We Americans look down upon so-called primitive cultures such as the Aztecs who overtly practiced human sacrifice in obedience to their deeply held beliefs. We see their sacred celebration of violence as savagely cruel and backwards and we condemn it. And yet, America regularly sacrifices its people at the temple of gun worship, and justifies it through obedience to its own deeply held beliefs.
That the Second Amendment, which clearly and unambiguously states that the right to bear arms is tied to “a well-regulated militia”, has been interpreted by a conservative movement and Supreme Court to mean an eighteen-year-old can purchase an AR15 assault rifle boggles the rational mind. But at the temple of gun worship, all things are possible.
One difference between Aztec human sacrifice rituals and America’s gun slaughter is that the Aztec activity was state sponsored. One may make a strong case that in our times, state sponsored human sacrifice is what we call war, on which we spend billions in preparation and implementation. For all we know, however, individual Aztecs might have regularly murdered others for their own satisfaction and objectives. For hundreds of years American enslavers certainly had no qualms about sacrificing the African Americans they owned.
In Ancient Greece, which we like to think of as the cradle of democracy, men were permitted to do anything they liked with their property, which technically included their enslaved, wives, and children. While no Ancient Greek Bill of Rights existed, if it did perhaps its Second Amendment would have stated that the state could not regulate the right to sacrifice. If that sounds crazy, it’s no crazier than what’s happening in America right now.
Gun sales have skyrocketed, in large part because gun sales have skyrocketed. In a climate of fear, mass-shootings now happen so regularly that barely a day goes by without news of another one; people figure that if “they” have guns, “we” need guns. Perhaps with visions of cinematic shoot-outs in their heads, people imagine themselves as Dirty Harrys, sure-shot gunslingers who can take out the bad guys. Such ridiculous fantasies fuel gun ownership and are the stuff of celebrity worship; reality is more sordid: bloody domestic violence, accidental deaths, street shootings, and horribly, mass murder of elementary school children.
Human sacrifice, what we sophisticated people call first-degree, premeditated murder, satisfies emotional needs that can become pathological. Many serial murderers, according to psychologist Sue Grand, are often motivated by a pathological need for intimacy that, tragically, is satisfied by repeatedly sharing the moment of death with their victims. Thus, the very human experience of feelings of loneliness or isolation morph into bizarre pathological forms of violence invented to assuage them. One must assume that some variation of this syndrome drives a lonely, isolated eighteen-year-old to seek recognition and selfhood by destroying helpless children.
The gun lobby argues that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Perhaps the Aztecs wrestled with this same absurd argument, but substituted gods for guns in their logic. But the end result is the same; be it gods or guns, sacrificing lives for the sake of a sacred, or near-sacred belief in violence, is what kills people. We may look down on the Aztecs, but the near-sacred idea that guns will save and protect us is just as foolish and misguided as thinking that sacrificing children will insure a good harvest.