When I look at the list of seemingly senseless massacres that have occurred in the US over the last few decades, I notice that a good number of them have occurred in the West, especially in one state: Texas.
I’m someone who grew up in the Midwest, moved to New York (a "blue" state) then moved across the continent to another blue state (California) with a long stop in the red-state-middle (Texas) along the way. And I can say this: Although I love Texas and Texans, there is definitely an attraction to violence there, even among seemingly peaceful intellectuals.
There’s a gun culture there and people on both coasts would find appalling. For instance, there’s a gun club in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in San Antonio, and you can hear the sounds of target practice while you’re grilling your steaks and sipping your drinks in the back yard. Maybe it’s the hunting–not everyone hunts, but everyone knows someone who does.
No expensive suburb in Connecticut would put up with something like this.
The Texan feels he always has to be able to defend himself, even if the closest he ever gets to potential violence is withdrawing money from the ATM at midnight. In contrast, "Coasters" tend to depend on police for protection.
For the first time in history, more than half of the people in the world (that’s over three billion of us) live in cities, and by 2050, it’s predicted that 70% of us will be city dwellers. That’s true of Texans too: 80% of them live in big cities.
Gail Collins wrote an enlightening op ed piece about this in the New York Times, where she said that despite this fact, Texans carry their "rancher" ethos with them, as a kind of self-identity. And living on a huge, multi-acre spread (even just in your mind) demands that you carry a gun (at least a rifle) along with you, in case you have to kill a rattlesnake.
I know what these "ranches" in Texas are like, and they baffled me when I first got there. I was used to a country house being a place that was nestled in a few acres of green vegetation, maybe with a spring on it if you were lucky. In Texas, people’s country properties stretch for miles–three and 400 acres or more–and smaller "ranchettes" are sneered at.
A large proportion of these properties are worthless scrub–too barren to even run cattle on. A lot of ranch owners have never even SEEN all the land they own.
Despite this fact, I know ranch owners who go out to these scrubby hideaways every weekend, and do what they would do at home–grill out, put their feet up, then have a few beers.
It’s all part of the Texas daydream, and living out there makes one feel like a real Texan– something hunching over a computer in a coat and tie on weekdays does not.
The John Wayne dream wouldn’t be so bad–every state has its official daydream, something that identifies you as a resident of wherever you happen to be–except that the Texas version comes with guns, and if you have a gun, you’re sometimes tempted to use it.