The Way of the Gun
I am an American. I am a writer. I am an atheist. I am a scientist. I am a nerd. I am a gamer. I am a husband. I am all of these things, and on this day I wish that it helped at all, for I can not seem to make sense of the space I occupy. No longer from the corner of my eye do I see the lunatic fringe invade the more logical spaces of my mind, but from every angle, every direction, every place. I want out. I want off this freight train destined for our own destruction, but it shall not be so, for I may call myself many things and in doing so I accept the culpability of those who would do the same.
I am an American, and for years we have worshiped an ideal. This ideal has come in many forms: the frontiersman, the cowboy, the mercenary, the cop, the soldier, the spy, the rebel...the hero. All the different names, all the different creeds, all the different colors, and the character has remained the same throughout; stoic, uncompromising, inherently good despite many a dark deed, but most importantly...just.
In the beginning, this character had depth, and in this depth there was something insanely attractive about the way the character (for the sake of ease and a personal thank you to sai King, let us call this character "the gunslinger") interacted with the world. The gunslinger was both a character of the law and one who stood outside the establishment, a protector and justice incarnate. Those who stood against him stood in fear, and those who stood with him did so without an ounce of the same.
Within this visage, the American populace grew to worship this character as the ideal. No philosophers and great thinkers for America, no, give us the uncompromising law officer, the courageous soldier, the gunslinger. Despite the many changes in cultural ideals, the rise and fall of economic powers, and the swell of dogmatic teachings, the gunslinger archetype remained; stoic, uncompromising, inherently good despite many a dark deed, but more importantly...just.
Why has the gunslinger not fallen to the passage of time? Because he served as the American ideal and as a justification for every action taken by our country during its rise to power. In our very young minds we represented the character of justice, the law bringer, the harbinger of doom for those who would dare stand against the freedom of democracy. And why the hell not? We had the courage, we had the fortitude, and most importantly we had the power...or so we thought.
The Cold Fall
For a very long time, the gunslinger archetype was held true by both the American government AND the American people. That was, until the Cold War began. It was then that the people began seeing their perfect vision of a gunslinger government begin to tarnish, and the mask of the fear mongering, greedy villain begin to shine through. In the minds of the people, the gunslinger would never boast or bicker about power, he used it when it was needed, never more. The gunslinger didn't threaten, he acted. The gunslinger never hid behind the gun, he was the gun. The gunslinger would never sacrifice the safety of the people he protected to save face. Never.
What happens when a hero fails? Another must rise to take his place. Enter the fairy tale gunslinger, wearing much different garb, enter the anti-hero. For years the gunslinger was pure, he was Captain America, he was Superman, he was wholesome and good, he worked within the confines of the society in which he lived. With the birth of the anti-hero, no longer was the law a concern for the gunslinger, what mattered most was brutal justice, even vengeance if the situation called for it. Collateral damage? Who cares, the job got done. Cost? Who cares, the job got done. Personal image? Who cares, the job got done.
The anti-hero gunslinger had all the attributes we loved about our old favorites, but he didn't have to listen to authority, didn't have to feel the sting of consequence. He got things done, no matter the cost. The anti-hero embodied the idea of ends justifying means, and the American people ate it up. This character represented their anger at the established way of doing things. This character was liberating.
The Modern Gunslinger
Fast forward to 2013, kids are dying in schools, people are dying in malls, and anti-hero fans are getting shot while in worship. Our first response to this loss of life is to point the finger at any external source of violence and the weaponry purveying said violence upon its many victims. Guns, mental illness, violence in film, violence on TV, violence in video games, violence in prose, anything and everything other than ourselves. Enter the modern gunslinger, boisterous and full of fear.
For so many years the intrinsic values held by the original archetype were what held him aloft, but the rapid expansion of technology and consumerism erased the honor bound characters, leaving only their violent actions. Time had moved on. Our modern gunslinger points to the media as an explanation for this loss of value, but this is far from the truth.
Take, for instance, these freedom fighters who are threatening to take up arms against the government if more gun control laws are passed, or those threatening to begin "killing people" for the same reason. These are our modern gunslingers, scared and pathetic. For in the face of countless innocent deaths, they would respond with more violence in the name of preparedness and self-defense. In the face of death, they would take the cowards path, hiding behind the gun, not any true principle.
By Any Other Name
The truth is, we are a people of violence. Those who have accepted this truth have the capacity to move beyond it, though most choose to wallow in the fear of it, puffing out their chest and spitting in the eye of any who would call them coward.
People kill people, so the saying goes. It doesn't matter if death comes by a stick or an atomic bomb, there was a human behind the destruction. Until Skynet comes online, there will never be another explanation for destruction by design.
You may be thinking that the recent escalation of death has nothing to do with you, but nothing could be further from the truth. We are all responsible for the deaths of the innocent children and citizens, and there is no amount of finger pointing that will erase that responsibility.
The way of the gunslinger is devastatingly seductive, but his end is inevitable. Live by the gun, die by the gun. That is the fate of all those who would desire the gunslinger's life. Well America, you are dying. Are you happy watching your children being slaughtered? Are you pleased to see the fanatical philosophy you have clung to for so long come to fruition? No? Nor am I. Perhaps we should stop pointing the finger and start looking in the mirror.
If you desire an end to death by the gun, stop living in the shadow of the 'slinger.