Culture wars – Gun violence in the US

In recent weeks the US has seen two high-profile mass shootings. One gained immense media attention due to the bizarre misogynist ideology of the killer, Elliot Rodger, and the other hit the media due to the fact that the killer was stopped by one of his fellow students before he could do any worse damage. But the sad fact is that these killings aren’t even out of the ordinary for the US. Over the Easter weekend 40 people were shot and 9 killed in separate incidents across Chicago. While gun violence is gradually dropping in the US, it still has the second highest gun violence in the developed world (after Mexico). So why is this the case? It’s a lot more complex than you might think…

Note the gun: this is not unusual in the United States

The first reason though, is fairly simple – the US has a lot of guns. The country has the highest ratio of guns to people in the world, with 0.89 guns for every American. Distance second is taken by Yemen, a country with an extremely active al-Qaeda group, little enforcement of gun laws and a history of civil war. Thanks to open carry laws, Americans are also allowed to take their guns most places. But obviously the number of guns isn’t necessarily the most important thing, though it does add a lot to gun culture (more on that later). Switzerland has more guns per capita than Iraq. What is also important is that people can get handguns easily (which have the sole purpose of killing people) as well as incredibly deadly weapons like M-16 rifles.

But a much bigger problem in the US is who can get guns. In most developed countries there are extremely strict rules on who can own a gun. Owning a weapon in the Netherlands means taking a strenuous safety course, and you can lose your licence for even the smallest of crimes (such as driving drunk ). In the US though, background checks before you buy a weapon are easy to get around, and at a gun show people can buy firearms from each other without any background check whatsoever. I think everyone can agree that someone with a mental condition like bipolar disorder who is at a high risk of suicide should never own a firearm. This also means that psychopathic narcissists like Elliot Rodger can buy guns, which means when they snap the effects are that much worse.

The surprising thing is that many Americans do actually support some increased background checks, or bans on certain types of weapons. The problem is that these laws will never get passed in Congress. Even after a 20 year old with mental issues killed 27 people at a primary school in 2012, a bill that would have tightened background checks failed to pass the Senate, with only 4 Republicans voting for it. Thanks to hugely powerful gun lobbies like the NRA, the main message politicians hear is that gun control loses votes. Even Democrats are afraid to be too vocal about gun control, fearing the NRA will spend thousands to get them out of office. Just like on healthcare, immigration and environmental protection, America’s political system is hopelessly deadlocked on gun control (an article for another day).

But in the end, all these things I’ve mentioned are just symptoms of the real issue – gun culture. The United States is a country which through its unique history has ended up considering owning a deadly weapon a right. Guns are a real part of culture, and taking them away is like taking away a European’s healthcare – it provokes a gut reaction of anger. Standing outside their culture looking in, it is almost impossible to see matters as they do, and that means solutions we see as common sense are completely rejected by many Americans. And when organisations like the NRA advocate giving teachers guns to deal with school shootings, in Europe we actually begin to question their sanity. But then Americans who believe in their right to carry weapons question the sanity of the unarmed police in England. As I said when talking about gay rights in Russia, cultural change is not something that can be forced or promoted from outside that culture. And to be honest, if a primary school shooting can’t change your mind about guns, I doubt much can. For the time being, gun culture in the United States will remain a powerful force behind the deaths of thousands.


8 thoughts on “Culture wars – Gun violence in the US

  1. lamochilera

    I actually had a conversation with a former co-worker recently who said very matter-of-factly, the effort and money that would be required to overhaul firearms policies and remove all illegally-obtained guns from circulation would not be worth it “just to save a few lives.” He also believes that more people are killed in stabbings than by gun violence…which just goes to show how much misinformation is pumped into peoples’ heads by the NRA and other pro-firearm factions. I live in a scary place.

    1. andreinternational Post author

      That’s unbelievable…If that’s not worth effort, then what is? It seems like once you’re on the other side of that divide, then ‘common sense’ just doesn’t translate. I can imagine that’s a scary conversation to have…

  2. lwk2431

    ” 40 people were shot and 9 killed in separate incidents across Chicago.”

    Which is much more prevalent that some crazy in a mass killing. Big difference is that the ones in Chicago were mostly gang bangers in the inner city which accounts for a very large portion of the gun violence in America. The overall homicide rate in the U.S. is 4.8 per 100,000. New Orleans for a number of years has averaged over 50 per 100,000. The same is true of other large cities (with slight less stellar rates) like Washington D.C., Detroit, and Chicago with large concentrations of blacks in inner cities with a drug war, gang bangers, high youth unemployment, and failed school system.

    “the US, it still has the second highest gun violence in the developed world (after Mexico).”

    This is true of our inner cities where the aforementioned wars are in progress. It is not true of the rest of the U.S. Our gun violence problem has a huge racial component that too many are afraid to acknowledge.

    “The problem is that these laws will never get passed in Congress.”

    Which is a good thing because outside of the inner city a lot of Americans use semi-automatic handguns with “large capacity” magazines to protect themselves and their families. Depending on who’s research you believe that happens between 80,000 to 2,500,000 times a year.

    “But in the end, all these things I’ve mentioned are just symptoms of the real issue – gun culture.”

    Bullshit. The real problem is the destruction of the inner city black family by failed social policies over half a century that are leading to a culture of violence among many people who have been told they are victims and have no chance and think that violence is their only option.

    “And when organisations like the NRA advocate giving teachers guns to deal with school shootings, in Europe we actually begin to question their sanity.”

    Being European I would question your sanity. Israel had a problem some years ago with terrorists trying to kill their kids in schools. Their solution, and on they had some difficulty adopting, was to arm some staff in schools to protect kids. Guess what? It worked. That is history.

    1. andreinternational Post author

      I think this goes to show how deep the divide is on this issue, that everyone sees different causes and solutions to this issue. A few points I’ll respond to:
      – To be honest, I can’t say I know too much about inner-city life in the US, but I can’t imagine that loose gun laws can bring anything positive to the struggle against crime there.
      -While “good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns”, a good guy is a good guy right up until he starts shooting. Having more people armed is not a viable solution.
      – The example of Israel is often used, but I don’t think it’s a valid comparison. Israel has been in a vicious conflict with the Palestinians for decades. The solutions they take to deal with the threat of attacks on civilians won’t easily translate to a country like the US where the only threat of this nature is crime.

  3. Funk

    Man, i’m from the UK. This article is all wrong. People like/need to put problems in little boxes. People are going to blame stuff like this all on access to guns. It’s America’s social culture and it’s main stream media that is part of the problem. Along with a set of personality traits that a person may have. Calling people like this, autistic, sociopath, psychopathic narcissists, it makes me LOL and also worries me. Such neat little boxes to put the problems of the world in. This sort of dialogue does harm to a more understanding happier future. I could tell you what sort of a person Elliot really was. I’ve read the whole of the journal he’d wrote. The traits he gained in his life that messed him up, they are everywhere in many normal folk, i can see some parallels with my own childhood (i’m 37 now). Hear is not the time or place but i just need to say its the writer of the article want his moment to spread hi views, but has failed to grasp completely the cause of the kids downfall. I think there are a particular large number of children will follow in some respects Elliot’s thought processes. You have to have lived them to understand them. Don’t open your mouth and spout any more of this drivel.

    1. Funk

      I should really be working but i thought i should explain myself more so, here goes,
      Don’t compare bullying of the past with the social exclusion, bullying that goes on in today’s world. In the past when you were bullied, it was all very insular, very local. the world was still a big place you were unaware of with potentials of a happier life easier to envisage. The media mediums that did exist hadn’t blossomed into the full blown commercial monsters they are now, TV networks were still learning the trade, learning what sells, what the pubic desires. The amount of magazines that tell you what a successful person, lifestyle is were far fewer. Other media’s have sprung up, social networking, the internet. Now when you feel isolated, you feel it against the globe not just against your school, college.
      Thanks to the sexual revelations, revolutions of earlier recent decades (from the 60’s onward i guess) the younger generation can actively flaunt their sexuality more freely. There are many less taboo’s, the parents are far less strict on a young person about how they should act in public. If you are feeling isolated all this compounds 100 fold the feelings of loneliness, despair.

      If you squeeze a water balloon round its center the contents are still their the pressure bulges out at the sides, you don’t control it in any way just change its shape.
      This is what people on their morale crusades are doing, they are not stopping, protecting the balloon from exploding, just forcing it to change it’s shape, putting pressure to a different areas.
      If you take the guns away the socially scarred will turn to other devices, use the internet, group together and take their revenge in a more organised fashion. Maybe join an extremist religious group, someone that can provide the organised avenues needed to put it’s point across regardless of the limitations the law has created. People will join similar minded individuals and plan something between them, people will look to these extremist groups that promise to for fill their desires for recompense against those who have made them feel this despair. Then you have to morale crusade against the internet and ban all forums, areas where people are allowed to come together and form the above, then… then i don’t know what next but you can bet it’ll cause devastation and mark my words the blame will fall on the heads of those that diluted the real problem, that kept societies dialogue on the short sighted goals, goals which only ever cause more problems. That keep people from dealing with the real issues of how to change our lives so that people are have more empathy to each other, how to spot, help people who are turning down that path that will later in life cause them to do harm. There are so many more glaring issues i know the above is by far not completely correct but i just wanted to put in an alternative view the ones banded around at present.

      1. andreinternational Post author

        While obviously I’d disagree with you calling my writing drivel, you do raise a fair point about the Elliot Rodger case. I don’t think this is something that can be tackled by tackling gun culture. Teens who carry out school shootings have a whole toxic mix of things going on, and like you said lots of this is to do with the modern era.

        But in the post I’m mainly using Elliot Rodger as an example of someone who never should have been allowed near a weapon. You’ll always have this sort of person in society, dealing with that is another issue, but gun culture and gun laws allow them to get their hands on weapons that far increase their potential to kill. And then there’s the added risk of suicide when someone with mental illness has access to a weapon. I guess it comes down to the fact that while they’re not the cause of all these problems, there is no positive impact that guns have on society, and they make a lot of things worse

  4. Pingback: Is the ‘mainstream media’ really that biased? | Your World Explained

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