In an Economic Hole, Americans Still Clinging to Guns

In a nation of easy guns, it's not a huge surprise that robust gun sales follow a rise in crime. But with the economy inspiring a new vogue for petty thievery, the United States might become a more armed nation that it has been in a long time.

Florida State University College of Criminology researcher Gary Kleck says the public will often stock up on firearms in economic downtimes. This has been the general meme in every slump since the 1950's. Police would corroborate Kleck's assessment.


At a recent Police Executive Research Forum gathering in Washington, law enforcement said they have noted a 44% jump in recession associated crime like robberies, burglaries and vehicle theft, and this is at a time when 63% are facing funding and staffing cuts.

Hard data on the public armed response comes from the FBI's Instant Criminal Background Check System. The computer system which clears or denies gun buyers in minutes noted 8.4 million background checks from January to September 2008 compared with 7.7 million in the same period in 2007.

There's also a fear in the gun community--many of whom voted for Obama--that newly emboldened Democrats will enact more restrictive legislation along the lines of another Brady Bill.

A gun-toting populous, a great portion of whom charged themselves with protecting the public good, was a founding group of the early United States. Without question, there was much reason to pack heat in the 18th century after a long war with an imperial power. Whole Foods had not arrived yet either and Americans shot their dinner.

But the right to bear arms never goes out of style. It's in the mission statement of the contemporary vigilante groups holed up in Idaho farmhouses and standing sentry along the border with Mexico that protect the public good by keeping immigrants in their crosshairs.

What is it about the mythology of the  armed citizen that we find so appealing? And what does the recession foretell for citizen armed response in the United States? Are we coming apart at the seams or just getting back to our roots?

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Originally Poe envisioned a parrot, not a raven

Quoth the parrot — "Nevermore."

The Green Parrot by Vincent van Gogh, 1886
Culture & Religion

By his mid-30s, Edgar Allan Poe was not only weary by the hardships of poverty, but also regularly intoxicated — by more than just macabre visions. Despite this, the Gothic writer lucidly insisted that there was still a method to his madness when it came to devising poems.

In an essay titled "The Philosophy of Composition," published in 1846 in Graham's Magazine, Poe divulged how his creative process worked, particularly in regard to his most famous poem: "No one point in [The Raven's] composition is rerferrible either to accident or intuition… the work proceeded step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem."

That said, contrary to the popular idea that Edgar Allan Poe penned his poems in single bursts of inspiration, The Raven did not pour out from his quivering quill in one fell swoop. Rather it came about through a calculative process — one that included making some pretty notable changes, even to its avian subject.

As an example of how his mind worked, Poe describes in his essay that originally the bird that flew across the dreary scene immortalized in the poem was actually… a parrot.

Poe had pondered ways he could have his one word refrain, "nevermore," continuously repeated throughout the poem. With that aim, he instantly thought of a parrot because it was a creature capable of uttering words. However, as quickly as Poe had found his feathered literary device, he became concerned with the bird's form on top of its important function.

And as it turns out, the parrot, a pretty resplendent bird, did not perch so well in Poe's mind because it didn't fit the mood he was going for—melancholy, "the most legitimate of all the poetical tones." In solving this dilemma in terms of imagery, he made adjustments to its plumage, altogether transforming the parrot — bestowing it with a black raiment.

"Very naturally, a parrot, in the first instance, suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven, as equally capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended tone," Poe explained in his piece in Graham's. "I had now gone so far as the conception of a Raven — the bird of ill omen — monotonously repeating the one word, 'Nevermore,' at the conclusion of each stanza, in a poem of melancholy tone…"

It was with these aesthetic calculations that Poe ousted the colorful bird that first flew into his mind, and welcomed the darker one that fluttered in:

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore…

The details of the poem — including the bird's appearance — needed to all blend together, like a recipe, to bring out the somber concept he was trying to convey: the descent into madness of a bereaved lover, a man lamenting the loss of a beautiful woman named Lenore. With that in mind, quoth the parrot — "nevermore" just doesn't have the same grave effect.

* * *

If you'd like to read more about Edgar Allan Poe, click here to review how his contemporaries tried to defame him in an attempt to thwart his success.

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