Culture of the Gun

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”                 – attributed to Albert Einstein

As a retired teacher I have suffered over the deaths at Uvalde…and Columbine…and Sandy Hook…and…so many more. Late in my career I participated in “active shooter” drills and helped to produce strategies to counter an attack. We locked our doors even though the only thing between us and an active shooter was a five-eighth piece of sheet rock.

Since the brutal deaths of nineteen students and two teachers in a Texas school, barely a week after the shooting of six, one killed, in a California church, and ten killed in a New York grocery store many have opinions on what needs to be done to ensure the safety of our children and ourselves.

Most of the reactions follow a familiar path, “thoughts and prayers”, media outcries for change, pro-gun rights folks debate anti-gun rights folks including deflection, time passes with nothing happening except more guns are bought until the furor dies and we are again shocked with the next mass shooting. The debate begins again and honestly…we don’t seem to be as shocked as we once were.

I’ve seen suggestions from arming teachers, my least favorite out of myriads of least favorites, to we must “harden the targets.” That sounds like something from a war zone or a “sh!th@le” country. All ignore the underlying issue. A culture that embraces violence over diplomacy and access to weapons to execute that violence.

Another suggests “evil exists, and laws will not change that.” The next time a highway patrolman pulls me for speeding I think I’ll try that one out. No, I’m not equating speeding to murder, but the comment has me wondering why we have laws at all. Laws are for honest people?

Let me be fair. It is not just about school, church, or supermarket shootings. It is the drive by in LA, or gang violence in Chicago or Baltimore, or the drunken good ole boy who decides to William Tell a PBR can off his friend’s head and misses a bit low with his hunting rifle.

It’s about four students wounded while walking to their prom. It is about gunfire due to road rage and looking cross eyed at the wrong person. It’s about good old boys strapping AR-15s to their back when they get a coffee at the local coffee shop. It is about a lack of empathy and ignoring the sanctity of life in favor of an amendment.

In 2020, gun violence became the leading cause of youth death’s surpassing automobile accidents. Most were suicides. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2020, 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides (24,292), while 43% were murders (19,384). The numbers came from the CDC and were backed by other sources. According to CNN, personal safety tops the list of reasons why American gun owners say they own a firearm, yet 63% of US gun-related deaths are self-inflicted.

It is a fact that it took a finger to pull the trigger, the gun didn’t do it on its own, and these Pew and CDC statistics do not reflect accidental gun deaths or where guns were a contributing factor but not the cause of death. It is also true that we live in a gun rich environment. Five percent of the world’s population owns 44-46% of the world’s civilian firearms depending on the study you might be reading. According to a recent CNN study, we own more guns than we have people, one hundred-twenty guns per one hundred people.

According to a Scientific American study in 2015, assaults with a firearm were 6.8 times more common in states that had the most guns, compared to the least. More than a dozen studies have revealed that if you had a gun at home, you were twice as likely to be killed as someone who didn’t.

Research from the Harvard School of Public Health tells us that states with higher gun ownership levels have higher rates of homicide. Data even tells us that where gun shops or gun dealers open for business, killings go up. There are always exceptions to the rule, but some politicians would have you ignore the overall data and quote the exceptions rather than the rule.

In an article by Fortune Magazine published by Yahoo, Gun rights groups spent $15.8 million on lobbying last year, compared to just $2.9 million in lobbying from gun control groups. Beyond lobbying, gun groups have contributed $50.5 million to federal candidates and party committees between 1989 and 2022, with the vast majority going to Republicans. They spent especially heavily in the 2020 election, with $16.6 million in outside spending.

Oh, but the Second Amendment…. I’m not going to debate it except to say that one side always ignores two words, “well regulated.”

Will there be a change after Buffalo and Uvalde? If history repeats, why would I expect there would be change. I don’t believe I am an overly cynical person but why would I expect change? Guns are as much a part of our culture as mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Other than exchanging duck and cover drills for active shooter drills little has changed.

Our history is rife with violence, mostly involving a gun. Our country was born from violence and expanded using violence. Do we have a greater propensity for violence than other countries? I don’t know but other countries have done a better job of curbing theirs.

We have violent games, violent movies glorifying the gun and the heroic figure welding it. I’m just as guilty. Several of my novels include violence…gun violence but the good guy with the gun always saved the day…unlike real life. 

When I read my comic books, Zane Grey, or Louis Lamoure, I knew it was fiction. James Arness or John Wayne wasn’t really gunning them down in the streets. After I became a history student, I found out their fiction was…based on fiction. There were few gunfights in the streets and the Gunfight at the OK Corral lasted about thirty seconds. My novels are no different.

Other cultures have violent games, movies, and literature, but they don’t have real-life violence like we do here. Maybe we should work to keep guns out of the hands of the violent. Maybe we should look at the underlying issues that lead to violence and attempt to correct them.

It is mental illness. I believe someone who goes out and kills nineteen children is mentally ill…but that doesn’t give him a free pass. Other countries with much lower murder rates have mental illnesses too. Could it have something to do with our health system? Maybe we should work to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

It is parenting. Probably but why? Single parent homes? Parents having to work multiple jobs leaving their children to their own devices. Cycles of poverty? We don’t seem to care much once a child is born.

Criminals will always find a way…yes probably. Why are we not cutting off access at the source? Gunmakers and smugglers? Everything is done after the murder instead of trying to prevent it. Could it be gunmakers and politicians are making too much money off the sale of legal and illegal firearms?

Maryland was one of the outliers in the Pew study. Strict gun laws but a higher number of gun deaths. Sixty-five percent of the guns used in violence in Maryland that could be traced came from other states with laxer gun laws. I don’t know the numbers but the same can be said about Chicago, I’m sure. Just something to ponder.

Cain killed Abel with a rock. Yep, if the Bible is to be believed. I would rather confront a killer walking around with a bag of rocks than a bag of thirty round magazines and a rifle or pistol to put them in.

Along the same lines, “We’ve taken God out of … fill in the blank.” There are many countries who aren’t considered “Christian Countries” who have much lower gun homicide rates. Research Shinto Japan and while you are at it research their gun laws. Japan has a very violent history at times. Somehow, they decided to overcome it as did other less Christian countries.

It does seem we have lost our appreciation for the sanctity of life…all life. Our hatred for others leads us to violence. Disagreement has become life threatening. Some Christians will say it is because we have become Godless, I will say that some Christians have driven me from organized religion because they are Jesus-less. If you can’t appreciate the Earth and the people who live on it I want no part of you.

I don’t expect any of this will change anyone’s mind about guns…or violence…or mental illness and I don’t believe any effective change will occur. Gun violence is too engrained in our culture, and we pass it on to our children. I fear it is who we are.

***

For clarification, Albert Einstein had many thoughtful quotes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” was not one of them. The quote, or a similar quote, first appeared in an Al-Anon article in 1981. There is no evidence Einstein ever said it.

Research cited


https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-is-clear-gun-control-saves-lives/

https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/26/world/us-gun-culture-world-comparison-intl-cmd/index.html?fbclid=IwAR2vEhlMbsPbVhwBEXTyXtC6iUkx2VAkGf37uCdLzyMABlHEDSPSANOacV0

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/lobbying-gun-rights-groups-hit-152634408.html

Thoughts and Prayers….

PESSIMISM WARNING! I hate to pee in your Cheerios, but nothing will change. Another mass shooting, another school shooting.  It is just who we are. We are a toxic brew of violent nature, toxic masculinity, with a gun and target rich environment.

We are first in mass shootings, first in gun deaths, nearly half in suicides, and domestic abuse. More than any county of the “civilized” world, not at war. But nothing will change. We make it about anything other than intelligent gun control or an in-depth study of our violent culture and how we perpetuate it.

We don’t want to spend money on education to lift up people, we would rather spend it on prisons or shift school money to private schools. We would rather erect a wall than take a serious look at our own culture and its motivations and the dangers from within.

It must be about mental illness, and it is, even though we’ve made it easier for the mentally ill to possess guns. We put the killer under a microscope, scrutinize and debate race, or religion or immigration. If we can’t hang the murderer on one of those excuses, we make it about politics or gun free zones or sanctuary cities or Mars ascending into Venus…when it should be about our culture…the culture of the gun. We offer our thoughts and prayers.

I consider myself a spiritual man, if not, a religious one, but our thoughts and prayers are wearing thin especially when it involves the same kind of kids and schools, I taught and coached in for forty-four years. The thinness is because I believe nothing will change. It is too much a part of our culture. We are a violent group, some with Bibles in one hand, rifles in the other. “Thou Shalt not Kill” should have an addendum. Thou Shalt not Kill unless it abridges my right to purchase and use an AR-15 or any other gun.

I probably shouldn’t be focused on the AR-15…although there is a good reason. From Aurora to Stoneman Douglas High and beyond, it seems to be the weapon of choice, whether due to popularity or ease of use, I don’t know. I don’t know what was used in our latest murder de jour, but I know we’ve weaponized ourselves with all sorts of arms. I have two handguns and a shotgun myself…and a rock, car, butter knife and a fork.

There seems to be something about our manhood that goes hand in hand with a handgun or rifle…and the violent tendencies we hold dear. Do they make a perfume “Ode de Gunpowder?” I’ll write about women just as soon as there is a female mass shooter. Why are our males more violent than females? They are not, women just like to inflict pain over a longer period…. Sorry.

Our country was forged on violence…from the very beginning and we glorify it. From an “Eye for an Eye,” to the cult of the warrior in the many wars we have fought, to the dubious history of the Western gunfighter. Our video games, television programs, and movies glorify violence, and they have an effect. It is still about the Alpha male with the gun in one hand and the adoring, scantily clad female secured with the other. At least we’ve added movies with scantily clad, female superheroes. Hum…sex, and gunpowder….

So, as pessimistic as it sounds, I don’t think we will ever change. I believe we will continue to lead in categories we say we don’t want to lead in and continue to offer our thoughts and prayers instead of taking a meaningful look at our culture and what our culture breeds. Because we won’t take a meaningful look, I expect the violence to increase…but I’m not sending any more thoughts and prayers.