Gun Control: Something Bigger

We define ourselves by our singular identity, instead of in the context of community. That makes it easier to shoot those neighbors, and to stomach it when they shoot each other.

It seemed unfair and even cruel to open brightly wrapped presents by the fire this past Christmas when there were twenty sets of parents in Connecticut grieving and devastatingly un-merry.

With the gun control debate taking over the national conversation, l’ve forced the writer in me to look at the issue critically, to reconcile the far-left idea of gun control with conservative fears of a too far-reaching government.  But it was the mom in me who “liked” The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and as such, has been drawn into debate with right-leaning friends through social media.  “It’s not the gun laws,” I’ve been chastised.  “It’s the culture.”  A culture of violence based on a departure of religious celebration in deference to political correctness, a culture of video games that have taken over parental duties in what are now the new normal: broken families.  And a culture that celebrates violence in song lyrics that brags about gun murder and echo misogynist sentiments of “hoes” and “bitches.”  It’s the natural progression of the deterioration of this country, so I’m told.

It would make theoretical sense that exposure to violence in films and the pretense of shooting people in violent video games would desensitize children to violence in actual reality.  In practice, however, the research suggests otherwise. A ten-country comparison reported by the Washington Post shows little correlation between video games and gun murder.  In fact, the countries that tend to have the highest rate of video game consumption rank lowest in gun murders, seemingly because these countries are richer and more fully developed.  So the economy tends to affect the purchase and use of video games, but that statistic doesn’t carry over to gun violence.  Simply put, video games don’t create killers. As a friend recently told me, “I’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto since I was ten and I’ve never had the urge to pistol whip a prostitute.”

We know that the Japanese play violent video games, yet their fire-arm related death rate is the second lowest in the world. Violent movies like Trainspotting, Hellraiser, and the slew of Guy Ritchie films originate in the UK. The British are a violent people as well, as their history and crime rate will show you, but due to strict laws, gun violence is not an issue there.   It’s embedded in us here.  In our culture.

It must be something bigger.

Is it in the parenting?  In Nancy Lanza’s case, that certainly seems to be a fair assumption.  She bought semi-automatic assault weapons, introduced them to a child of nine who seemed to have been showing signs of disturbance, and had them within reach of that son. Yet, this wasn’t the case with the parents of the Columbine shooters, or others.  My  own son unwrapped a Nerf Hail-Fire rifle this Christmas.  It shoots out 200 foam bullets at lightning speed.  He was nothing less than ecstatic at uncovering this bounty.  But it made me feel uncomfortable, in light of recent events.  Am I complicit in the expansion of this violent culture?  Is this how it starts?  What exactly is the appeal of such a toy gun?  What is he thinking in his mind when he aims it at his little sister, who screams in delight for at least having captured his attention for a few spare minutes, even if it is only to be his target?

If I had withheld the toy guns, might this have fostered an obsession, something like forbidding sweets to a child who grows up to be a Type-2 diabetic candy fiend?  How can you know?  These are the complexities of parenting, the second-guessing, the regret and the unknowing.  But as parents we move forward, and if we are lucky, we get to learn from our mistakes.  We allow ourselves to build on the successes of our past and learn from the missteps of others.

Can the disintegration of “family values” be the source of the corrosion of society? Or is it dangerous to mark non-traditional families as a pock on society? I know families with gay parents that are filled with the same love and discipline that I strive to have in my own two-parent heterosexual home.  Single mothers have raised two of the last three Presidents. And only heterosexual parents have ever bred American mass murderers. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that heterosexuality is the cause.

Pop music today has some blatant sexual references, designed to shock parents, but if you think that’s a new phenomenon, ask your grandparents about what their parents thought of their music.  The modern equivalent of the chicken or the egg conundrum seems to be the question of whether violence in our art is the cause or the reflection of what we see.  And although we can find examples of how art and literature can change the world (Catch 22, for example, or the writings of the Harlem Renaissance that helped to spur the Civil Rights Movement), the answer seems to lie in the after.  Like Monet’s water lilies or Van Gogh’s sunflowers, the artists of the world are painting what they see before them, in the mediums that are available: television, film, song writing – especially rap lyrics. And it’s there on Twitter, on Facebook, in blogs and advertising and gaming.

So how did it get there?

Michael Moore cites one of the main problems with this country to be the “Me” syndrome, a culture that translated from “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” to a separation where we don’t care about our neighbors’ problems: poverty, lack of healthcare, education.  We blame the poor for their own missteps and misfortunes, their lack of success.  We define ourselves by our singular identity, instead of in the context of community. That makes it easier to shoot those neighbors, and to stomach it when they shoot each other.

That gun owners are motivated by fear is apparent.  The argument for unrestricted weaponry appears to be the threat of a government overcome by tyranny.  Background checks and registration lists that can be cross-checked inspire a fear that the government is compiling a master list from which to work when they come to confiscate all guns (and then enslave us.)

But what if believing that this is fear motivated is too charitable?  What if it stems from our uniquely American sense of ownership and entitlement, reflected and distorted by US policy?  Noam Chomsky chronicles the attitude that has informed the American zeitgeist since World War II, when the United States was the global power that we pretend it is today. In his book “Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire,” Chomsky discusses an event in 1949 in which the U.S. “lost China.” That China’s emancipation was independent of the U.S., who in fact, cannot “lose” something it doesn’t own, was lost on American leaders. It bred fear that we might “lose” the Middle East or Latin America. Our ownership of the entire planet, its resources, people, economies is so engrained in our collective psyches that it informs so much of who we are as people, and what we tolerate from our own government. Is it possible that our tacit consent to the United States throwing its weight around the world, under the guise of “nation building,” informs our domestic egos and our intolerance for dissenting opinions?

Our rights have become our righteousness.

We infringe our notions of “freedom” and democracy in the world unilaterally, at gun point, in oil-rich deserts only because of this sense.  This is how we justify indefinitely detaining prisoners in Guantanamo without due process, though we pride ourselves on due process as a distinction from other countries and as a way to prove how civilized we are.  This is what allows us to justify unmanned drone strikes that don’t have nearly the precision we’d like to believe they do, that cause death and destruction to people in countries we cannot pronounce, yet we bow our heads and cry when one of our schools gets shot up.

We laugh about global warming.  We ridicule Al Gore and his wishy-washy environmentalism, preferring our version of badass representatives who kill, sometimes without provocation. We gobble up the resources of the planet as our birthright. That sense of entitlement – the we “lost China” syndrome – is uniquely American. The fear that the government is coming to take our guns – to take away our rights to protect ourselves with high-capacity rifles, shotguns, AR-15s, our right to shoot someone thirteen times without reloading, stems from this American ideal.

My right to kill you is stronger than your right to live.

From foreign policy to individual rights, we hail from the promised land, the chosen country whose rights supersede all others.  It makes sense that who we are as a country informs who we are as citizens. This naturally includes our attitude about immigration, global warming, and gun ownership. This is the culture from which mass murder is committed – atrocities far and wide. Blaming video games, rap lyrics, and divorce is lazy. And dangerous.

What divides us from all other countries?

Both the writer and the mother in me fear that it just might be good PR.

Author: Jaime Franchi

Jaime Franchi is a freelance writer living on Long Island. Her work can be found on Salon.com, Milieu Magazine, Punchnel's and the New York Times. www.JaimeFranchi.com

16 thoughts on “Gun Control: Something Bigger”

  1. Jaime, I think you have come far closer to the root cause of our singular savagery as a society than those who have argued scapegoating random phenomena will ever come. It is precisely our obsession with the myth of the rugged individual, the “Shane” or “Rooster Cogburn” myth, crossbred with our sense of entitlement (and I do not mean social entitlements, but a notion that we believe the “American Dream” hype entitles us to own and keep whatever we manage to accrue). This translates into foreign policy that is eerily similar to our social tendency to kill each other over petty issues, to take mass revenge (a la Dresden) over the loss of a job, or to lay low a sovereign nation because we are told it somehow had something to do with an act of violence against us. It is, indeed, something bigger, and something perverse. We are all Shane, we are all Rooster Cogburn, we are all insane in our notion that each of us is, individually, sacrosanct. It flies in the face of goodness, communitarian socialism, and all those things we like to believe somehow existed in the “good old days” before we found some degree of social justice, and so we turn on those social institutions that actually advanced us. We are in the midst of a massive identity crisis. We are not longer united, but untied.

    Excellent article. A must-read.

  2. Sadly, I agree with many of the points you make (and the fear you express at the end). I do believe that the focus on “me” and the “how I get ahead regardless of what happens to others” is an unfortunate undercurrent in our culture . I recently saw a concept regarding innovation & forward thinking expressed in 3 videos, each one, representing cultural overtones for various regions of the world. In North America (the “I’m a forward thinker, are you?”), for Europe (we are forward thinkers but how will that benefit human kind?”) and for Asia (we are forward thinkers and can build a better tomorrow together”). It was a stark statement (for me) on the self centered nature of our society.

  3. Very thoughtful analysis.

    At first I was thinking, yeah, good thinking, good writing, but this American navel gazing about guns is nutz. What’s to effing THINK about? Japan has the strictest gun laws and the fewest gun deaths. America has the loosest gun control and the most gun deaths (outside of war zones – BUT there is a chart, which apparently has been verified, that shows more Americans have died of ‘peaceful’ guns than have died in all your wars).

    All very simple – what’s the problem. But there IS a problem. The ratio of guns to gun deaths doesn’t affect the conversation in America. So what is going on? And that’s what your analysis looks at.

    Tho, dammit, I still want simple solutions. Screw the whole culture thing. Germany and Japan were warlike nations in my lifetime and now are not. We all smoked like chimneys a few decades ago, and now it’s banned most every public place. And some places like Scotland and Australia moved to get guns out of the public after mass shootings, with no more mass shootings since.

    I had hoped that Newtown would change the tide – and to some extent it seems to have. Also the increased publicity even ‘small’ shootings are getting. As someone said on FB today, the shootings keep interrupting the *conversation* about gun control.

    One can only hope that more people are thinking about the whole thing now and along the lines you’ve set out!

  4. The most unfortunate thing about this excellent piece is that those who need it most will be least likely to read it.

    Your two must powerful bullet points are on the money. “Our rights have become our righteousness.”

    And this one, all too chillingly true: “My right to kill you is stronger than your right to live.”

  5. Great piece Jaime and I too have written about the lack of correlation between games, films and music of less violent cultures as theirs is just as violent and dark. Entitlement is America’s tradition. The country was founded on entitlement. You’ve got no place to live, kill Native Americans and take their land. We are a country of perpetual war as well. Americans love them some war and guns. But the BIG elephant in the room for America is failing physical and mental health. Period.

  6. Jaime, a thoughtful approach to gun violence in our country, and I was with you until the very end. I agree it is a power culture.I am not sure about the China connection? Could you explain to me?

    My other question is about your concluding sentence about good PR? Are you saying other countries have better PR over gun issues?

  7. One of my favorite pieces you’ve written so far Jaime. I really think it has a lot to do with a complete breakdown in society as far as commone courtesy and consideration for each other go. As a nation, it seems the majority of citizens are becoming more selfish by the minute. I can’t really say why this is happening but it is. You can see it in all aspects of every day life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a door slammed in my face or seen from a far a mom with her baby stroller struggling to get through a door as people just continually walk by as if it’s not happening. It’s as if everyone is just living in their own bubble and the rest of the world doesn’t exist around them….except of course to cater to THEM! I don’t know. I just don’t get it. Do people think that showing respect or compassion for others make you weak in today’s society. I’ve also noticed that when you speak out, stand apart, don’t go with the herd on the “values” of today’s society you are the one who seems to be outcast by people. As if there is something wrong with you. As if you are the one who is the anomaly to be singled out and made to look the fool or out of touch. Maybe I’m just old fashioned. I don’t know, but I am still someone who considers how my actions affect others. I don’t want to be that person who lives in an entitled world where everything is all about me. But I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But unlike others. I choose not to adapt to the new ways of the world. I will hold onto my thoughts and values and keep trying to see the good in the world and hope, that in some small way, I can make some kind of positve difference for the people who I come across in my life

    1. But culture can change – quickly and drastically. (In my response I used the examples of Germany and Japan. Okay, outside forces. Instead, take Quebec, a few decades ago a priest-ridden province which is now one of the least religious places on earth. Take many places in Europe, where the churches are architectural and historic treasures, but not much used for their intended purpose. And where even those people who ostensibly still follow their religion have had a sea-change: Italy, home of the pope, has one of the world’s lowest birth rates.

      One can only hope that Newtown and all the subsequent shootings will flip a switch in enough people…

  8. “My right to kill you is stronger than your right to live.”

    No matter how we parse this issue, the statement above is the root of the problem. The American culture is built upon that premise, starting with the systematic neutralization of the native people Europeans found here, continuing through African slavery and culminating in today’s manic obsession with firearms as enforcers of self-determination

    Excellent, excellent post. The only thing I would say differently is the last sentence. Since I am a retired PR professional, I can tell you the difference is not “good PR.” I would call it delusional self-talk.

  9. Without a doubt, this is a very complex issue, attempting to discover where we are, how we arrived here and why. And I agree that some of the attitudes goes back to the idea of American exceptionalism. We are not only right, but righteous. It naturally follows that what we DO is also right and righteous. I think we suffer from a severe shortage of self examination. I know how difficult that is on a personal level. I don’t think geopolitical entities have the capacity for such

  10. Wow, started typing out a reply and must have hit the wrong key. Apologies if half a comment shows up.

    I would go one step further (farther? I always get crossed up on that one) and stipulate that while our entitled attitude made have sprouted then, it has blossomed under the journalistic mutation where the rush to be “first” replaced the requirement to be “fact”, that allowed huge conglomerate media firms to own our news outlets thus making it a very short jaunt from “education” to “indoctrination”.

    Our foreign policy should first and foremost be one of hands off unless we’re asked for help. Democracy is not something that can be “exported”, it must be won. Only a people driven by a thirst for freedom can win it.

    We need to get back to the nation we were when we were given the Statue of Liberty as a gift, and by that I mean by becoming a more considerate, tolerant nation that tends to its citizenry and not only talks the talk but walks the walk when it comes to human rights.

  11. “My right to kill you is stronger than your right to live”

    This is NOT MY American Ideal. Life is too precious, which is why we should have the right to own a gun and protect ourselves.

  12. Very insightful essay, Jaime. Kudos to you for introducing and deconstructing the theories of the day in such a measured and intelligent manner.

    The good news is that your country elected a President whose agenda defies your very poignant statement: my right to kill you is stronger than your right to live.

    The most logical connection between the mass murder rate (indeed, the murder rate) is the mass availability of guns and assault weapons. It is illegal to own a gun in Japan, and surprise surprise, negligible gun deaths in Japan. Unfortunately, what prevents your country from adopting this model is a pervasive paranoia, which I believe is its own sociological thesis. Certainly, governments and a taste for oil has contributed to the irrationally sweeping fears.

    Anyway, terrific and compelling article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *