IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The real fear that fuels the gun-rights movement

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre revealed again Wednesday why the gun control debate doesn't really revolve around the 2nd Amendment. The debate isn't about rights.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre revealed again Wednesday why the gun control debate doesn't really revolve around the 2nd Amendment. The debate isn't about rights. It's about fear. LaPierre confessed this to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL).

"What people all over the country fear today is being abandoned by their government. If a tornado hits, if a hurricane hits, if a riot occurs that they're going to be out there alone. And the only way they're going to protect themselves in the cold and the dark, when they're vulnerable, is with a firearm. And I think that indicates how relevant and essential the Second Amendment is in today's society to fundamental human survival."

The fear of being alone and of being forced to survive without help after a disaster scares the hell out of a vocal segment of American gun owners. Their fear of this abandonment, as LaPierre put it, is so deeply ingrained in our culture we rarely address it. But their fears are driving the debate over gun control. It's hard to reason with someone who is intensely freaked out. What I wish we could do is ease the fear so we can have a rational discussion.

"Preppers" live with the fear LaPierre talked about. Some make huge personal sacrifices to store food and supplies for a doomsday situation. Maybe you've seen the show about them on National Geographic.  The "preppers" featured on the show are bracing for a variety of disasters. But they all have that fear in common. One of the 5 "Principles of Preparedness" on the American Preppers Network website is "Self-Reliance." APN advises, "the act of being free of needing others, including companies, the government, or your community to provide for or support you."

The "preppers" are terrified of abandonment. They believe they'll be all alone and they'll need a gun to fight off the non-preppers who want their food. They want to be "free of others" so they can kill the criminals when society falls apart.

This is going to sound naive, but I think the sanest of these gun-rights advocates are simply underestimating their fellow Americans. In 2003, when a blackout hit 8 states, people didn't go nuts. I couldn't find reports of looting and roving gangs. People shared candles and kept calm. The police and firefighters helped keep the peace. Nobody got "abandoned by their government." When Superstorm Sandy knocked out power, people offered extension cords to strangers so they could power up their phones. Again, no mass chaos. You had damage and death, but no roving bands of criminals. From the biggest cities to the smallest towns and most rural communities, Americans tend to band together when there's a crisis.

President Obama has spoken specifically about the "fear" LaPierre mentioned today. Martin Luther King Jr. did too. The world's major religions address this exact fear. They all preach community. You can't live on your own, but you really don't have to. Here's what President Obama said about fear just a few days after the murder of 20 1st graders and 7 adults in Newtown, CT:

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

How should America be judged? Are we a bunch of individualists who are so individualistic we reject community at a time of crisis? Dr. King once said:

I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.

You protect my kid and I'll protect yours. I'll give you shelter or power if there's a storm. I might ask the same of you.

Wayne LaPierre is dangerously wrong on this key point: The 2nd Amendment is not fundamental to human survival.  Just his.