Not that I would expect a university lecture and panel discussion called “The Cult of the Gun In U.S. Culture” to be a fair and balanced look at the history of the Second Amendment, but even by academic standards it sounds like a recent event at UCLA was far more about indoctrination than education, or God forbid, actual debate.
UCLA itself actually sent out a press release on the event, which one of the organizers said was meant to “stimulate conversation and turn research and critical thinking into action.” Instead, it was a one-sided affair in which there were many voices heard, but only one real opinion: guns are bad, gun control is good, end of story.
The story of America is a story of guns — from the earliest days of expansion to the political divide of 2020 — and every chapter reveals thorny questions about nation building, race and whose rights most deserve to be protected.
That premise guided the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series’ recent event, during which historian, author and educator Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz discussed the “gun love” ingrained in U.S. culture.
The 390 million privately owned guns in the United States — most of which are semiautomatic or high-caliber sidearms and rifles — account for half the worldwide total, Dunbar-Ortiz said, even though Americans make up just 4% of the global population. Of American adults who own guns, 61% are white men.
The numbers tell part of the story, but society “cannot make sense of gun hoarding and the cult of the gun if we don’t deal with white nationalism,” she added. “And we can’t deal with white nationalism without dealing with United States history.”
Dunbar-Ortiz, author of “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment,” interspersed her keynote address with insights from her own deep involvement with firearms as a young woman. Held at UCLA’s Luskin Conference and Guest Center, the event included a panel discussion with Dunbar-Ortiz; Adam Winkler, a gun policy expert and professor of law at UCLA School of Law; Ismael Ileto, an activist fighting against gun violence and hate crimes; and moderator Brad Rowe, a lecturer at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and an expert in criminal justice policy.
“What seems clear to me is that we cannot depend on the rush of adrenaline, the indignation, the inspiration that we feel after a tragic event to carry us through the hard work of policy reform,” Rowe said.
The panelists related personal tales of loss, debated how to best effect change and discussed arguments over the reach of the Second Amendment.