Why can’t we pass meaningful gun reform? What will it take? How can we stop these mass shootings from happening?
I reached out to my former professor Andrew Poe, editor of The Lives of Guns — a subject that he said “terrified” him — and a recent ex-pat to Copenhagen. In a wide-ranging conversation, we compared Americans and Danes’ trust in their governments.
We also discussed the unique nature of the Second Amendment and the manufacturing of guns using 3-D printers (they’re nearly impossible to track unless we start tracking all printers). Additionally, we noted what politicians are missing in the gun control debate.
Poe dismissed the conservative argument that video games are fueling the rampant gun violence in this country, saying simply, “video games are everywhere.” He questioned — as did I — if conservatives even believed this argument themselves.
Rather, he posited, they could be “trying to appeal to a certain kind of conservative…for example, to moms worried about their sons playing violent video games.” On the topic of mobilization, he added that the Right was doing a much better job than the Left of energizing their base, made up of millions of gun owners.
A self-described perpetually anxious person, who deeply mistrusts the American government, Poe noted how there were much, much fewer guns in Copenhagen, and as a result, how he feels much safer.
There’s not a sense, like in America, that a shooting could happen anytime, anywhere.
That’s not to say that Copenhagen is without violence. Several times during the conversation, he mentioned a recent bombing of a Copenhagen tax office — but also how the Danes’ reactions to it differed starkly from that of Americans.
The Danes essentially seemed to shrug it off, he observed. They have confidence in their government to keep them safe — a government Poe labeled as much less invasive than our own.
In America, he argued that there would be panic. For us, violence anywhere in the country becomes intensely personal. “If there’s a murder in Chicago, and you could be separated by hundreds of miles…you’re physically safe, but you somehow feel like it affects you. That’s distinctly American.”
Another unique aspect of American culture? The foundation of our property law. He described the story: an aristocrat was chasing down a fox to hunt it, but a farmer killed the animal first.
The aristocrat ended up suing the farmer, but the state Supreme Court ruled in the farmer’s favor. Their reasoning was that fox only became property once the farmer changed its state — by killing it.
We paused for a second to think about that. After all, violence and killing are the principles that underpin our property law.
Of course, we then turned to the Second Amendment. He noted, “It exists in a weird space, as both a positive and a negative right.” Some context: positive rights are things people are entitled to, such as having the right to an attorney; negative rights are areas where the state must leave you alone.
Basically one is freedom to and the other is freedom from.
You can view the Second Amendment both ways: you have the right to have the gun, and the state cannot take this gun away from you. So it stands in a category on its own. But more importantly, the Second Amendment has fundamentally changed us as people. It has made us used to violence and has given us a desire for it.
And how can we ever un-do that?