You can’t always get what you want.
Not news to anyone who has escaped from childhood with a modicum of maturity. Yet many people in our society believe that because they want something, they should have it, when they want it, and as much of it as possible.
Consumerism feeds this fantasy as it promises great things, notably, if you buy this product, and those whatchamacallits, you will be happy, or at least happier. If you are depressed, go shopping. It’s a known panacea for the doldrums. Of course there is a downside. It doesn’t appear to work over the long term. And if we come to depend on buying to escape dreary days, then we run the risk of becoming consumer addicts, buying for temporary highs, but not for any good reason.
Guns are a uniquely attractive consumer item for many Americans. Presumably they can satisfy as any consumer product can. If you are down, purchasing one can make you feel better. But in addition guns make some people feel powerful in ways that other consumer products do not. They provide a power over life and death. Their purchase and possession can create a tremendous high, especially for those who feel recurrently threatened or insecure. They are the heroin of consumer goods. The high appears to be so intense that some people can’t stop themselves from buying the biggest, baddest, weapon they can find. And when the kick runs out, they buy another, and another, and another, and another. The more power, the greater the kick. (Those who own many guns have been referred to as super owners. See “Just 3% of Americans own more than half the country’s guns.” *)
Of course I am not speaking here of your typical gun owner who may have a couple of handguns and rifles. Nor I am speaking of gun collectors who are antiquarians, like coin collectors, for whom guns of different periods have historical interest. No, I’m talking about those who just must have that shiny new AR-12, and then an AR-15, and then a model that can be souped up to deliver more bullets per minute, etc.
It goes without saying that very few of these avid consumers are mass murderers. Nevertheless, their consumerism enables those who are. Because gun addicts need their fix, they are desperate to make sure that nothing stands in the way of the sale of guns. The fact that under- or unregulated gun sales might result in a mass killing is not their problem. They can’t even see it as a problem because they are in fact addicts. They see what they need to see. (Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.) If you had access to a virtually unlimited supply of heroin as a heroin addict, you would surely fight to preserve your rights, your supply. Ditto for gun addicts.**
Yet the analogy breaks down because heroin addicts don’t have the advantage of a national organization–yes, NRA, I’m talking to you–to defend their “rights.” Nor do they have a Constitutional Amendment that can be (mis)interpreted to justify their habit. Nor can heroin addicts claim that they are making a score to defend their homes, or their families, or their persons. But of course heroin addicts, like other addicts, can come up with all sorts of seemingly plausible explanations to deny their addiction, which is how gun addicts behave when their purchasing omnipotence is challenged.
Let’s be clear. There are huge sums of money involved in protecting the gun industry. As a business it’s interested in profits. And every business would love to get people hooked on their products, perhaps even to the point of creating some sort of (semi) addictive behavior. (Coca-Cola anyone?) We can argue about how much of a necessary evil excessive consumerism may be in a capitalist economy. What is inarguable is that guns are not a typical consumer product. Nothing that can take lives so easily should ever be commodified in this fashion. Yet here we are. Letting one industry profit by feeding addicts at the expense of American lives.
* “How many Americans actually own a gun? A 2016 study by Harvard and Northeastern University put the total number of privately-owned firearms in the U.S. at 265 million, with more than half of that – 133 million – being concentrated in the hands of just 3% of Americans, called “super owners,” who have an average of 17 guns each.” From “Just 3% of Americans own more than half the country’s guns.”
** One might say that referring to collectors of guns as addicts is unfair. Other people buy multiple versions of the same product and we don’t typically call them addicts, although we might, for example, a person who owns 10,000 shoes or 10,000 watches. But it isn’t only the quantity that make some gun owners seem more like addicts than just collectors. Gun owners report that guns are important to their identity and the behavior of some owners exhibit traits that we associate with addiction or dependence, for example, needing more to achieve the same effect and the production of rushes or highs. In any case, the use of the term addict here is meant to dramatize the intense, needy, and unique relationship that some gun owners have to their (multiple) weapons. In this regard, it’s worth noting that, “89% of gun owners see having one as important to their overall identity.”