Will the Trigger Happy Drive the Post-Newtown Gun Debate?

Sometimes it feels like we grab the gun issue by the tail instead of the head. It's always about ultimate constitutional rights and last-ditch defense measures. But the real face of the gun question isn't some kind of semi-reluctant insistence on a necessary evil. It's sheer joy.

The real issue is trigger happiness. Look at the comments here and other places where the issue comes up. Some people just love having their fingers on that trigger. Got my finger on the trigger, what a world, what a life, I'm in love. That's what we're really talking about.

It's where the divide shows up among gun people who hunt and gun people who buy guns for self-defense. For hunters the gun is a tool like a fishing rod. For some portion of the self-defenders, we have to assume the gun really is a reluctant concession to unpleasant reality. But for the B-movie cowboy crowd -- and they seem to be the most strident of the anti-gun-control voices -- it's all about being plain old trigger happy.

They're the ones who can't wait to tell you what they'd do if some son of a bitch kicks in their front door. They get all excited and shiny-eyed about it, like they've been practicing it in their minds, like they're kind of hoping it will happen one day so they can use their stuff.

C'mon, admit it. Trigger happy is a part of our culture. In fact an argument could be made that we as a nation can be sort of trigger happy at the macro level.

Look at the debate forming up already on President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel. Texas Senator John Cornyn told a Wall Street Journal blog two weeks ago that Hagel's wimpy penchant for diplomacy over war makes him an unacceptable choice: "Some of Sen. Hagel's positions would either render America weaker or create ambiguity in regard to our role in maintaining security and peace," Cornyn told the Journal.

David Brooks of The New York Times has a piece in the paper today whispering behind his hand that Hagel is a squishy-squish, chosen because the president wants to damp down defense spending so he'll have more money to pay everybody's medical bills. Oh, and what a horror that would be. Imagine an America that spends more of its treasure on the health and welfare of its own citizens than it spends blowing up people in mud huts with drone strikes. How could we show our faces?

But that's really what it's all about, isn't it? Can there be happiness and honor without a finger on the trigger? We like the look, the feel, the sheer pheromone-infused smell of that trigger up against our finger when we talk.

Well, I shouldn't say we. Somebody does. Many of us do not. Some of us -- including those of us who would defend a hunter's right to keep guns, who would also defend the right of individuals to arm themselves for self-defense in a given set of circumstances -- only oppose the trigger-happy crowd. We disdain trigger-happiness at a personal level. We despise trigger-happiness as an emblem of our national character.

To us, trigger-happy people are weak, not strong. They are simpleminded, not subtle or astute. They express the bottom of human nature, not the top. They are the last people we would want to see in charge of anything.

And that is really what this gun debate is all about. In the end, our response to the Newtown massacre will turn entirely on the kind of people we want to be, the kind of person we would listen to, the kind we will put in the driver's seat on this issue. Do we turn to another B-movie cowboy, tall in the saddle with shiny prop pistols on both hips? Or a wise philosopher under a shade tree? Who's our real daddy, now that they're shooting our kids?

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