My conservative, local newspaper ran an article recently titled, “Gun Control is Not the Answer.” The author, Jay Ambrose, is a contributing columnist employed by the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Denver, Colorado. The group’s stated mission according to Wikipedia is “…to empower individuals and to educate citizens, legislators and opinion makers about public policies that enhance personal and economic freedom.”
As expected from the title of his article, Mr. Ambrose is against gun control. He writes, “…any move short of the absurdity of confiscation would unlikely reduce killings.” He cites Russia as an example, noting that Russia’s murder rate, with its strict gun restrictions, is more than twice that of the U.S. “Guns,” he writes, “undeniably facilitate murder…[but] do not make a culture.” He contends that “culture is a prime mover of violence.”
And then he says it! “…one cultural circumstance ceaselessly cultivating criminal conduct in offspring is the enormous growth of single-parent–usually single-mother–homes.”
Mr. Ambrose blathers on, bringing up the futility of background checks, saying that the majority of those responsible for mass murders had nothing in their past that would have kept a gun out of their hands. He also claims the gun-control laws already in place have not decreased the number of gun-related deaths. “Most gang shooters and other criminals now get their guns illegally and easily” from the 300 million guns the U.S has circulating.
Some of the answers to the mass killings, Mr. Ambrose asserts, “reside in deterrent police work and, despite denials, studies show persuasively that lives are saved by decent citizens defending themselves with guns.” He cites no studies. However, he does finish his piece stating that it is “leadership on the culture front,” that is “crucial…especially concerning the demolition of the American family.”
Will we ever get past putting the blame on mom–especially the single mom?
I would think Mr. Ambrose (or anybody) would be embarrassed to write such an article. The fact that he is not is a reminder of how much “cultural” work remains to be done–albeit a different kind of cultural work than he proposes. How does he get such a receptive audience for his work? A goodly number of people think he is “spot on.” We all, to some degree or another, drink from our society’s “cultural soup,” a concoction chock full of patriarchal ideology. “Cultural” work, I think, needs to focus on dismantling and replacing that patriarchal ideology.
Single Mom has gone outside patriarchal boundaries–boundaries put in place to control her–and Mr. Ambrose is angry with her “independence.” Easy enough to make her the scapegoat for the societal upheaval brought about by the mass killings. (A scapegoat is somebody who is blamed and punished for others’ misdeeds.) Of course, Single Mom may be single for any number of reasons–widowed, divorced, in flight from an abusive partner, even her own choice. It doesn’t matter. In patriarchal societies, Single Mom is unseemly and even more to the point–she is seen as a threat to the established order of things.
Many years ago, Carol P. Christ opened my eyes to a broader definition of patriarchy than the generally accepted one that merely states, “Patriarchy is a system of male dominance.” Her definition bears repeating. “Patriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.”
The salient part of that definition, apropos to this essay, is that in a patriarchal society, it’s essential to control women’s sexuality in order to insure that a man’s progeny belongs to him biologically. Property can then be passed on to male heirs (usually). When Single Mom establishes herself and her children as a family, the children’s paternity comes into question. Who is the father? Not knowing the answer to that question is at the core of Mr. Ambrose’s concept of “demolition of the American family.” Things appear to him “disordered.” He uses shame as a tool to bring back “order,” attempting to put Single Mom back in her proper, wedded space under the “protection” of a man.
When society does not run smoothly (mass killings, natural disasters, terrorist attacks etc.), we look for causes. Why do young men (usually) go on killing sprees? Why are there floods and earthquakes? Why are some people intent on bombing areas where large numbers of people gather? We want solutions. We want to fix the problem. We want to “do something.” But first, I believe we have to hold people’s patriarchal feet to the proverbial fire and ask why we blame single mothers, holding them responsible for chaos and crimes they did not even commit?
Going outside set patriarchal boundaries (such as Single Mom does) opens us up to what some faith communities call “the wrath of God.” Abortionists, feminists, gays, and lesbians, according to certain faith leaders (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson), have unleashed God’s wrath and those faith leaders place the blame for chaos squarely on the shoulders of those they consider to be aberrant and therefore responsible. It’s inappropriate. It also obfuscates our vision. When we don’t see clearly, finding solutions to the recent wave of mass killings eludes us.
Place the blame where it belongs–on people with easy access to guns. Start there.
Esther Nelson is an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. She has taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, and Religions of the World, but focuses on her favorite course, Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of VOICE OF AN EXILE REFLECTIONS ON ISLAM and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of WHAT IS RELIGIOUS STUDIES? A JOURNEY OF INQUIRY.