Monday, October 12, 2015

Gun Culture As American As Apple Pie

In 1968, two prominent Americans fell victim to gun violence: Martin Luther King Jr. in April and two months later Robert F. Kennedy. The young senator from New York, whose brother President John F. Kennedy was gunned down less than five years before him, said the following words on the day after King's assassination:

"Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence, the whole nation is 
degraded.  Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike."

Robert Kennedy' Assassination, June 6, 1968, Los Angeles

Almost half a century later, President Barack Obama had a similar message for the nation following the killing of 10 people at a community college in Oregon.

"Earlier this year, I answered a question in an interview by saying, “The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws -- even in the face of repeated mass killings.”  And later that day, there was a mass shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana."  

After every one of the mass killings in American schools and other public places, President Obama has called for a tougher gun law.

"We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don't work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence.  We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings.  Friends of ours, allies of ours -- Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours.  So we know there are ways to prevent it." 

I am not convinced. I am all for tougher gun laws, in fact I am for confiscating every privately owned gun in the United States and banning all gun sales. In a civilized society, people should not need guns "for protection" or for any other reason.  But we are not Australia or Great Britain. The United States is so profoundly steeped in the gun culture that it will take a lot more than tougher gun laws to slow the soaring spiral of killings.

As Kennedy said in that 1968 speech:

"We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire."

And President Obama said a few days ago:  

"And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation.  Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out:  We need more guns, they’ll argue.  Fewer gun safety laws."

I am more inclined to agree with Kennedy in saying, "I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set." 

But we have to make an effort to eradicate this evil, and getting the facts would be a good place to start.  Who are the perpetrators of mass shootings?  (not many women from what I can see)  What are their motives ( hatred? celebrity status? depression? weakness? isolation?) and what inspires them  (movies? computer games? love of gadgets?)  This is just some of the information we need to have. 

President Obama said:

"We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so.  And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths."

President Obama Speaks After Oregon Shooting

But lawmakers cannot block research by the independent think tanks, or reporting by the independent news media.  For example, American Enterprise Institute recently posted an article from the National Review which says that Protestants are more likely to commit suicide than Catholics and atheists are even more likely to commit suicide.  Researchers also have found a link between suicide and relation to a community.

Who knows what links would be discovered in a serious study of the inclination to shoot and kill large groups of people.  I would bet that relation to the community is a crucial factor.

We live in a culture that values material possessions, power and fame above all else.  One person having a place above others.  Ostensibly, our society still values honor, duty and loyalty, at least rhetorically, but most will agree that these qualities are obstacles on the road to what is considered "top" today.  To become rich, powerful and famous one has to be relentless, shameless and insensitive - "walk over dead bodies," so to speak.

But if we, citing Kennedy, "...admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all, "  and if we  "admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others,"  then maybe fewer people will feel the urge to kill their fellow human beings.

Promoting this kind of culture instead of over-emphasizing the "rights of an individual" at the expense of the society, including the right to carry a weapon that can kill a whole lot of people in seconds,  may go a long way to make any "tougher" gun laws more effective.  If as individuals we believe we are important members of a greater community that is our nation, then perhaps we will be less inclined to commit acts that degrade this nation.

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