Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A vignette of parallel gun-making, gun-toting cultures in Montana

Felicity Barringer reports in the New York Times today from Bigfork, Montana, population 1,421, "Where Guns Are a Way of Life, and a Living." Alternative headlines being used for the story are "In Kalispell, Montana, Guns Are a Matter of Life," and "In Montana Town's Hands, Guns Mean Cultural Security."  Barringer's story reports on the significance of gun manufacturing--both high-end, artisan type production and mass production of guns, including assault weapons--to the local economy.  In nearby Kalispell, the county seat of Flathead County, gun manufacturers have been responsible for more than 200 jobs since 2005.  

Barringer writes that "gun owns and Second Amendment supporters have been pitted against one another" since the Sandy Hook school shooting, but she doesn't state explicitly what the conflict is.   What she implies is that old fashioned (or old school or old timer) gunsmiths and gun owners here have different views on assault weapons than does the NRA, its most rabid supporters (my adjectives, not hers) and, for that matter, newcomer gun manufacturers who are producing assault weapons. In a sense, what Barringer seems to convey is an oldtimer vs. newcomer tension typical of rural places, with one area of disagreement being attitudes about the type of guns appropriate for private ownership, as well as their uses.  She reports that a former state Senate President, Republican Bob Brown, had written an op-ed in a local paper calling on gun owners to take back the NRA, which he said had been hijacked and radicalized.  Views opposing Brown's position were summarized, Barringer reports, by online comments like this one:
As long as the American people are able to arm themselves properly there will never be a ‘cultural revolution’ that takes 60 million lives like that in China. A disarmed man is no man, he is a slave to his oppressors.
The writer apparently sees "proper" arms as meaning assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips.

Representing the other end of the spectrum is "Lee Helgeland, 65, a high-end gunsmith who ... lives deep in the country" and who sees the rise in assault weapons as "a problematic development." Barringer quotes her story with a long quote from Helgeland:
We grew up with gun safety pounded into our heads when we were kids.  ... It’s a problem — the misuse of firearms — without a solution. 
There is a great distance between the world of the guns I make and the criminal element using the semiautomatics and the Saturday night specials.  The urban attitude, the attitude of the antigun people, is based on unfamiliarity with the use of firearms in this part of the world.

1 comment:

Hannah said...

As is always true when I read stories about the vastly different gun culture in rural places (often the stories I read take place in Texas, it seems, or in frontier states like Montana), I'm left with a sense of appreciation for their perspective. It is true, I believe, what Lee Helgeland says that -"the attitude of the antigun people, is based on unfamiliarity with the use of firearms in this part of the world." I think this is true, for the most part. And it is equally true that pro-gun folks's position is firmly rooted in an "unfamiliarity with the use of firearms" in urban settings.

But I think this contrast is really not the point, when discussing reasonable regulation. I'm never quite certain why the 2nd Amendment conversation always ends with an assertion of the right: isn't the balancing governmental interest in regulation incredibly compelling? Preventing gun violence seems like it should jump to the top of the list of constitutionally permissible bases for restriction of a right.