One of the more interesting shows on television is Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown on CNN. Sunday was the season finale, where host Bourdain traveled to Detroit to explore the food and culture. After the episode — “The Last Bite” — Bourdain gathered with friends in a Las Vegas bar to discuss the season, which included a segment filmed in New Mexico that featured “gun culture.” CNN host Don Lemon joined Bourdain, along with Roy Choi (author of L.A. Son) and actor Wendell Pierce.
Bourdain, an avowed “New York lefty,” admitted that he likes guns and expressed his respect for American gun owners:
These people in the segment, as many people in red state America — in gun country America — these are nice people. They like guns. As a matter of fact, I’ve gotta admit, I like guns. I like holding guns. I like shooting guns.
He explained more in a blog post about the New Mexico episode:
In New York, where I live, the appearance of a gun—anywhere—is a cause for immediate and extreme alarm. Yet, in much of America, I have come to find, it’s perfectly normal. I’ve walked many times into bars in Missouri, Nevada, Texas, where absolutely everyone is packing. I’ve sat down many times to dinner in perfectly nice family homes where—at end of dinner—Mom swings open the gun locker and invites us all to step into the back yard and pot some beer cans. That may not be Piers Morgan’s idea of normal. It may not be yours. But that’s a facet of American life that’s unlikely to change.
Bourdain described author Roy Choi as a peace-loving leftist, recalling that his family had defended Koreatown during the ‘92 riots with semi-automatic guns and shotguns with no support from the city government or the police. He asked Choi if Americans should be able to get AR-15s easily.
Choi said, “I’m from Los Angeles, so the numbers and the semi-automatics are, for us, it’s more about protection, whether it’s the Korean community or down in the inner cities. It’s really about — the guns are a part of the culture in Los Angeles, whether or not we want to agree with it or not and they — in the Korean community a lot of times they existed in stores. They existed as protection.” Choi said we should be talking about jobs and human rights instead of guns.
Lemon admitted that he had once owned an AR-15. “Listen, similar to you, I did own an AR-15. After covering [the Aurora shooting] I bought an AR-15 in Colorado because I wanted to go through the process of seeing how quickly — took me 20-30 minutes to get an AR-15 and I wasn’t even a resident of Colorado.” Lemon has since sold the gun but said he has “evolved” on his gun stance over the last year. “I don’t want to be a sitting duck. If other people have guns and they’re not going away, I’m wondering, should I be armed myself if everyone on the block is armed and I’m not?”
Bourdain said we shouldn’t compare the United States to Europe or Great Britain and said doing so didn’t help the discourse. “It doesn’t help. We’re not them.”
Lemon agreed, adding that comparing all gun owners to those who shoot up shopping malls isn’t helpful, either. “Those people who you were out shooting with — those were law-abiding citizens who were trained for guns and respect them. They’re not the people going into malls and shooting people. So there are two different ways to look at this. Yes, it’s mental health. But for the most part the people who have guns and who carry AR-15s, most of them are not shooting up people.”
Wendell Pierce blamed the gun lobby for inciting fear and increasing gun sales.
Bourdain said, “There are people on the left as well. People tend to get shrieky when something awful happens.”
Pierce (not to be confused with CNN gun-grabber Piers Morgan) told the group that he had been tempted to buy a gun. “Listen, I don’t own a gun but the discourse got so crazy in California at one point after one of the last shootings that I wanted to go out and buy a gun. They had me believing that they’re going to take away guns so much that I’m going to have to go out and get one — I probably should go out and get one before…”
Lemon added that illegal gun owners on the street “aren’t going to go for background checks. They’re not going to do — they’re going to get guns illegally and they’re just going to buy them.”
Bourdain said we need to find common ground and suggested we could agree on limiting straw buyers. “If we just stop talking about every gun owner like they’re an extremist, a lunatic, necessarily right wing. … I don’t think we’re doing ourselves or anybody any good.”
He asked his guests if they would own a gun if they lived in Montana.
Lemon said, “Absolutely.”
Choi, who had already said he has been a lifelong gun owner, said, “Yeah, I probably would and go through a background check, though.”
Even Pierce admitted, “I would definitely own a gun if I lived in Montana.”
Lemon added, “I don’t know if I would own a gun living in the city, but yeah, absolutely if I lived in Montana. Why not?”
(Might I suggest that Lemon look up the crime statistics in “the city” and Montana?)
There are probably a lot of things Anthony Bourdain and I disagree about, but I appreciate his refreshingly frank appeal to his left-wing friends to try to understand gun culture:
I may be a New York lefty—with all the experiences, prejudices and attitudes that one would expect to come along with that, but I do NOT believe that we will reduce gun violence—or reach any kind of consensus—by shrieking at each other. Gun owners—the vast majority of them I have met—are NOT idiots. They are NOT psychos. They are not even necessarily Republican (New Mexico, by the way, is a Blue state). They are not hicks, right wing “nuts” or necessarily violent by nature. And if “we” have any hope of ever changing anything in this country in the cause of reason—and the safety of our children—we should stop talking about a significant part of our population as if they were lesser, stupider or crazier than we are.
As someone who recently “evolved” on guns myself, I understand the fear many people have of firearms and the culture that goes along with it. But as Bourdain says, it’s not going away and we need to find a way to talk about this without demonizing each other:
Gun culture goes DEEP in this country. Deep….When people start equating guns—ALL guns—as evil—as something to be eradicated, a whole helluva lot of people are going to get defensive. The conversation so far has illuminated, instead of any substantial issues, mostly the huge cultural divide between those like me who live in coastal cities with restrictive gun laws—and that vast swath of America who live very differently. We don’t understand how they live. And they don’t understand how we could POSSIBLY live the way we live. A little respect for that difference might be a good thing. The contempt, mockery and total lack of understanding for all those people “out there” by deep thinkers and pundits who’ve never sat down for a cold beer in a bar full of camo-wearing duck hunters is both despicable and counterproductive…There are a lot of nice people in this country. A whole helluva lot of them, like it or not, own AR 15s. If we can’t have at least, a conversation with them, sit down, break bread— about where we are going and how we are going to get there, there is no hope at all.
Well said, Mr. Bourdain. A lot more breaking bread, a few more giant pierogies, and a lot less demonizing (on both sides) would do us all well as a nation.
By the way, could someone please let Piers Morgan know that he may be the last anti-gun crusader at CNN now?
And also, warn Anthony Bourdain that he might want to see a doctor. There are some very obvious signs that he may be in the process of evolving into a libertarian.