Guns and the Soul of America

As David Frum points out in The Atlantic, the five years since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School “have seen one of the most intense bursts of gun legislation in U.S. history.” More than two dozen states have passed new gun laws. And in almost all cases these laws have made it easier to buy or carry guns.

.. a single mass shooting leads to a 15 percent increase in firearm bills introduced in the same state’s legislature within a year.

.. In Republican states, they found, a mass killing “increases the number of enacted laws that loosen gun restrictions by 75 percent.”

.. It’s true that individual gun control measures, like banning bump stocks, have popular support, but, over all, the gun rights people are winning the hearts and minds of America.

.. As Tali Sharot notes in her book “The Influential Mind,” when you present people with evidence that goes against their deeply held beliefs, the evidence doesn’t sway them. Instead, they invent more reasons their prior position was actually correct. The smarter a person is, the greater his or her ability to rationalize and reinterpret discordant information, and the greater the polarizing boomerang effect is likely to be.

.. The real reason the gun rights side is winning is postindustrialization. The gun issue has become an epiphenomenon of a much larger conflict over values and identity.

.. A century ago, the forces of industrialization swept over agricultural America, and monetary policy became the proxy fight in that larger conflict. Today, people in agricultural and industrial America legitimately feel that their way of life is being threatened by postindustrial society. The members of this resistance have seized on issues like guns, immigration, the flag as places to mobilize their counterassault. Guns are a proxy for larger issues.

.. For many people, the gun is a way to protect against crime. But it is also an identity marker. It stands for freedom, self-reliance and the ability to control your own destiny. Gun rights are about living in a country where families are tough enough and responsible enough to stand up for themselves in a dangerous world.

.. The populist revolt is about halfway through taking over the Republican Party. It is winning victories on gun, immigration and trade policy. The way to fuel this populism is to feed the elites-versus-common-man narrative, as so many have self-righteously done this week.

.. Over a century ago, industrialization brought on a culture clash between agrarian populists and the genteel Victorian aristocrats. Theodore Roosevelt transcended the fight by inventing a new American nationalism. Meanwhile, the progressives cleaned up elite corruption and nurtured a square deal for those being left behind by technological change. Cultural leaders introduced new institutions and community forms, like the Boy Scouts and the Settlement House, that drew from both cultures and replaced them.

.. Today we need another grand synthesis that can move us beyond the current divide, a synthesis that is neither redneck nor hipster but draws from both worlds to create a new social vision. Progress on guns will be possible when the culture war subsides, but not before.

How to Save the Post-Industrial Town?

Part of the problem seems to be a generational disconnect, re: what makes a place livable and appealing. As Applebaum notes in his New York Times piece, “[Monessen’s] younger residents are frustrated that the older generation still dreams of factories. They want to replace some of the old mills with waterfront homes and restaurants. They would like to see the city and the river meet, instead of being almost entirely separated by the old industrial strip.”

.. The suggestions made above are not radical—they actually seem to echo the work of New Urbanists (chronicled and considered at length here at TAC on our New Urbs blog). This vision attunes itself to pre-World War II urban development, eschewing some of the excesses of midcentury America (the time that most baby boomers in these communities are pining away for). It calls for greater walkability, mixed-use neighborhoods, and vibrant parks and city squares where people can congregate, as well as a renovation and preservation of (as opposed to demolishing and replacing) the old buildings and blocks that make up historic districts and downtowns. These are just some of the puzzle pieces that fit into a larger New Urbanist blueprint for revitalizing America’s cities.