"I have a gun in my house and in my truck," my brother-in-law announces at dinner. "So if anything happens, I'm ready." What he has of value is a giant television. I don't imagine many people hauling off with that. What do you have that you are willing to kill for? A Stradivarius or a one of a kind vintage car? Is that worth a life?
Americans like the idea of being ready for danger. If you have a gun in your house, you are the dangerous one in the neighborhood. Do you picture yourself in your home, shooting out the windows Western style at bad guys who want your food and water? If these bad guys are really dangerous characters, they would take your gun, shoot you, then make off with your cans of tuna, nuts and raisins.
Being prepared for emergency is a good idea. Many people in disaster-prone areas like New Orleans, California or areas of the Northwest that get snowed in have generators and food and water for days. If you do any camping, as we do, you probably have enough supplies to camp and cook in your back yard. We have a disaster pack in my car so that, if I couldn't drive home in an earthquake, I could ditch my car and walk forty miles home. The backpack is uncomfortable, and when I think of myself walking alongside the fallen 405 toward home, I imagine that it would take a day or two. I carry old running shoes in the car.
There are religious people who believe in preparing for the End of the World. I grew up in such a place, in a cult in Southern New Hampshire that was prepping for the Tribulation. In long sermons on weekends, our leader George would explain that the Russians were going to attack, the Tribulation was coming and the world was ending. I wasn't sure whether these would be separate events or would occur simultaneously, but it was best to be prepared. We had enough food stored up to last through the winter. We did End of Days training in which we would get up in the middle of the night, roll our belongings into a sleeping bag and disappear into the woods where we would survive for a few days. We learned to kill and eat animals that were not tasty like squirrels, snakes and raccoons.
Collecting guns as a means to protect yourself has come to seem fringe in a country with many violent deaths due to gunfire. Considering how long it's been since we've had a war on our own soil, it's amazing how many people die in this country due to gun fire.... The man who shot up Sandy Hook was a prepper who collected guns. Many Americans are fans of the Second Amendment which was put into the Constitution during a time when there still was a frontier, cowboys, Native Americans fighting for their lands, border wars with Mexico, and danger of wild animals. Carrying a gun around in your truck, outside of Texas, may make you feel manly, but given the number of accidental deaths due to guns in this country as well as passion killings, it seems hard to understand why so many Americans want to include a gun as a means of preparing for disaster. Americans love the idea of Clint Eastwood, the idea that you can be ruthless when it matters and that makes you a hero. When does being ready to kill someone make you a hero?
Americans like guns because of fear, because they like the frontier myth and also because we, as a nation have a tendency toward paranoia, toward an "us and them" mentality. Guns enforce the idea that we are right and "they" are wrong. In all the post-apocalyptic movies from The Road to Mad Max, there are wars over resources. Being prepared for a disaster is buying into the potentiality of the conflict you against nature. Most of us would agree that once the grid is down, having the ability to survive with your resources until help comes is a good thing. Where the possibilities get scarier is when you start to imagine the potentiality of man against man. There's us. We have food and toilet paper. There's them who don't have food or Charmin. Ask yourself, do you feel lucky, punk?
I was in Los Angeles during the 1994 earthquake. Many Mexican Americans remembered the Mexico City earthquake and wisely moved out of their houses for a few days to be sure the aftershocks were over. They camped at the park near my house and Western Bagel gave out bagels and cream cheese. I walked by to get bagels, and there were Mexican families spread out on picnic blankets putting schmear on their bagels. The bagel store wasn't worried about being robbed. Over fifty people died in that earthquake. We had survived; we were eating bagels. The sun was shining through the palm trees.