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The parable "a great man with a gun" relies on folks believing the worst about humanity

When I was a kid, everything I knew about New York City came from film and television. The Big Apple seemed to be a lawless dirt pit that symbolized: "the last days of American civilization. "The popular notion of the five wards sprang up in the 1970s and 1980s rising crime rateswas one of urban decay and a society running amok. In response to major cuts in essential services, the New York City public unions even distributed a snappy pamphlet entitled to tourists in 1975 Welcome to Fear City, with a figure of the Grim Reaper on the cover. Inside it advised people to stay out of the streets after 6 p.m. and "Never ride the subway for any reason. ”

When people's fear of crime and violence took root in the public psyche, large cities in the United States were cited as examples of institutional failures and noble progressive ideals –like social housing and civil rights for everyone, even people convicted of crimes. In front Gentrification and stop and investigate entered the lexicon, then as Times Square was more known for its porn shops As corporate sponsorships, the general backdrop of fear and paranoia about New York City flowed through incidents like Bernhard Goetz shoots black men in the subway, the Central Park Five Tragedy and various others Incidents of racist violence during the phase. Fear was also nurtured by most of the cop shows on television. The fear of inner cities was concentrated in neighborhoods where people of color lived. corralled by various government and social mandates that made upward mobility as difficult as possible. The resulting "white flightCreated a cultural stereotype The connected life next to certain racial groups with danger.

Conservatives of the time –as today– –used white concerns about security, racial identity, and property values ​​to blame civil rights laws that would integrate communities and “soft” liberal anti-crime policies that overshadow human rights law and order. The mix of increasing cynicism towards the government As a source of positive change, coupled with real and imaginary domestic fears, this contributed to people being exposed to the dangers on their own. These "radical individualism“Has been felt for the past five decades; From tax cuts for the rich to refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic, the constant is a mythical personal freedom that the government sees as either an ineffective waste or a downright evil, denying freedom to people. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the confluence of these forces in culture that has shaped people's views of what justice and security should mean. The inability to adopt popular gun control measures to limit the proliferation of handguns and assault rifles in public life, as well as the harshness and inequality of the criminal justice system, can be traced back to how these cultural notions of "freedom" are held by conservatives Fantasies.


Gary Cooper as Will Kane in "High Noon".

Discussions about crime politics and guns usually run into some familiar story beats found in action, western, and crime films.

Myth: We all need a strong, silent hero with a gun

The last three decades of film and television have been dominated by white male protagonists frustrated with their circumstances, like The Narrator in Fight Club, breaking BadWalter White, mad MenDon Draper or Tony Soprano from The Sopranos. Most of these men have deep resentments about why they live as men is not like Will Kanes in the Noon.

These themes go back a long way and can be seen in works like Norman Lear's All in the family and Arthur Millers Death of a salesmanwhere there is anger and resentment at feeling deprived of a status that fictional men feel entitled to. This trope is basically a modern update of the ideas behind Rudyard Kipling's "The White Man's BurdenAnd used as a justification for social control.

Research into the motivations behind the attitudes of Trump voters shows this Social status, not economic fear, drove their turnout. As with some of the characters above, there was a fear of cultural displacement among these people, a fear that Donald Trump cultivated. They feared what it means to be a man or a white person could be devalued if Trump were not responsible.

It can be argued that the political question of how we should view guns and crime is tied to certain attitudes and feelings about guns, whether it makes sense on a societal level or not. A 2017 Pew Survey of Gun Owners Two thirds of the respondents said that “personal protection” is the reason for owning a weapon. Three quarters said their weapon was essential to their freedom. In 2008 and 2015, Barack Obama explicitly stated that certain voters “cling to guns or religion. “Resentful people will look for things to reinforce their belief in what is great and strong. Hopefully neither of us will ever have to endure a home invasion or zombie apocalypse, but an AR-15 in the basement will calm people who believe they may need to use it at some point in their lives – whether or not to end tyranny Protesters walk past their home. It's a dark fantasy that rationalizes tossing a lot of money on something that's likely only fired on the line on the weekends because Fox News insists Antifa and Black Lives Matter come to the suburbs.

Myth: Power comes through strength, power and the will to act, not the law

Wyatt Russell as John Walker / Captain America in "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier".

A common interpretation of the appeal of the superhero genre positions it as a modern day equivalent to ancient mythological legends. Both use fancy elements to connect ideas of justice or its lack. There is also hope of anyone who has ever faced an emergency: a kind face will emerge, wipe away our tears, and make everything right. Others characterize the genre's popularity in the 21st century as a reaction to the attacks and consequences of September 11th.

Skyscrapers may fall into such films, but the lines between good and bad are clearly defined. The fiction of everything leaves room for a violent force forever that the audience can leave behind without anything the contradictions and controversies in the here and now for example when someone is killed without a due process. Superheroes do not read people their rights, do not use handcuffs or Wait for government approval. The force they employ is usually portrayed as a definite good, done by people with the will to do what others cannot or cannot do because they are all that stands between us and the destruction of civilization.

We trust Captain America because he's Captain America. Steve Rogers is a good and decent man who fought against Nazis and sacrificed almost everything for the common good. He is the moral center of the Marvel Universe, and the audience implicitly trusts their character; many places more trust in fictional characters than the people who are supposed to protect us in the real world. After all, superheroes don't use their guns to kill innocent men for it hold a sandwich or innocent women Shot dead in their own homes in the middle of the night.

But both real cops and superheroes see their support and fandom embedded in narrative and symbolism. The idea of ​​a "thin blue line“What the police regard as the only thing keeping the orderly society from chaos frames police officers as superheroes fighting evil. In support of law enforcement, people drape themselves in flag images, Combine strength with freedom, and Streamline law enforcement as a necessary token of strength. The same dynamic has been used to justify everything from the Patriot Act to the Detention Center in Guantanamo Bay in the war on terror; Politicians can look beyond human rights by dropping bombs on people painted as terrorists and criminals.

After all, someone has to do it.

Myth: The world needs badasses to stop bad guys

One could argue that the Blue Lives Matter crowd is taking up the idea that it is cops who bend the rules and citizens who take the law into their own hands Extensions of idealized vigilante superheroes. The law enforcement community, in fact adopted Marvel's The Punisher as a mascot.

The Punisher who debuted in for the first time The amazing Spider-Man # 129stands for vigilance in its absolute worst form. He thinks the law is insufficient and therefore completely ignores it. While characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil occasionally go out of the law to seek justice – usually in cases where the police are outdone – they almost never kill in a premeditated manner, which is the Punisher's modus operandi. There's a reason he fights other superheroes so often because he's ready and willing to murder people he thinks are criminals.

The job of a police officer is to obey the law to serve and protect. The Punisher kills people he believes deserve. There's a big, dangerous difference between the two things – and there should be.

As pointed out, the character is a cold-blooded killer, and The character's creator contradicted this particular usageAt least one Kentucky police department has been embarrassed to dump their patrol cars with a giant skull on the hood. At least one department in New York refused, claiming to be cooperating with the police The punisher should remind citizens that they were the only ones who "stand between good and bad. ”

The cultural enhancement of police officers and policing grants a kind of blanket permit: sometimes those protecting us have to work outside the system or even against the system in order to save the system. It's rooted in and can be seen in the pop culture psyche Justifications for abuse of civil rights over the past four to five decades.

The Supreme Court Justice (Antonin Scalia) cited Jack Bauer and the Hollywood torture show "24" as relevant background for Constitutional case law::

"Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," said Judge Scalia. Then the Supreme Court Justice remembered Season 2, where Agent's crude interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist attack, and etched a line in the sand. "Are you going to judge Jack Bauer?" Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. "Are you saying the criminal law is against him?" You have the right to a lawsuit? "Will a jury convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so."So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And should we believe in these absolutes."

Earth for Justice Scalia: Jack Bauer is not present.

This celebration of lawlessness is not conservative. It's something much more radical.

These justifications extend to the average citizen serving as vigilantes Shoot people in the back to defend a neighbor's property and proudly go to Fox News to be cheered on.

The Law enforcement pop culture image was one that is usually grizzled, harsh, and slightly corrupted, but colored as colored with good intentions. By Popeye Doyle in The French connection to Andy Sipowitz in NYPD blueThese are cops who beat up a suspect and use racial slur, but we should sympathize with their struggles and apologize for their actions 'Cause hey your heart is in the right place Raylan Givens of Justified can hit a suspect and forcing a criminal to play Russian roulettebut it's "badass" and we as an audience know he's a good guy deep in a world of filth.

As the liberal pacifist Paul Kersey of the Death wish Franchise is pushed so far by tragedy that he takes the subway and kills every criminal he seesthe viewer should understand and relate to it. Even a character like Batman asks the audience to join in and justify a man who uses his wealth to make amazing weapons so he can dress up like a bat every night to beat up criminals – in revenge for his murdered parents.

In these vigilante myths and narratives are not only bad cops, but people like George Zimmerman and Kyle Rittenhouse posing as heroes of their own stories. In these rationalizations of the laws of bending and a means to an end, people like Zimmerman and Rittenhouse become heroes in the eyes of others.

Even as Support for the death penalty has declined over the past two decadesConservative views on crime and gun policy continue to be based on projections of strength and the promise of punishment. Whether this makes sense for the system, for the victims or for crime prevention is not up for discussion. Instead, we are told that law enforcement should always be respected (and Any monster that decides to shoot an unarmed black teenager). Civil rights are just an obstacle to justice. In the right universe, anyone who questions the law must sympathize with criminals and hate America.

From that point of view, the law is only there to protect white people and property … and maybe to keep that not correct People from the vote.

Few, of course, dare to say this last part out loud. The terrible warning that civilization is in danger and under attack sounds like a movie in which skylines are on fire and people are running for their lives. The wording stirs up fear and like Yoda saidWhen you give in, fear leads to anger and some very bad decisions. As we know, fear enables people to rationalize terrible actions and behaviors.

Yale political scientist Vesla Weaver has postulated that language is "tough on crime" and "law and order" as a way to end the civil rights era victories. In a country where research has found that if "Many whites think of criminal justice policy to deal with violent offenders, they think of black offenders"Guns and Security take the subtext of being a control over a subclass worthy of fear."

This language has the possibility of repeating itself in history, in movements and of course in the media.


“We have to stop this current madness. It's an attack on civilization. “This was Tucker Carlsons Responding to Derek Chauvin's April 2021 conviction on the grounds that it would lead to social chaos and mob violence.

“And it's a sad day in our country where you can't even walk the neighborhood at night or during the day because in recent years both national parties have given a kowtow to every group of anarchists that have roamed the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles and across the country. And now they have created a Frankenstein monster for themselves, and the chickens are coming home to settle across the country. " Said George Wallace during his Run as a presidential candidate for law and order in 1968, civil rights policy arguments will lead to chaos and crime

Take the two Carlson and Wallace quotes above. They both play in fears and Resentment these are then exploited by people who need and want someone to blame. They get a goal responsible for why they are not live the life they think they deserve. These goals are said to have a hand in their pockets or are waiting to "replace" the Americans at every turn. Fear and fear lead to rationalizations of the repressive politics and to an embrace of security symbols like weapons to calm the status.

"Replacement theory" is not neweven if "white nationalists around the world have found a new framework for a much older fear". The "theory" only allows someone to believe themselves to be a victim and gives them villains for their own heroic story.

But to make things a little more interesting, take another look at the two quotes above, then read this one.

"This isn't our damn neighborhood. It's a battlefield. We're on a battlefield tonight. Make a decision: Are we going to stand on the sidelines and stand still while our country is being raped? Or will we make an effort and do something about it." Said Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) in the 1998s American history X.

Content Warning: This is fictional skinhead hype speech. The language is xenophobic, racist and violent.

I'd bet dollars on donuts that people saw American history X. and maybe even patted himself on the back for Not As neo-Nazis like Vinyard and his friends, they also nod their heads in agreement every night when Tucker Carlson Dog whistles white supremacy slogans that could have come out right away American history X..

There may not be superheroes, but there are good people who have guns and there are cops who really want to help people. However, hold on to these violent fantasies and myths This only complicates the search for a balance between security and community, between justice and retribution, and makes it very difficult to maintain true justice.

Of course, just because the myth of a good man with a gun is ubiquitous doesn't mean there aren't any heroes. They are extremely rare. We shouldn't forget Humberto Guzman, A 32-year-old man who died defending a mother and daughter in a grocery store, or the two Portland men who died after defending a Muslim woman on a train. Of course, none of these brave men had weapons; In fact, the ideal of the “good guys” with guns isn't supported by data. In 2019 only around 4% of gun deaths in the United States were the result of a defensive use of a firearm. Further research shows that this is the case No recognizable security advantage having a weapon available in a dangerous situation when it comes to reducing harm to innocent people at risk.

But these facts are not for the imagination, are they?

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