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Letter from the Editor: America's Full Metal Jacket

Why guns are as American as apple pie

Dear Brooklyn Readers,

My grandfather (may he rest in peace) was a renaissance man.

He had his bachelor's degree by the time he was 22-- rare for a black man born in the 1920s. He was a basketball player, a boxer, a small business owner. He was a bass baritone singer who modeled himself after Paul Robeson, a community activist; and was known around the neighborhood to have dimes ready in his pocket (the equivalent of a dollar today) to give away to all the children on the block.

He could quote all the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar; was-- like myself-- a political news junkie; and he even served a short stint as an alderman in Chicago (New York's version of a city councilmember).

He also occasionally used his wife as a punching bag, shot his own son in the butt during an altercation, and was a proud card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association.

"But why, grandaddy? Why the NRA?" I asked him a few years before his death in 2014. There were so many things about my grandfather that made me proud. But his penchant for violence definitely wasn't one of them. In fact, it made me sad and a little sick.

"For my own protection," he answered matter-of-factly. "These young gang-bangers out here need to know I also walk with a gun."

When my grandfather spoke-- whatever the subject-- it was always in a calm manner and with a smile. He was an educated gangster, a hustler, a smooth operator: a true politician.

"And white people aren't the only ones who have a right to stand their ground," he added with a smile. "I need to be able to stand my ground too."

My point is, more than white southerners and inner-city gang-bangers are toting guns. Licensed gun owners might also include single college-age women in high-crime neighborhoods, politicians, sex workers, Korean grocery store owners or anyone of any stripe who enjoys hunting. Owning a gun has become a virtue as American as apple pie.

America has a gun fetish, and it's out of control. Owning a tool of violence out of a fear of violence is lazy problem solving and failed leadership, as far as I'm concerned. It's time to just ban semi-automatic rifles, full stop!

New Zealand did it! *Snap* Just like that! Following the mass shootings that killed 50 people this week at two mosques in New Zealand, the country's Prime Minister Jacinda banned all military-style semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. The country's government agreed to overhaul the gun law 72 hours after the attacks. That is leadership!

And if New Zealand could do it in 3 days, why has America, the "world leader" struggled for 300 years? To understand Lady Liberty's love affair with guns, you have to consider her historical, genetic blueprint and also look at her long-time lover, the NRA.

Written into America's DNA is the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was adopted on December 15, 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights. Many of the initial ten amendments were put in place to guard against big government overreach.

The Second Amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Its most influential framer was James Madison, who believed strongly that the only way a federal army could be kept in check was by armed citizens who were empowered to form small militias at the state level. In fact, it was these small, localized armies of militias that had enabled the U.S. to win the Revolutionary War against the English. Madison assured that "the existence of subordinate governments ... forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition."

But what the amendment did was to effectively and legally put a gun in every man's hand. Soon, cowboys of the "Wild Wild West" were born (America's first gang-bangers) and instead of just protection, the gun became a tool of power, coercion and force-- used mostly by slave owners to kill or keep African slaves in check.

Over the next 100 years, especially following the emancipation of slaves, gun ownership proliferated spurred by fear of retaliation, poverty and crime. It became a male ego-like fight around power and who's gun was bigger than who's gun?

Domestic firearm manufacturing spiked even further during President Barack Obama's first term around fears that, after eight years of a Republican White House, a pro-gun-control president would take away citizens' weapons.

Even though that didn't happen, by 2017 the number of handguns, shotguns and rifles available in the United States was nearly three times higher than it was two decades earlier, according to the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Today, the U.S. boasts more firearms than residents, with the National Rifle Association being the most powerful gun rights lobbies in the United States. In fact, the NRA spent more money lobbying for expanded gun rights through the first two quarters of 2017 as it did in all of 2016, with last year's lobbying total surpassing $5.1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' database.

Given this country's history and considering how cozy in bed it is with the NRA, it doesn't appear we'll be voting to ban guns any time soon.

The truth is, America proudly wears a full metal jacket. Because in this country, gun ownership represents freedom. It is something we kill for, pour loads of money into, elect inept presidents over… even smile about. And that's just sad. Very sad.

This is America.

C. Zawadi Morris

About the Author: C. Zawadi Morris

C. Zawadi Morris is an award-winning journalist and a Chicago native who moved to Brooklyn in 1997.
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