Recently, after a day of hiking in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, our group of six settled into a wooden cabin with a bottle of Mezcal, a roaring fire, and feelings of freedom and curiosity that apparently come from trekking 10 miles through remote Mexican villages. We got into a debate about gun control, and I was soon hopelessly telling everyone (including two young French women and a Bosnian woman) that "guns are deeply entrenched in American culture."
There is a sense of inevitability when we speak of this country's failure to meaningfully address gun violence. A headline from today's New York Times reads, "Gun Control Bid Had No Real Chance, Despite Pleas."
But the truth is, gun policy shouldn't inevitably fail. Guns aren't "entrenched in American culture," certainly not to the extent that sensible gun safety laws, supported by a majority of Americans, can't pass in the Senate. The NRA is entrenched in politics, and they have many of us lamenting, yet affirming, supposed "gun culture." When we recognize the myth of that culture, and the accompanying myth of inevitability, we will be empowered to progress.
That something has always been is not a reason why it must always be. Progress is not a natural evolution from the traditional to the contemporary, but a schism between what we think we know in the present and what we imagine for the future. Our country started as a slave nation, founded on the myth of black inferiority, which was perpetuated by an economy based on free labor. To many, I'm sure abolition was an elusive, unrealistic dream. More recently, gay marriage has upturned "entrenched" ideas about marriage.
Yesterday, Gabrielle Giffords wrote a rightfully angry and defiant opinion in the New York Times in response to the Senate's blocking the most recent bipartisan gun-control bill. In it, she shames the senators who cowered to the NRA instead of standing up for the innocent lives that have been marred by gun violence. And she warns the senators who affirmed the purported status quo:
"Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful."