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November 26, 2022

An American mythology

Is there anything more American than the cowboy in the Wild West, relying only on his wits, his horse, and of course his trusty revolver? As a child, I loved the Lone Ranger—self-sufficient, powerful, and ready to stand as the last line of defense in the battle of good versus evil.

In more recent years, I’ve wrestled much more with the problematic nature of the Lone Ranger’s character, his relationship to indigenous and Mexican people, and the questionable history of the Texas Rangers. But, I continue to be struck by how powerful the American archetype of “a good guy with a gun” was in my life and continues to be in our country today.

My childhood home was in the suburbs, there were no guns in the house, but I remember just how real my toy guns looked in the 1980s. Back then there was no attempt to make sure people knew these toys were not the real McCoy. What was it that made me, a child with no gun experience, no hunting experience, no immediate family in the military, have such a love for toy guns? The American Myth of the good guy with a gun was alive and well in me.

As a teenager, I became a Christian and began reading the Bible. It impressed upon me, as I read the teachings of Jesus, that the myth of redemptive violence—so crucial to the myth of a good guy with a gun—was just that, a myth. The reality of our world makes it clear: violence begets violence. And unchecked firepower begets evermore firepower. Conversely, the Jesus narrative I was discovering is one of redemptive love and justice.

As more and more powerful weapons have become available to the public, we have chosen to militarize our police. As citizens have been frightened by what criminals have access to, they too have acquired higher and higher-powered arms for more and more-lethal self-defense. 

Friends, this is not a good narrative that we are living. Countless countries around the world have demonstrated that mass shootings are not a product of violent movies, video games, or music. It’s not a product of mental illness. All countries have all of those realities. There is no good outcome to a public arms race.

We desperately need a new narrative in this country. In the four weeks since I last sat down to write a column for the Pajaronian, there have been 69 mass shootings in the United States: 10 on Independence Day alone. 

I know we love our guns in this country, and frankly, I have no desire to take away your hunting rifle or your grandfather’s heirloom revolver, but it’s time for us to follow sensible countries’ successful efforts to curb the epidemic of gun violence and to pick-up a new narrative that raises a banner of redemptive love and justice. 


Rev. Robby Olson is a Presbyterian pastor in Watsonville. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.

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