The statistics are clear. Three percent of Americans own fifty percent of all guns in the United States. It gets worse, we make up five percent of the global population, yet we collectively own half the world’s guns.
Yet, even though those statistics should trouble us. Or that we have the majority of mass shootings globally, which are accelerating, we still look for excuses.
Granted, “Public mass shootings account for a tiny fraction of the country’s gun deaths, but they are uniquely terrifying because they occur without warning in the most mundane places. Most of the victims are chosen not for what they have done but simply for where they happen to be.”
Most gun deaths result from both homicide and suicide. With suicide topping the list. Every time we have a mass shooting, we see the same exact talking points. Americans are looking for reasons for this state of affairs, except the real cause.
I am sure by now you have heard the usual excuses used by the National Riffle Association, politicians and even members of the media. We are told mass shootings are caused by the violence in the mainstream media. Only if those tv programs were not so violent and did not glorify war and other violence. Guns are used in tv and movies all the time. However, those movies and tv serials are exported around the world. It seems only Americans are so weak willed that we reach for our guns.
I would like to offer another possibility. The reality is that violent crime peaked in 1992. However, Police procedural series, such as NCIS and Criminal Minds have proliferated. They are part of our collective imagination. To be blunt they describe the world we believe exists, not the real world. The real world is far safer, and less threatening, than our collective fantasies. We prefer to cling to fantasy and avoid reality, including policies that affect us every day. The news are a product of what we want to watch, not what we should.
It is also in these tv and movie productions that we often encounter clear lines between the good guys and the bad guys. It is in these fantasies that the good guy with a gun is the hero. He, and it is usually a he, always hits the target. Collateral damage is not something that is even a minor concern. The reality is far messier and disturbing.
Then there is the perennial about video games. It used to be Dungeons and Dragons and Vampire the Masquerade back in the 1980s. One reason for the comics censors in the 1950s, all the way to the 70s was the fear that youth culture was problematic. In fact, we were told that it led to rebellious youth that did not accept things as they were. We had congressional hearings on this in 1954, no kidding. We have collectively feared the youth forever.
You could argue that the X-Men helped start a discussion on race. Since you could not speak of race relations in the 1950s and ‘60s, but you could talk of mutant-human relations. If you think about it, the X-Men were not about mutants. They are still not about mutants. Watch Logan under that lens. I guarantee it will be illuminating.
Let’s make this one crystal clear. That link the usual suspects would love to find between gun violence and video games does not exist.
But what about antidepressants? In particular one class of them? SSRIs. The mentally ill have always gotten a bad rap in the US. They are more likely to be victims of violence, than to perpetrate it. And this is a favorite canard used by many in politics, media and the NRA. It is a myth.
We like to blame all. But let’s be clear. People around the world take SSRIs like we do. They consume the exact same media. It is a very large American export. Plus translating Rambo, light on dialogue, heavy on gun play, is relatively easy. One reason those movies are green lighted often. They are also very profitable. So it should not be a surprise that studios are remaking those movies, and tv programs are also made with the intent for export.
Video games are the latest item in youth culture that gets blamed for society’s ills. Never mind that plenty of DnD nerds grew up to play Civilization and World of Tanks. Moreover, our video game culture is pretty tame compared to Korea’s.
What all this avoids is the logic for these issues. When your country is swimming in firepower, what do you expect? It’s time to stop making excuses. It is the guns. It is not media. It is not drugs, it is not video games, it is not psychiatric drugs. We have all this in common with the world. We are true outliers when it comes to the availability of guns.
This is why the NRA has done all it can to prevent research into gun violence. After all, anecdotally, when they have their annual convention, gun violence goes down. Incidentally, the NRA convention is a gun free zone. If you like irony, well then
Do you think this is a coincidence? Let’s arm teachers in schools and harden them is a distraction. Apart of the fact that both are fantasies, they avoid the real problem. We as a country need to stop making excuses. If we are ok with having powerful weapons in the streets, fine. Just don’t blame everything else and the Centers for Disease Control has to collect the data and do the research. If we are not, we still need the research. We need hard data as a public health matter. But we need to stop making excuses.
It is…the guns.
The Real Gun Culture
The other reason the NRA avoids talking of guns is the gun culture they encourage. This, to be clear, is not every gun owner in the United States. It is truly some in that three percent who are referred as super collectors, and a few others.
Most of these people have an average of seventeen firearms. It varies, since there are those who curate their collection to historical fire arms. Some truly do not qualify. For example, at one time I had a neighbor who collected flintlocks from the 15th to 17th century. Most were not even working firearms. This collector was an antiquarian, who was not interested in working fire arms, but rather historical devices. He had a side arm and a modern shotgun for home defense, and to protect a very valuable historic collection of mostly pretty paper weights.
However, those who collect as many semi-automatics as they can afford are a different breed. These are people who many a times had one or two guns, but fear, or events led them to buy more guns. It could be fear of a civilization collapse, gun confiscation, a ban on a class of weapons. This is why every time we have a mass shooting sales of AR-15s go up.
There are a few things to understand about this sub culture.
- They tend to be white, male, married and rural. Unlike the stereotype, they also tend to be higher income.
- They are more conservative, and report higher levels of alienation.
- They tend to be more religious and attend church more often. The exception is those who are empowered by the gun itself
- They do not report higher levels of being threatened by a gun, or a relative being threatened by one.
- They report similar levels of happiness.
This matters. The subculture tends to be mostly white. But it also tends to be majority male. A subculture that has a toxic view of what is to be a man. Many also embraces violence. In this sense media portrayals, whether it is a western, a war movie, or Law and Order, might be a reflection of this subset of the culture.
Then there is an aspect that many Americans do not want to touch with a ten foot pole. Some in this corner of the culture are the embodiment of white supremacy. This is one reason the NRA remained silent after Philando Castille, an African American cafeteria worker who was shot by an officer. He informed the officer he was a concealed carry person, as he was supposed to. (The acquittal of the officer did not come as a surprise either)
Then there is the Second Amendment. The founders distrusted standing armies. While state constitutions had mechanisms for raising militias, this was a federal method. This matters, the distrust for standing armies was settled after the war of 1812. The few federal troops performed better than most state militias did.
Over two centuries the Supreme Court has ruled on it. The Miller decision interpreted it as implying militias. Heller allowed for guns to be kept at home without being part of the militia. What some legal scholars these days refer to the National Guard.
However, as radical a departure as Heller is, it still allows for the regulation of some arms, including the banning of dangerous and unusual weapons. It also permits not allowing the mentally ill to have guns, or for that matter possession in sensitive places. It also allows for the regulation of the sale of fire arms.
Justice Antonin Scalia maintained that the right to bear arms was not unlimited.
However, the gun culture considers Heller the ultimate decision that settles the issue. This is a characteristic of the culture. An almost reverential stance regarding the Second Amendment, and selective reading.
Part of this is driven by fear, class anxiety, and race. The country is becoming a majority-minority country. This has unleashed primordial anxiety. This subset is arming itself, in some cases, in preparation for a race war they expect to fight.
This is the National discussion we should be having. The usual excuses by the usual suspects are distractions. The Bundys, sovereign citizens, and militias are part of this angst. So are the white nationalists that many avoid talking about. Let’s be very clear. For some of these people, the future is white, and ethnic cleansing is in that future.
To a point so is fighting the government.