Here's a stab at a reply. (I decided not to copy Byron, just to keep the conversation more efficient, and to spare him from distraction, as he's supposed to be packing up and moving. And I haven't written this as a series of questions, after all; if we want to blog this discussion, we might want to do it simply in the way of posting your email and then my reply—to which end, I've written this reply in somewhat more essayistic form than I otherwise might)
I think you're quite right to insist upon the importance of understanding cultures and customs in this discussion. An essential part of the conservative tradition, however much many modern-day conservatives have lost sight of it, consists in the defense of contingent local traditions, recognizing the critical role these play in forming people and generating social cohesion, against the tyranny of bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all solutions. Or, put another way, "laws must be framed...according unto that very particular, which riseth out of the matter wheron they have to work," as Hooker says; it doesn't matter how rational a law may seem in the abstract, if it fails to meet people where they are, and adapt itself to deeply-entrenched customs and mindsets. That is why I am in all in favor of incrementalism when it comes to reform.
And yet, reform there must be. Conservatism for the sheer sake of conservatism won't do; we should only cling to something if it has ongoing positive social value. And that's the problem with your analogy to "trial by a jury of one's peers." I don't want to say that that is a prerequisite for genuine justice in every time and place, but it seems hard to deny that, in most places where the institution exists, it is an extremely positive one. That is to say, it's not just quirky practice the English happen to be irrationally attached to, but a central plank in the safeguarding of justice within their society. The circumstances that rise to the right may have been different from contemporary circumstances, but the value of the right remains essentially the same today; it has not become obsolete. Can the same be said of gun rights in America today? To what extent do these continue to serve a positive social purpose? If the circumstances that gave rise to the right no longer hold, if society has changed to the extent that what was once an asset has now become a liability, then reform is needed. Incremental reform, yes, but reform nonetheless.
And this is where I think you're straw-manning to say, "Whether they are right or wrong, the policies they are pushing carry dramatically higher stakes in America than they might in Europe. I hope it is clear why you can't simply take a measurement of European sensibilities, map them over the American landscape, and expect to gain much light from the exercise." I, at least, have no illusions that the US can simply be transformed into a modern European society with the right legislative programme; nor would I want to see it so transformed. But that is simply not what's being proposed. Here in the UK, gun ownership is almost entirely illegal, across the board. To try to ram through that kind of transformation would be absurd. But to identify incremental harm mitigation policies that involve a partial curtailment of gun rights is not to attempt to impose a European makeover on American society. I can't speak for Byron, but it's worth noting that he's Australian, and most of the distinctives in this regard that you could identify about American culture would apply to Australian culture as well—the independent mindset, the history of dangerous life on the frontier. Indeed, one might say that Australia is a counterexample to your whole thesis, since they managed, despite all of that heritage, to completely transform their gun laws almost overnight, far more dramatically than anything proposed in the States.
Now, I want to interact with your remark that I "no longer greatly care for your American identity." This, I think, is a somewhat unfair charge, given that, unlike many American expat Ph.D students over here, I have a very determined desire to move back to the US, and probably spend my career there. I've been sorely tempted a few times to renounce my American identity, but I haven't. Nonetheless, you are onto something. I have a hard time generating any enthusiasm for American values or American culture. But frankly, this is because it is hard to see anything meaningful or positive that American culture now stands for. American culture now means McDonalds, t-shirts, raunchy movies, a glorification of war, and cars; it stands for mobility, rootlessness, the fast-paced and the transient, which means it is more an anti-culture than a culture. If one seeks to go back behind the present, and seek value and identity in America's past, it is hard to know where to look for something particularly praiseworthy. The 20th century was a story of amoral imperialist expansion; occasionally for the sake of good, admittedly, but more often for the sake of a quick buck. I was raised, of course, to see in the antebellum South a locus of value, a cultural heritage to be cherished and preserved, a sense of identity to be maintained. But as I left the bubble and learned that yes, it was true that most of that heritage had been one of cruel oppression, it was hard to generate much enthusiasm for it. Sure, I still value my Southern heritage, and don't want to entirely let go of it, but it is hard to cling to it with anything like unqualified enthusiasm. As far as the Revolutionary War, I've always had trouble seeing it as more than an act of petty rebellion, completely out of step with Christian teaching about subjection to governing authorities and just war, so it's hard for me to generate an identity founded in veneration for this supposedly sacred war of liberation. Of course, none of this need be a fatal blow to a sense of national identity and loyalty. Plenty of nations have rather dubious origins, and rather black spots on their national histories, but that does not keep their citizens from a strong sense of pride in being French or Italian or whatever. But this is because, even if they cannot always take pride in what their country has been, they can take pride in what it is now—its traditions, institutions, cuisines, music, whatever. And this is what makes the contemporary bankruptcy of American culture so problematic; it leaves one very little to cling to in terms of a positive American identity. The only thing one has to fall back on is vague ideas and values like "freedom" and "self-sufficiency." The problem is that, as understood in America, these values seem to look a lot like just "selfishness." Of course, I acknowledge that there is a positive side to the American value of "self-sufficiency," as you describe it. But part of the problem is that those distinctives of our national character were indeed well-suited to a nation of frontiersmen, conquering a harsh wilderness, but they are poorly suited to any other. They are not well-suited to life in a settled society. Once the frontier is gone, and we have to settle down in cities, our independent streak manifests itself in a restlessness that cannot stay in one place for long, a defensiveness of one's own turf that drives us out into ever-more-distant suburbs, a contentiousness that makes public deliberation and common projects very difficult.
All of which is to say that, it may well be true that the defensiveness over gun rights, even over policies that, in the abstract, are highly sensible and command wide support, can only be understood as part of a symbolic war over the preservation of values deeply rooted in the American psyche. I understand that; to the extent that I didn't before, I have certainly come to understand that in listening to people over the last week. And I think it is very important for anyone advocating gun reform, or anything of that nature, to grasp that larger picture, and realize that it's never merely about policies in the abstract. If that's all you're saying, then, yes, absolutely, you're right on the mark. But if you're saying that this gets advocates of gun rights off the hook, because they're defending what it means to be American, I don't agree. Because I'm not convince that "Americanness" as they're defending it is really a positive force in today's world. We do need to find a way of continuing to be American, rather than letting our culture simply be replaced with some bland globalism or imported Europeanism or whatever, but we need to find a different, better way of being American than the "me and my property, me and my rights" variety to which the Right continues to gravitate.