Blog 2023

Collecting Death

You know, in another life, I could have been a big gun nut.

As an American, guns have always been a thing culturally.  But in my family, and in my personal life, they were never prominent.  Nobody in my immediate family owned guns, I’ve never owned any guns (not counting a few antiquated farm shotguns I inherited from a great-uncle, which I’m pretty sure stopped working decades ago).

What’s weird is that, given how into martial arts I am and for how long I’ve studied violence – never mind my life-long love of action movies (and no, violence and action are not the same thing) – it always struck me as a little weird that I never wanted guns or really even liked them.

But what especially surprises me is that I never learned to like guns because of one of my cornerstone interests: toys.

There’s a lot the anti-gun crowd doesn’t understand about guns.  Some of it is cultural and some of it is deliberate.  Like the idea of banning ‘assault weapons’.  An assault weapon is such a vague and generic term, it would be like banning sports cars.  What even IS a sports car?  Oh sure, you know it when you see it but the actual traits that make a sports car a ‘sports’ car are pretty widely defined.  Just about anything that would effectively ban sports cars would ban all cars.  And anything that wouldn’t ban all cars wouldn’t even make a dent in banning sports cars.

But there’s another trait about guns that many anti-gun advocates miss and that is guns is very much a collectors’ activity.

See, just about every gun available in the US (if not the world) is highly modular.  You can buy different grips, stocks, feeds, finishes, magazines, scopes, sights, and suppressors (because silencers aren’t actually real).  There’s a gazillion different accessories you can buy for any given gun.  And if you’ve got TWO guns?  Whoo boy!

If you’re a toy fan like I am, then this is probably already sounding familiar.  A feature of many of the best and most popular toys are the accessories that go along with it.  Even if you aren’t a toy fan, you can probably still see the appeal in it.  Collecting is a very natural instinct in humans and if you’ve got a really expensive, kick-ass thing that you can collect a bunch of stuff for?  Man, it’s hard NOT to want to get more stuff.

This is but one part of the appeal of guns in America: the sheer volume of customization options, the sheer volume of STUFF you can get for the gun.  This is such a prevailing characteristic of guns and the gun community, they even joke about it, with some gun fans referring to their kits as ‘their Barbies’.

I say this because, as an anti-gun person (I’m not even pro-gun control, I’m one of those ‘let’s talk about repelling the 2nd amendment’ guys), I’ve struggled to accept that not all gun ownership is about killing.  Some of it isn’t even about taking a gun to the range and shooting.  Some of this is an element of the human psyche that has been exploited by a company, by a corporate lobby.  In much the same way that we are culturally (and personally) combatting the exploitation by the sugar industry and the oil industry (or hell, mobile gaming turned into a form of gambling with most gatcha games), we need to recognize how the gun industry is exploiting key vulnerabilities in the human psyche.  We think gun makers are preying on fear and insecurity, when they are also preying on the sheer collector’s instinct.

This may seem like an insignificant distinction, but I maintain that a proper diagnosis is necessary for an effective cure.

We need to recognize the role of collecting and addiction at play in this past time.  We need to recognize a cornerstone way that gun companies sell these items.  Gun makers aren’t just profiting off the sale of the gun; they are profiting off the sale of the accessories.  Heck, there’s a good chance the accessories make them MORE money than the guns themselves.

What does this mean?  How can this be used in the discussion of regulation, meaningful and effective laws, etc?  I don’t know.  But I do know that threatening to take away a pastime is in itself a risky thing to suggest.  I’d get all bent out of shape if somebody said I had to give up all my action figures.  And they don’t have decades and centuries of cultural momentum tying them to my national identity.

We combat addiction, in part, by providing a distraction.  We replace a drug addiction with another activity that is at least somewhat as engaging (video games used to be a popular one, snack foods and smoking have also been used…perhaps unwisely so).

If we can only combat gun violence, gun use, and even gun ownership, by changing hearts and minds, perhaps we need to look at the people who make up the culture of gun ownership.  If they’re collectors, what else might they collect instead of guns and accessories?  Is there any way we might be able to transfer that collecting instinct to something less deadly?

Will this solve the problem?  Of course not!  It would probably only address one in ten gun owners.  One in a hundred?  Heck, maybe one in a thousand.  But if there are 400 million Americans, with half of them owning guns (200 million), one in a thousand is two hundred thousand.  Getting 200,000 gun owners to stop supporting gun rights would be a heck of a thing, wouldn’t?

There’s never one solution.  Change, especially on a cultural level, comes about from a diversity of tactics.  It wouldn’t be a law or a march that changes things.  It will be a law, AND marches, AND speeches, AND depictions in television and movies, AND understanding the deeper psychological elements of gun ownership.  Thus, tackling the collector’s itch might be just one more method to add to the effort.

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