Imagine a different kind of America. In this version of America, the President has made sure that guns and bullets are easily available for practice, and regular practice at a shooting range is required by law. Other sports such as bowling, golf, and football have been banned lest they encroach on gun target practice. Most American Presidents have been experts in the use of firearms, including the current President.
The above was actually the status of archery in England from roughly the 13th century until the reign of Victoria. It was a world where every citizen was potentially a soldier, and England’s survival depended on everyone being skilled with bows and arrows.
It’s hard to imagine a time in America when guns were not objects of fear (or its cousin, reverence) but were treated like hammers and other tools. Believe it or not, junior high school gym classes once taught teenagers how to shoot guns (as well as archery, with real arrows).
There was also a time when sports were used as training for war, not as entertainment for a sedentary population. In fact, it was a culture completely organized around warfare that gave us the idea that sports “develops character”: Nazi Germany. We repeat this justification for sports programs nearly a century later without realizing where it came from and why.
Today In America, soldiering is no longer the responsibility of every citizen, but is delegated to professional soldiers. For the average citizen, a gun is not for warfare, but for hunting or defense against criminals. Many of our recent Presidents have been executives rather than military officers. Wars are no longer a common effort, with every able-bodied person making a contribution.
Today’s America at war seems unreal, like a video game that someone else is playing, rather than a do-or-die task for the common welfare. Because it’s been so long since our very survival was at stake, Americans are getting cocky. Since there is no real palpable cost to most Americans when the nation goes to war, wars, like anything else cheap, are common. And having Presidents with no military experience means that wars are entered into lightly and conducted administratively; soldiers, having seen the hell of combat, make more reluctant, but more brutally effective, warriors.
We Americans argue about guns constantly. However, when Americans are not sidetracked into arguments about hunting, they are sidetracked into arguments about citizen criminals rather than the most dangerous criminals of all, governments gone wrong. (Even the most superficial study of history shows that far more people have been killed by governments than burglars.)
During these debates, I am struck by how often people speak of guns in almost religious terms–and not the National Rifle Association type of gun advocates. Strangely, it is the gun control advocates that treat guns as totems or taboos or objects of worship, if you listen to their language carefully. For example, they say they “don’t believe in” guns, as if guns were gods, and they are atheists or agnostics.
I would like to see a return to a country that celebrates risk-taking, if not actual danger. Thanks to our liability lawyers, American children now have little acquaintance with danger. When children are shielded by helicopter parents (who now even accompany their children to college!), what kind of nation have we created?
A small start can be made, however. In the 17th century, archers set up a competition in which they “shot from one mark to the next, the object being, as in golf, to use the fewest shots in going around the course.” Perhaps Frisbee golf is due for an overhaul.