Persian forces between 150,000 and 2 million men.

When ordered by the Persian commander to give up their weapons, Leonidas shouted back, "Molon labe!" or "Come take them!" The valiant Greeks fought to the last man and bought precious time for their countrymen to prepare.

If the leaders of the anti-gun lobby had been aware that "Molon labe!" was a highly popular rallying cry among their enemies, they might have realized that their plan to force their views on American society was doomed to failure. Unfortunately for them, they were not comfortable monitoring the communications of their foes. They probably feared exposure to contagious ideas.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is a member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws. He may be emailed at: rkba2000@yahoo.com.

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