America and the gun

This brief post had been planned for a while, and notes were taken in the wake of the recent Planned Parenthood attack. But as I write, yet another mass shooting is being reported in San Bernardino in California. One cannot yet comment on the details of this latest case, but it suffices to note the regularity with which these incidents occur. Or better again, to point to a graphic that tracks the numerous shootings that have occurred in the relatively short time since the especially shocking Sandy Hook mass murder rampage in 2012, when 20 children and 6 adults were murdered in Connecticut by a gunman who then took his own life.

Another high profile mass shooting brings with it the usual well-rehearsed arguments on both sides of the gun debate. They usually serve as another depressing reminder of the irreconcilability of the two positions. Though that is not to say that the two positions are in any sense morally equivalent. The gun lobby’s arguments are largely underpinned by a wilfully weird and extreme reading of a Second Amendment (adopted all the way back in 1791) that is hardly fit for purpose for any advanced democracy. The National Rifle Association is also the chief peddler of a disingenuous narrative that is rooted in some of the founding myths of the nation, ergo their reliance on arguments about values and characteristics derived from the American frontier such as the “rugged individuality” that period engendered. Confronted with details of a mass shooting, their playbook is littered with phrases such as “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, ignoring the fact that the more awash with guns a society is, the more gun murder that tends to occur. Apologists for the status quo on gun laws might point out that perpetrators of massacres are “loners”, and of late have argued that the emphasis in the debate should be shifted to “mental illness”.

Needless to say, this is a partisan political issue. While there are many Democrats that are not minded to confront the gun lobby, there is a president in office who is plainly in despair that legislative action to tackle these recurring murder sprees has been frustrated. And the circus act that calls itself the race for the Republican presidential candidacy (a topic for future comment) contains no shortage of would be holders of executive power who are more than vocal about upholding the current state of easy availability of dangerous assault weapons. The most crass contribution, from Ben Carson, was to the effect that the Holocaust might have been averted had Europe’s Jews been armed.

The debate on guns might be accurately depicted as another component of America’s culture wars. The culture of the gun is tied up in the sense of power derived from the gun. The fetishised nature of this attachment marks the NRA relationship with the gun is being akin to that which terrorists have with their instruments of death. The gun will not be relinquished lightly. However, the crazed nature of this ideology is being recognised for what it is by advocates of gun control, and is a narrative now being taken up by mainstream media. It may become a trend as senseless mass killings receive ever more exposure.

Culture wars tend to be resolved by one side claiming the future. That is, by asserting a new norm and not through persuading recalcitrant people on the other side, who become marginalised and reduced in numbers and influence over time. These clashes are usually typified by bitter resentment on the part of those whom history leaves behind. Perhaps on the issue of guns this process, as part of a general social trend in America, is already happening.


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