Gun Control and the Culture of Violence in America
By Ray Williams, March 15, 2019

We hear about gun violence almost daily, from countries around the world, even peaceful ones such as New Zealand and Norway where tragic mass shootings took place. However, the U.S. stands alone among developed countries with the problem of gun violence.

The shooting tragedy, in which 20 young children were murdered at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut, at Parkland School and several mass shootings that followed after in other locations in the U.S. have refocused the debate over gun control and violence in the U.S. While the outrage was almost universal, repeated comments from politicians and other leaders that “now was not the time” to do something about gun control, was also heard loudly. But it’s important to see the gun control issue within the context of the U.S. as a violent society.

Since 1979 when gun death data were first collected by age, a shocking 119,079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence. That is more child and youth deaths in America than American battle deaths in World War I (53,402) or in Vietnam (47,434) or in the Korean War (33,739) or in the Iraq War (3,517). Where is the equivalent of the anti-war movement to protect children from pervasive gun violence in their own country?

Harry Bradford, and Howard Steven Friedman writing in the Huffington Post, and the Brady Campaign, and Washington Post have provided detailed statistics regarding the firearms industry.

Here is some research data, readily available from multiple sources that illustrates the extent and seriousness of the problem of gun violence.

Research Data

  • There are more than 393 million guns in circulation in the United States — approximately 120.5 guns for every 100 people.
  • An estimated 45 million Americans own handguns.
  • 87% of the children killed in the 23 wealthiest nations were American.
  • 80% of the gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest nations were American.
  • The U.S. ranks number 1 in the world in terms of guns owned per 100 people .
  • Eleven of the 20 worst mass shootings in the advanced countries in the past 50 years took place in the United States.
  • According to data assembled by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIJP), about 85 people in the U.S. are killed every day in firearm-related incidents.
  • Of the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the countries with the five highest homicide rates are, in order: Mexico (highest), Chile, Estonia, the United States and Turkey.
  • The U.S. is ranked 4th out of 34 developed nations for the highest incidence rate of homicides committed with a firearm, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data. Mexico, Turkey, Estonia are ranked ahead of the U.S. in incidence of homicides. A U.S. male aged 15–24 is 70 times more likely to be killed with a gun than their counterpart in the eight (G-8) largest industrialized nations in the world (United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Italy, Russia).
  • On average in the U.S., 97,820 people are shot every year and approximately 268 every day.
  • There have been more than 90 mass shootingsin the US since 1982, according to investigative magazine Mother Jones. Up until 2012, a mass shooting was defined as when an attacker had killed four or more victims in an indiscriminate rampage – and since 2013 the figures include attacks with three or more victims.
  • The Washington Post reported that there had been 355 mass shootings in the United States so far that year. In August 2015, The Washington Postreported that the United States was averaging one mass shooting per day.
  • 7 million children live with unlocked, loaded guns – 1 out of 3 homes with kids have guns.
  • In 2015, 2,824 children (age 0 to 19 years) died by gunshot and an additional 13,723 were injured.
  • Domestic violence is more likely to turn deadly with a gun in the home. An abusive partner’s access to a firearm increases the risk of homicide eight-fold for women in physically abusive relationships.
  • More than 75 percent of first and second graders know where their parents keep their firearms and 36 percent admitted handling the weapons, contradicting their parents’ reports.
  • Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated that from 1982 to 2011, mass shootings occurred every 200 days on average. From late 2011 to 214, they found mass shootings had occurred at triple that rate—every 64 days on average.
  • On May 18, 2018, a teen shooter used a shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver that he took from his father to kill 10 people and wound 10 others at Santa Fe High School in Texas; this marked the 1,686th mass shooting since Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
  • At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in 2012, Adam Lanza reportedly fired more than 150 shots in less than five minutes from his assault-style rifle with a high capacity magazine.
  • On June 12, 2016 at Pulse Nightclub, a single shooter killed 49 people and injured 53. It was the worst mass shooting in US history until the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October 2017 took 58 lives and left 546 injured.
  • In February 2018, a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL left 17 people dead and 14 wounded. The teen shooter used an AR-15 semi-automatic style weapon, the same weapon used during the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
  • In 2000, the costs of gun violence in the United States were estimated to be on the order of $100 billion per year, plus the costs associated with the gun violence avoidance and prevention behaviors. In 2010, gun violence cost U.S. taxpayers approximately $516 million in direct hospital costs.
  • All 50 U.S. states allow for the Right-to-carry firearms, with forty-two states generally requiring a state-issued permit in order to carry concealed weapons in public and the remaining eight states generally allowing individuals to carry concealed weapons in public without a permit. Right-to-carry laws expanded in the 1990s as homicide rates from gun violence in the U.S. increased. The result was laws, or the lack thereof, that permitted persons to carry firearms openly, known as open carry, often without any permit required, in 22 states by 1998. Laws that permitted persons to carry concealed handguns, sometimes termed a concealed handgun license, CHL, or concealed pistol license, CPLin some jurisdictions instead of CCW, existed in 34 states in the U.S. by 2004.Since then, the number of states with CCW laws has increased; as of 2014, all 50 states have some form of CCW laws on the books.
  • At least eleven assassination attempts with firearms have been made on U.S. presidents (over one-fifth of all presidents); four were successful, three with handguns and one with a rifle.
  • The firearms industry created $31 billion in economic activity in 2011.Gun stores had revenue of about $11 billion,IBIS World said in its 2018 report. Gun and ammunition manufacturers had revenue of $17 billion, but the majority of that revenue comes from the defense side of the equation: arms sales to the U.S. and foreign governments.

 

Guns and Violence in Charts

 


 

 

 

 

  How Other Countries Are Dealing With Guns

Juliette Jowit, Sandra Laville, Calla Walhlquist, Philip Oltermann, Justin McCurry and Lois Beckett, writing in The Guardian,examined how four countries—The United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and Germany have dealt with gun homicides.

Japan

Japan has virtually“zero-tolerance” for gun ownership. Japanese gun control laws as “the most stringent in the democratic world”. The 1958 law on the possession of swords and firearms states: “No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords.” Among the few exceptions are shotguns, but here too, the restrictions are considerable. Prospective shotgun owners must attend classes and pass written and practical exams. They must then undergo psychological assessments to determine they are fit to own a firearm. And finally, Japanese Police background checks are exhaustive and even extend to the gun owners’ relatives.

Civilian ownership of handguns is banned in Japan. The few violations reported in the media usually involve members of the country’s many crime syndicates who have managed to smuggle them in from abroad.  Despite sporadic outbreaks of gun violence, Japan’s yakuza crime syndicates are reluctant to build up caches of firearms. Threatening a rival with a gun is often seen as an “unmanly” departure from the yakuza’s traditional code of honour, to which even modern-day mobsters try to adhere.

Australia

Eerily, Australia’s mass shooting tragedy occurred almost 20 years ago, when a shooting spree in a gift shop in Port Arthur, Tasmania, resulted in 35 people dying in about half an hour. It was the worst mass shooting by one person in Australia’s history. The killer, Martin Bryant, received a sentence of 35 terms of life imprisonment.

Less than two weeks after the shooting, Australia’s then prime minister, John Howard, announced a sweeping package of gun reforms in a country where guns had long been considered an essential prop in the national mythology of Austrialian life in the bush. Howard proposed each state and territory should introduce and enforce a firearm licensing and registration system which required people to have a “genuine reason” for having a firearm, such as sport or target shooting, recreational hunting or being a farmer.

Howard also introduced a national gun buyback policy for all weapons that did not comply, which led to the buying and melting down of more than 650,000 firearms at a cost of A$350m. One study said the buyback cut the rate of firearm suicides by 74% in the first 10 years.

There have been no mass shootings in the 20 years since Port Arthur; in the 20 years before the massacre there had been 13.

Germany

In Germany there are a lot of guns in the country, but they don’t seem to kill a lot of people. Germany has one of the highest weapons-per-head rates in the world. In 2014, 5.5m legal weapons were registered as being in the hands of 1.45 million private individuals.

Yet in Germany gun homicide rate is one of the lowest in Europe: a death rate of 0.05 per 1,000 people, compared with 3.34 in the US. In fact, incidents of gun crime, including both weapons being fired and used to threaten people, have declined by almost a quarter since 2010.

Germany is the only country in the world where anyone under the age of 25 who applies for their first firearms license must undergo a psychiatric evaluation with a trained counsellor, involving personality and anger management tests. Experienced hunters or sports shooters over the age of 25 may be called in for psychiatric tests if they display certain kinds of behavior, such as being caught drink-driving. A further tweak to the gun law in 2008 means that inherited guns have to be fitted with a state-of-the-art blocking mechanism, making them unusable.

 

Gun Laws and Policy in the U.S.

 

Public policy as related to preventing gun violence is an ongoing political and social debate regarding both the restriction and availability of firearms within the United States. Policy at the Federal level is/has been governed by the Second Amendment, National Firearms Act, Gun Control Act of 1968, Firearm Owners Protection Act, Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, and the Domestic Violence Offender Act. Gun policy in the U.S. has been revised many times with acts such as the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which loosened provisions for gun sales while also strengthening automatic firearms law.

At the federal, state and local level gun laws such as handgun bans have been overturned by the Supreme Court in cases such as District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago. These cases hold that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm. Columbia v. Heller only addressed the issue on Federal enclaves, while McDonald v. Chicago addressed the issue as relating to the individual states.

Gun control proponents often cite the relatively high number of homicides committed with firearms as reason to support stricter gun control laws. Firearm laws are a subject of debate in the U.S., with firearms used for recreational purposes as well as for personal protection. Gun rights advocates cite the use of firearms for self-protection, and to deter violent crime, as reasons why more guns can reduce crime. Gun rights advocates also say criminals are the least likely to obey firearms laws, and so limiting access to guns by law-abiding people makes them more vulnerable to armed criminals.

The first Federal legislation related to firearms was the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution ratified in 1791. For 143 years, this was the only major Federal legislation regarding firearms. The next Federal firearm legislation was the National Firearms Act of 1934, which created regulations for the sale of firearms, established taxeson their sale, and required registration of some types of firearms such as machine guns.

In the aftermath of the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was enacted. This Act regulated gun commerce, restricting mail order sales, and allowing shipments only to licensed firearm dealers. The Act also prohibited sale of firearms to felons, those under indictment, fugitives, illegal aliens, drug users, those dishonorably discharged from the military, and those in institutions. Thelaw also restricted importation of so-called Saturday night specials and other types of guns, and limited the sale of automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapon conversion kits.

The Firearm Owners Protection Act, also known as the McClure-Volkmer Act, was passed in 1986. It changed some restrictions in the 1968 Act, allowing federally licensed gun dealers and individual unlicensed private sellers to sell at gun shows, while continuing to require licensed gun dealers to require background checks. The 1986 Act also restricted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms from conducting punitively repetitive inspections, reduced the amount of record-keeping required of gun dealers, raised the burden of proof for convicting gun law violators, and changed restrictions on convicted felons from owning firearms.

In the years following the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, people buying guns were required to show identification and sign a statement affirming that they were not in any of the prohibited categories. Many states enacted background check laws that went beyond the federal requirements. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act passed by Congress in 1993 imposed a waiting period before the purchase of a handgun, giving time for, but not requiring, a background check to be made.]The Brady Act also required the establishment of a national system to provide instant criminal background checks, with checks to be done by firearms dealers. The Brady Act only applied to people who bought guns from licensed dealers, whereas felons buy some percentage of their guns from black market sources. Restrictions, such as waiting periods, impose costs and inconveniences on legitimate gun purchasers, such as hunters.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, enacted in 1994, included the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, and was a response to public concern over mass shootings.This provision prohibited the manufacture and importation of some semiautomatic firearms with certain features relevant to military use such as a folding stock, pistol grip, flash suppressor, and magazines holding more than ten rounds.A grandfather clause was included that allowed firearms manufactured before 1994 to remain legal.

The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, the Lautenberg Amendment, prohibited anyone previously convicted of a misdemeanor or felony crime of domestic violence from shipment, transport, ownership and use of guns or ammunition. This law also prohibited the sale or gift of a firearm or ammunition to such a person. It was passed in 1996, and became effective in 1997. The law does not exempt people who use firearms as part of their duties, such as police officers or military personnel with applicable criminal convictions; they may not carry firearms.

 

Gun buyback programs

 

Gun “buyback” programs are a strategy aimed at influencing the firearms market by taking guns “off the streets”.Gun “buyback” programs have been shown to be effective to prevent suicides, but ineffective to prevent homicides with the National Academy of Sciences citing theory underlying these programs as “badly flawed.”Guns surrendered tend to be those least likely to be involved in crime, such as old, malfunctioning guns with little resale value, muzzle loading or other black-powder guns, antiques chambered for obsolete cartridges that are no longer commercially manufactured or sold, or guns that individuals inherit but have little value in possessing.

“Gun bounty” programs launched in several Florida cities have shown more promise. These programs involve cash rewards for anonymous tips about illegal weapons that lead to an arrest and a weapons charge. Since its inception in May 2007, the Miami program has led to 264 arrests and the confiscation of 432 guns owned illegally and $2.2 million in drugs, and has solved several murder and burglary cases.

 

Why the U.S. is Different Than Other Western Countries

 

Jeffrey Northup explains why the U.S. may be a more violent country compared to European counterparts (with the exception of WWI and WWII) by looking at some historical differences. He says “ Many European monarchs dismantled the rival armies in their realms during the early modern period. Absolutists like Louis XIV also tried to stop haughty aristocrats from fighting duels. After the political union between England and Scotland in 1707, the British Crown dismantled Highland clans in the name of the law — that is, the unitary sovereignty of the state.  But Europeans eventually embraced the rule of law as a kind of peace treaty in which everyone gave up the power to kill in return for shared safety. A disarmed population was the foundation of civil society, a starting point for progress within constitutional monarchies like Britain and Denmark or republics like France and Italy.”

In contrast, Northup argues, the United States took a different path. In some ways this is due to the American Revolution, which was triggered in part by British efforts to disarm colonial militias. Rejecting the king set off a long debate about the source of legitimate power, resulting in a system of divided authority between the states and the central government. Many colonial slave-owners became rebels only when they decided that the British Crown threatened their “sovereign” right to dominate their labor force. After the Revolution, they clung to this individual and race-based form of sovereignty for which they were willing to sacrifice the Union in the 1860s. Although they lost the Civil War, their ideas lived on Northrup contends. Klansmen took up where slave patrols left off, rejecting any rule of law that gave equal protection to Black Americans. Western vigilantes embraced violence as a citizen’s right and duty, especially in the face of Indigenous peoples or Mexicans.

So it is clear that death by guns in the U.S. is a serious problem that far exceeds that of other Western nations. Two distinguished legal scholars, Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins, compared crime rates in the G-7 countries (Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States) between in their book, Crime Is Not The Problem: Lethal Violence In America Is. Bluntly, they stated their conclusion: “What is striking about the quantity of lethal violence in the United States is that it is a third-world phenomenon occurring in a first-world nation.”

 

 A Psychological Perspective

 

Gun violence is an urgent, complex, and multifaceted problem. It requires evidence-based, multifaceted solutions. Psychology can make important contributions to policies that prevent gun violence. Toward this end, in February 2013 the American Psychological Association commissioned this report by a panel of experts to convey research-based conclusions and recommendations (and to identify gaps in such knowledge) on how to reduce the incidence of gun violence — whether by homicide, suicide, or mass shootings — nationwide.

Among the conclusions of the APA report were:

  • A complex and variable constellation of risk and protective factors makes persons more or less likely to use a firearm against themselves or others. For this reason, there is no single profile that can reliably predict who will use a gun in a violent act. Instead, gun violence is associated with a confluence of individual, family, school, peer, community, and sociocultural risk factors that interact over time during childhood and adolescence
  • Any account of gun violence in the United States must be able to explain both why males are perpetrators of the vast majority of gun violence.
  • The use of a gun greatly increases the odds that violence will lead to a fatality: This problem calls for urgent action
  • Psychology can make an important contribution to policies that prevent gun violence. Rather than debate whether “people” kill people or “guns” kill people, a reasonable approach to facilitate prevention is that “people with guns kill people.” The problem is more complex than simple slogans and requires careful study and analysis of the different psychological factors, behavioral pathways, social circumstances, and cultural factors that lead to gun violence.
  • Although many highly publicized shootings have involved persons with serious mental illness, it must be recognized that persons with serious mental illness commit only a small proportion of firearm-related homicides; the problem of gun violence cannot be resolved simply through efforts focused on serious mental illness. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of people with serious mental illness do not engage in violence toward others and should not be stereotyped as dangerous. In making predictions about the risk for mass shootings, there is no consistent psychological profile or set of warning signs that can be used reliably to identify such individuals in the general population.
  • Status as a “man” is achieved by the display of stereotypically masculine characteristics, without which one’s manhood is contested. Although the particular characteristics defining manhood and the markers of them can vary across subcultural contexts, masculinity has, historically, generally been defined by aggressive and risk-taking behavior, emotional restrictiveness (particularly the vulnerable emotions of fear and sadness, and excepting anger), heterosexuality, and successful competition. Such normative characteristics of traditional masculinity are in turn directly related to numerous factors that are associated with gun violence

 

Gun Violence and Gender

 

Men represent more than 90 percent of the perpetrators of homicide in the United States and are also the victims of the large majority (78 percent) of that violence (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008; Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], 2007). Homicide by gun is the leading cause of death among Black youth, the second leading cause of death among all male youth, and the second or third leading cause of death among female youth. In addition, roughly four times as many youths visit hospitals for gun-induced wounds as are killed each year (CDC, 2013).

Even more common than homicide, suicide is another leading cause of death in the United States, and most suicides are completed with a firearm. Males complete the large majority of suicides; depending on the age group, roughly four to six times as many males as females kill themselves with firearms Among youth, suicide ranks especially high as a cause of death. It is the third leading cause of death of 15–24-year-olds and the sixth leading cause of death for 5–14-year-olds. However, the rate of suicide and firearm suicide gradually increases over the lifespan.

 

What is the Argument for Gun Control?

 

Lisa Hepburn and David Hemenway, of Harvard University studied the issue and published their results in Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal. They concluded that based on their study of cities, states and countries, where there were more guns there were more significantly more homicides.

It is clear that death by guns in the U.S. is a serious problem that far exceeds that of other Western nations. Two distinguished legal scholars, Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins, compared crime rates in the G-7 countries (Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States) between in their book, Crime Is Not The Problem: Lethal Violence In America Is. Bluntly, they stated their conclusion: “What is striking about the quantity of lethal violence in the United States is that it is a third-world phenomenon occurring in a first-world nation.”

Economist Richard Florida researched the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. He found that higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths.

Other countries have successfully dealt with this issue. Max Fisher, writing in The Atlantic Monthly, describes how Japan, a country of 127 million has gun control in effect : “Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country’s infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories.” In 2008, the U.S. had over 12,000 firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding 2, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal.

Let’s take the example of Australia. In 1996, a mass killing of 35 people galvanized the nation’s Prime Minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The “national firearms agreement,” as it was known, led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands. The law did not end gun ownership in Australia. It reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and they were the kinds most likely to be used in mass shootings. In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings — but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.

Undoubtedly the renewed debate over gun control will have to consider the U.S. Constitution’s second amendment, the causes of violence and the psychological profiles of murderers. In some ways, the debate may get sidetracked into the psychological issues and things like background checks, when the real issues of gun control and the U.S. as a violent culture need to be addressed.

Any debate regarding gun control in America requires a serious examination of the culture of violence that exists in America, for this is where the real problem lies. It is not in 2nd amendment rights to bear arms or self-defense or crime, although these are issues the pro-gun lobby in the U.S. always hides behind. The real root cause is in the minds of Americans who may feel that a gun gives them a feeling of empowerment, and that they are entitled to have the power over life and death as well as the belief that if they want to they can take a life if they have been wronged (or imagined they have) in some way. After all, they see it glorified in the media every day.

The prevalence of gun violence strongly depends not only on the sex of the offender but also on the offender’s relationship to the victim and the location of the violence (Sorenson, 2006). Both men and women are more likely to be killed with firearms by someone they know than by a stranger. Specifically, men are most likely to be killed in a public place by an acquaintance, whereas women are most likely to be killed in the home by a current or former spouse or dating partner (i.e., “intimate partner”). Women compared with men are especially likely to be killed by a firearm used by an intimate partner.

Males are roughly two to four times as likely as females to have access to a gun in the home or to possess a gun. In turn, gun carrying is a key risk factor for gun violence perpetration and victimization. For example, gun carrying is associated with dating violence victimization among adolescents, with boys more likely to be victimized than girls.

Gender remains largely invisible in research and media accounts of gun violence. In particular, gender is not used to explain the problem of “school shootings,” despite the fact that almost every shooting is perpetrated by a young male. Newspaper headlines and articles describe “school shooters,” “violent adolescents,” and so forth, but rarely call attention to the fact that nearly all such incidents are perpetrated by boys and young men.

Alexander DeConde, in his book, Gun Violence in America, outlines how Americans’ link their beliefs about liberty and freedom to the right to own and use guns. He argues “Conventional lore promotes the  assumption that gun keeping has been, and still is, a unique aspect of American culture. As a gun-rights advocate explains, ‘From the gun culture’s viewpoint, restrictions on the right to ‘keep and bear arms’ amount to the systematic destruction

of a valued way of life and are thus a form of cultural suicide.’’’ In this perspective, civilian gun-keepers stand as defenders of a national heritage that gun controllers would tear apart.

DeConde says this heritage-belief relates well with the passion hypothesis that contends Americans inherited a special love of firearms from their Anglo-Saxon forebears and cherished it. No one can substantiate this assumption or explain why the British and non-Anglo peoples who became equally avid gun users have accepted workable controls. Gun devotees give high standing also to the birthright theory, expressed often as the God-given right to keep and bear arms.

Gun advocates argue that ‘‘unlike either Europe or Asia, the right to purchase, possess and use firearms for traditionally legitimate purposes has a profoundly unique symbolism among Americans and constitutes a part of their birthright,” says DeConde, “It is only natural and proper that this should be so.’’ This concept presents numerous problems, especially that of rights being conferred by deities, a ritual impossible to confirm.

Scores of pro-gun writers see arms keeping as inherited from ‘‘three hundred years of Indian wars’’ and the nation’s revolutionary origin. DeConde argues this misreading of the past goes well with the frontier hypothesis of sharpshooting Westerners expanding an empire of liberty. Supposedly, this idea has had such a grip on patriotic legislators they would not defile it with restrictions on the weapons that made the country great. Other peoples, such as Australians, have frontier traditions but in time they agreed to workable gun controls without betraying their past. Furthermore, few of America’s professional criminals who made gun violence a feature of life in big cities could identify with frontier practices, real or imagined.

DeConde goes on to describe another theory which holds that Americans have rejected substantive gun regulation because they perceive it as an enemy to individual liberty. This perspective depicts controls as conferring on government an arbitrary power to decide who can or cannot possess a gun. Officialdom would lull citizens into accepting ‘‘expanded police powers and abuses’’ and impair their ability to defend themselves if they spoke out against oppressive government. This idea of guns as instruments for countering tyranny misses the mark because in the hands of tyrants firearms have been more effective in suppressing popular will than in the hands of its defenders. A similar defect applies to the related contention that solid firearms regulation would come at high cost to democracy. The experience of other countries indicates that stringent controls and collective liberties are compatible.

Yet, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan have enforced such controls while retaining representative government. In these societies even those who loved their guns accepted, often grudgingly, regulation desired by the majority. The British, for instance, value their freedoms as much as do Americans but have banned private possession of guns with little or no impairment of domestic order. Moreover, the democratic countries with tough controls have not enforced them with unusually large police forces.

DeConde says that critics view the statistics used by pro-gun writers as flawed and also dangerous because they have influenced public opinion. Still, legislators favorable to the gun lobby have liked the idea of citizens carrying concealed firearms so much that they have desired to extend the practice throughout the country with a national concealed-weapons standard. Violence surveys have shown that in the course of quarrels friends and relatives have committed more gun homicides than have criminal gun owners. These data have revealed also that firearms stored in the home increase the risk of death at the hands of family members far more than they provide protection against intruders. Still, millions of Americans accept the protection hypothesis because many of them feel an intangible sense of power in having a firearm near at hand.

What most other peoples do not have is an enigmatic gun ‘‘right’’ embedded in a Constitution and vaunted as a civil liberty, says DeConde.  Until the Civil War, most state constitutions accepted the individual-rights theory of gun ownership, except of course, for the wrong people. After that conflict when federal courts heard gun cases, they rejected the individual-right assumption but upheld the authority of states to protect or restrict civilian use of firearms.

These decisions, and the reality of the Second Amendment referring to a non-existing well-regulated national militia rather than to an armed civilian population, had no discernible impact on the convictions of the gun fraternity. Its lawyers and friendly criminologists insisted that the Constitution protected gun keeping as a personal right.

Progun lawyers usually ignored the reality that few state courts have accepted the individual-rights theory and no federal court has done so. Nonetheless, these attorneys wanted Congress to set a national standard for the right to bear arms. They called for passage of a ‘‘Second Amendment Restoration Act’’ that would declare clearly the keeping of arms an individual right ‘‘guaranteed against abrogation by the States, as well as the federal government.’’

DeConde says that gun-lobby tactics frighten vulnerable members of Congress, so they dance to its tune.  Control lobbies appear weak also because the public fear of crime continues to hobble their cause. This apprehension persists even though accidental and emotional shootings and firearm suicides account for more deaths and injuries than do guns in the hands of felons. Medical researchers maintain the best way to deal with this problem would be as a public-health issue and through strong gun control compatible with American federalism as long advocated by leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Control advocates also see in the antismoking campaign a harbinger of change in the attitude of the American public toward federal regulation DeConde says. For years, physicians, public-health officials, and others had attacked the use of tobacco as an affliction harmful to society.

Slowly, public sentiment turned against the tobacco industry, forcing it to acknowledge that its products injured national health and even to admit fraudulent conduct in marketing them. Mounting legislation restricted the right of individuals to smoke, of tobacco companies to promote smoking, and of tobacco growers to obtain subsidies.

 

Gun Violence and Militarism

 

Gun violence must be seen in the context of the U.S. as having a history of violence and military activity on a large scale.  For example, according to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. ranks number 1 in the sale of military arms to other countries, far ahead of such countries as Russia. And according to a report in the National Post, based on data from the Defense Department, the U.S. has somewhere between 700-800 formal military bases around the world, not counting covert operations. As a percentage of its GDP, the U.S. spends 41% of all expenditures of all countries in the world on the military. China, which is second, spends 8.2% and Russia 4.1%. And according to OECD data, the incarceration rate per 100,000 people, the U.S. ranks number 1 among 34 countries at 730. In contrast, Canada’s figure is 114 and Sweden, 70.

On the heels of a Senate Intelligence Committee report rebuking the CIA for the use of torture in the fight against terrorism, and in the wake of a new movie depicting torture as playing a key role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, a new poll shows opponents of torture have a right to be worried about the attitudes of Americans. According to the  HuffPost/YouGov survey, only 25 % of Americans said that torture of suspected terrorists who may know details about future attacks is never justified. Nineteen percent said it is always justified, 28 % said it is sometimes justified, and 16 % said it is rarely justified. The 41 % of respondents who said torture is rarely or never justified are outnumbered by the 47 % who said it is always or sometimes justified.

 

 

 

A Culture of Violence

 

Any debate regarding gun control in America requires a serious examination of the culture of violence that exists in America, for this is where the real problem lies. It is not in 2nd amendment rights to bear arms or self-defense or crime, although these are issues the pro-gun lobby in the U.S. always hides behind. The real root cause is in the minds of Americans who may feel that a gun gives them a feeling of empowerment, and that they are entitled to have the power over life and death as well as the belief that if they want to they can take a life if they have been wronged (or imagined they have) in some way. After all, they see it glorified in the media every day.

Whether it’s violence on a large scale such as wars, or domestic violence, it has been pervasive in American life and culture since its beginnings. At yet at the same time, politicians and media have depicted the U.S. as a “peaceful loving” nation, something people readily believed despite evidence to the contrary. Pulitzer Prize winning historian Richard Hofstadter observed: “What is impressive to one who begins to learn about American violence is its extraordinary frequency, its sheer commonplaceness in our history, its persistence into very recent and contemporary times, and its rather abrupt contrast with our pretensions to singular national virtue.”

The media immerse us in a culture of violence. In Hollywood and TV films, violent death has become the only formula for adequate retribution. Movie villains suffer hideous ends – movie justice. Violence as the cultural metaphor well suits a country that for decades has lived with perpetual wars. Turn on kids’ cartoons or any “drama” show and we see and hear the images and sounds of aggression against others. . And the most popular professional sport, American football, has seen increasing levels of violence.

U.S. foreign policy advocates violence as the solution to problems. The media sells violence just as the language of violence shapes political discourse. In Hollywood barely a film heads for theaters without the fight and sound of a fist hitting a face, a bullet ripping through a body or a car pushing another car off the road. And the U.S. leadership from the White House and Pentagon empowers the “assassination abroad committee” to decide which people get killed by drones on a daily basis in foreign countries

The U.S. media – including corporate news and Hollywood, along with the TV and music industries – is constantly promoting violence, particularly when the U.S. military is the perpetrator of that violence. However, even when it condemns violence, the coverage is still presented essentially as an entertainment package. It is wall-to-wall, non-stop, and voyeuristic, making sure the perpetrator(s) will live in infamy – a motivation for some – and further desensitizing the U.S. public to spectacles of violence and senseless deaths. The abhorrent quickly becomes normal.

What is the cultural effect of this constant exposure to violence? Some experts have argued that as many as half of all yearly homicides in the U.S. are due to “the influence and desensitizing effects of media violence” — given that these media depictions often model the use of deadly force, whether in movies or in news, as the the primary means of resolving problems and conflict. Studies have also found that some TV viewers can develop post-traumatic stress disorder after viewing repeated, traumatic images in the media. Others still have found that the high incidence of violence in the media makes people “numb” to the pain and suffering of others. This shriveling of human empathy in turn makes the “real world” all that more conflict-ridden, violent, and dangerous.

Though the gun control debate does have its place following mass shootings such as that in Las Vegas, the discussion of solutions to such tragedies is consistently myopic as the role of the constant violence found throughout the U.S. media is ignored. It is the media that glorifies violence and death under some circumstances and condemns it under others, suggesting some lives are worth more than others — and increasingly blurring the line between fiction and reality, wrapping it all into a splendidly profitable entertainment product. For all the coverage of the Las Vegas shooting in recent days, don’t expect the media or its celebrities to take a long, unblinking look at their own role in American gun violence.

A lot of people posit that the root of America’s gun violence problem is that the main group representing gun owners, or consumers, the NRA, is aligned with the gun manufacturers. This is an unusual situation: Consumer groups often serve as a check on industry groups.

 

Stereotypic and Toxic Masculinity

 

Status as a “man” is achieved by the display of stereotypically masculine characteristics, without which one’s manhood is contested. Although the particular characteristics defining manhood and the markers of them can vary across subcultural contexts, masculinity has, historically, generally been defined by aggressive and risk-taking behavior, emotional restrictiveness (particularly the vulnerable emotions of fear and sadness, and excepting anger), heterosexuality, and successful competition. Such normative characteristics of traditional masculinity are in turn directly related to numerous factors that are associated with gun violence.

Even to the extent that it is achieved, manhood status is theorized as precarious, needing to be protected and defended through aggression and violence, including gun violence, in order to avoid victimization from (mostly) male peers. Paradoxically, as in all competition, the more convincingly manhood is achieved, the more vulnerable it becomes to challenges or threats and thus requires further defending, often with increasing levels and displays of toughness and violence. The dynamic of these expectations of manhood and their enforcement is like a tight box. Boys and men are either trapped inside this box or, in violating the expectations by stepping out of the box, risk being targeted by threats, bullying, and other forms of violence.

Adherence to stereotypic masculinity, in turn, is commonly associated with stress and conflict, poor health, poor coping and relationship quality, and violence. Men’s gender role stress and conflict are directly associated with various forms of interpersonal aggression and violence, including the perpetration of intimate partner violence and suicide. Men with more restricted emotionality and more restricted affection with other men are more likely to be aggressive, coercive, or violent. These dimensions of masculinity also are related to a number of other harmful behaviors that are, in turn, associated directly with gun violence and other forms of aggression. For example, the effect of alcohol consumption on intimate partner violence is greater among men than women, and alcohol consumption may be associated with lethal male-to-male violence at least partly because it is associated with carrying a gun.

 

FILE – In this Jan. 13, 2015 file photo, gun rights advocates carry rifles while protesting outside the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas. Although Texas has more than 800,000 concealed handgun license holders, it is one of only six states that don’t allow open carry, a ban that dates almost to the Civil War. But open carry looked primed to pass this year with strong support from Gov. Greg Abbott and other top Republicans who have dominated state politics for two decades. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

 

In addition, accumulating research evidence indicates a relationship between gender and many of the factors that are associated with suicide. Beliefs in traditional masculinity are related to suicidal thoughts, although differently across age cohorts. Men’s historic role as economic providers in heterosexual families typically ends with their retirement from the workforce. Suicide rates, including firearm suicide, increase dramatically at precisely this point in the life course (i.e., age 65 and older), whereas they decrease among women this age. Male firearm suicide also increases dramatically in adolescence and early adulthood, precisely the years during which young men’s sense of manhood is developing.

Male role expectations for achievement of success and power, combined with restricted emotionality, may have dangerous consequences, particularly for boys who suffer major losses and need help. A majority of the males who have completed homicides at schools had trouble coping with a recent major loss. Many had also experienced bullying or other harassment. Such characteristics cannot and should not be used to develop risk profiles of attackers because school shootings are such rare events, and so many men who share these same characteristics never will perpetrate gun violence. However, when male gender and characteristics associated with male gender are highly common among attackers, it is responsible to ask how male gender contributes to school shootings and other forms of gun violence.

Sex differences in beliefs about guns may begin at an early age as a function of parental socialization and attitudes. Fathers, particularly White fathers, are more permissive than mothers of their children, particularly sons, playing with toy guns. Through the socialization of gender, boys and men may come to believe that displaying a gun will enhance their masculine power. Carrying a weapon is, in fact, instrumental in fulfilling male gender role expectations. Estimates of a person’s physical size and muscularity are greater when they display a gun (or large knife) than other similarly sized and shaped objects (e.g., drill, saw), even when the person is only described and not visible. This perception persists despite no apparent correlation between actual gun ownership and size or muscularity. Guns symbolically represent some key elements of hegemonic masculinity — power, hardness, force, aggressiveness, coldness.

Adherence to stereotypic and toxic masculinity,  is commonly associated with stress and conflict, poor health, poor coping and relationship quality, and violence. Men’s gender role stress and conflict are directly associated with various forms of interpersonal aggression and violence, including the perpetration of intimate partner violence and suicide. Men with more restricted emotionality and more restricted affection with other men are more likely to be aggressive, coercive, or violent. These dimensions of masculinity also are related to a number of other harmful behaviors that are, in turn, associated directly with gun violence and other forms of aggression. Beliefs about gender and sexual orientation also help explain sex differences in fatal hate crimes involving guns. Key themes in male gender role expectations are anti-femininity and homophobia. Boys are expected to rid themselves of stereotypically feminine characteristics (e.g., “you throw like a girl,” “big boys don’t cry”). Male role expectations for achievement of success and power, combined with restricted emotionality, may have dangerous consequences, particularly for boys who suffer major losses and need help.

 

Summary

America’s culture of violence and toxic masculinity is the problem, not just guns. Some experts would argue that for decades, we have been immersing American children in violence. Movies and television glorify violence, including violence with guns. The male stereotype in America is one that promotes and idolizes aggression, manliness and rugged individualism. Americans have created a culture that promotes and esteems violence. Violence is “cool.” Many experts say that U.S. policy makers should approach gun violence as a public health issue, and take a critical look at the way in which males are raised in the country.

 

Copyright: Neither this article or a portion thereof may be reproduced in any print or media format without the express permission of the author.

Read my latest book: Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces, available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia and Asia.

 

Ray's latest blog posts

The Erosion of Trust in America’s Institutions and Leaders

    By Ray Williams, May 1, 2019     Trust is eroding in America –for leaders, corporations, institutions, governments and for each other. The consequences may be far more damaging than changes in interest rates, GDP or unemployment levels.  ...

Why The Best Leaders View Vulnerability as a Strength

Why The Best Leaders View Vulnerability as a Strength By Ray Williams, April 20, 2019 There is compelling evidence that leaders who are prepared to show their vulnerability more easily gain the trust of others, and are, in fact, more effective leaders. Admitting our...

How Workaholism is Damaging Our Productivity and Well-Being

How Workaholism is Damaging Our Productivity and Well-Being By Ray Williams, April 14, 2019 In Japan they call it “karoshi” and in China it is “guolaosi.” As yet there is no word in English for working yourself to death, but as more and more...

Why We Need An Empathy Revolution in Business

  Why We Need An Empathy Revolution in Business By Ray Williams, March 26, 2019   Increasingly, we hear stories of toxic workplaces and toxic leaders in which incivility, abusive behavior and bullying are commonplace, even among those businesses which are...

The Myth of the Self-Made Man (and Woman) in America

The Myth of the Self-Made Man (and Woman) in America   By Ray Williams March 29, 2019   We are inundated in mainstream and social media with stories of the rich and famous, emphasizing they were self-made, and implying anyone in America can successfully...

Join our Newsletter for a FREE copy of Breaking Bad Habits e-Book by Ray