Thursday, August 7, 2008

Guns in America and Europe

A certain lady decided to stay the night in her father’s house, last night, a house that had just been robbed, because he had some electronics that might inspire the thieves to return. She discussed this on the Rhodesian Ridgeback discussion group because she wondered how her dog would respond if the thieves did return. Besides her dog, she had a 22 pistol. And that caused considerable consternation on the part of the Ridgeback owners and breeders who lived in other parts of the world. It seemed strange and spooky, or “surreal” to them that this lady would be waiting for thieves with a 22. I applauded her courage if not her weapon.

There are traditions and a history that causes us to think differently about guns. Europe had a tradition in which the nobles and certain of their designated minions had guns, and the commoners, not being trustworthy, were not allowed them. Commoners poached, sans guns, and the nobles hired grounds-keepers to patrol their forests with dogs to capture these poachers. The Bullmastiff was created to deal with poachers. But other mastiff breeds were used as well.

And then the new world was opened up and lots of disgruntled Europeans (mostly commoners) went off to start new lives here. Back in Europe, aristocrats kept guns away from the commoners as much as possible – except when the commoners were sent off to fight wars for said aristocrats, but not us, we Americans said. We have no nobles or commoners. We are all equal and one of the signs of that equality is that our right to bear arms, have our own guns, shall not be infringed.

There are other differences of course. We in the U. S. of A. believe ourselves to be rugged individualists. We take care of things ourselves. Over in Europe they are more comfortable calling up an aristocrat’s minion – or his modern day descendent to “protect them.” But not us, or not most of us. 911 takes too long. S&W 357 is much quicker. The police here (and, if the truth be acknowledge, back in Europe) mostly show up after the fact, after the crime has been committed and the criminal has fled. In Europe they are used to that. But not here —at least not most places here.

And this translates into, or perhaps it would be better to say accompanies other things as well – this difference between the American and European ways. Europeans having been descended from serfs like to be taken care of. We’ll do the work just like in the old days and you take care of us – fix us when we’re sick – support us when we’re out of work, take care of us from cradle to grave. Americans, being rugged individuals want to be left alone. Leave me alone and I’ll do it. Or, leave me mostly alone except for such things as social security and Medicare, but leave me the illusion of being left alone.

And guns are a sign of our independence. We are entrepreneurs. We invent things because we have the independence to do so. We don’t want to be taken care of. We’ll do that ourselves. Forget the dog, beware of owner. This property protected by Smith and Wesson -- different ways of looking at things -- I should add that what I’ve described as “American” is mostly “red state” America. “Blue State” America lusts after old-world patrimony.

Blue-State-European-admirers tend to congregate in cities. They walk their dogs up and down in front of their neighbors’ houses and look the other way while their dogs poop on their neighbors’ lawns.

Out here in red-state-America, we walk on unlighted farm roads or down in river beds where we alarm timid blue-staters who shudder and call the Anti-Terrorist Task Force at the barest mention of where we walk our dogs and what we carry along as we do so.

And why do some of us like a dog, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, with a natural defensive nature – while some Europeans like dogs that attack on command. I submit that the Rhodesian Ridgeback is more consistent with the American spirit of individualism -- in that the RR is supposed to make up its mind about how to deal with the lion away from the hunter – or with the bad buy attacking his mistress. The mistress may own a 357, but she wants her RR to decide to do the right thing and defend her.

The Europeans (many of them) don’t want that. Their dogs are to follow orders: ach, ach, attack, attack. The Dobermann, German Shepherd, Giant Schnauzer, the Beauceron, etc. are European dogs bred to attack on command. That is, they are bred to go through Schutzhund training. . .

It’s very important for the European critics of our gun rights to realize that neither of us has a principle at work here. The Europeans cannot say that there approach to guns is absolutely correct, but neither can we say that our way is absolutely correct. There is no basis for a principle. We have two traditions at work. Whether one tradition will utterly die out remains to be seen. I rather suspect if the world became overpopulated, one gigantic megalopolis, that gun rights would eventually be curtailed. But if populations taper off, as they seem to be doing, and there remains wide open empty spaces where one might encounter a dangerous animal or two, guns will remain of use, and gun rights may continue to exist after the American tradition – at least in America.

Lawrence Helm

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