Human Rights

What the Hell Is Wrong With America? 7 Myths That Prop Up Mass Shooting Culture

Deep layers of denial perpetuate gun violence.

Photo Credit: www.youtube.com

When is America going to wake up and realize that as long as we as a society allow easy access to guns, we are complicit in mass killings?

Tragedies like the Umpqua Community College carnage are not inevitable facts of life in America.They are a consequence of a society that doesn’t want to take a hard look at the roots and causes of violence, and understands that you don’t make deadly force widely and readily available to human beings. 

Another gun-wielding young guy has left a trail of death, mayhem, injuries and maimed lives in a murderous spree, this time at a rural community college. The unfolding media coverage has featured residents of Roseburg, Ore., saying they didn’t think that could happen there. Others have replied that violence in America is just like violence anywhere else. Pro-gun advocates say the tragedy could have been stopped if students were armed. (Some were nearby but said they didn’t want to intervene because they feared getting shot by SWAT teams.) On the political front, almost everyone has expressed sympathy for victims but predicted that, yet again, Congress will not act to end easy access to guns.

These reactions reveal what is deeply wrong with America, from myths about where violence occurs to ignoring the ways in which traumatized people act out. Let’s start with the myths that perpetuate the cycle of gun violence:

1. It can’t happen here. Yes, it can. Crime and violence in small towns are everyday occurrences in America. Just walk into any county courthouse when they are arraigning that week’s docket of people charged with misdemeanors and felonies and look at police affidavits. You will find episode after episode of violence, with guns playing a big role in their worst instances. That’s why there are approximately 30,000 gun deaths annually in the United States, a number that rivals car crash fatalities in recent years.

2. We’re like other countries. No, we’re not. Not when it comes to guns, violence and gun-related deaths. With the exception of Chile, the U.S. has four times as many gun-related murders as the two next most violent countries in the developed world. That’s what the Washington Post reported after 2012’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. “According to data compiled by the United Nations, the United States has four times as many gun-related homicides per capita as do Turkey and Switzerland, which are tied for third [place],” it said. “The U.S. gun murder rate is about 20 times the average for all other countries on this chart. That means that Americans are 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun than is someone from another developed country.” 

3. We think we understand human nature. No, as a country, we don’t. When you give people access to tools, whether guns or social media, people will use them: rationally or irrationally, thoughtfully or in a rage. This is true for people at every level of psychological development, especially people who are aggrieved or traumatized. Gun death statistics underscore this fact about human nature. The largest percentage of people killed by guns in America are between ages 15 and 25, when youths are impulsive and not psychologically mature. They use guns because they have access. An American under age 25 is killed by a gun “every 70 minutes,” a February 2014 report by The Center for American Progress said. It’s no surprise that the Oregon killer easily got his hands on a gun and wrote about his troubles on social media. To expect otherwise is naïve.

4. There’s denial atop denial. It piles on. Too many Americans are in denial that access to guns exacerbates violence. They’re in denial about the extent of gun tragedies, from murders to severe injuries in domestic disputes and crime. Many politicians are in denial, fearing the National Rifle Association and ignoring pleas by police and mayors to toughen gun laws. With the exception of mass killings of innocents at schools and public places, like movie theatres, do you hear outrage over daily gun-related death tolls? No, you don’t. People go back to their lives. Nor does the nation really want to face the source of its violent cultural DNA. Take the Black Lives Matter protests. They’ve been belittled by Republicans and make many Democrats nervous when participants talk about how the historic and outsized use of force against black Americans is real, unnecessary and still happening. Americans cannot avoid the media coverage of tragedies like the Umpqua College killings, but a great many don’t want to confront the historic pattern, the deeper causes or the controversial but sensible solutions. 

5. Denial empowers America’s gun cults. Americans don’t want to raise the question most feared by gun nuts, which is: "Why are all your guns necessary?" We haven’t been a frontier-exploring and slave-owning society for many generations. The U.S. isn’t filled with settlers whose fortunes depend on the ethnic cleansing of native Americans or labor of slaves, which is where America’s dependence on guns began. Nor is the country filled with subsistence farmers and multitudes who must hunt to eat. But somehow, Americans don’t question right-wingers’ twisted belief that the Second Amendment gives them a right to have any gun, anywhere. Their fetish that protecting gun rights is more integral to being free than protecting the lives of innocent gun violence victims is sick, but it goes unanswered.

6. There is no political solution. Of course there is a political solution. Guns don’t grow on trees. They are not part of nature. They are man-made, just as laws that govern society are, and they could change if there were sufficient political will. President Obama is right that most Republicans and many rural state Democrats either like the fact that Americans are armed to the teeth and oppose gun controls or are afraid of battling the NRA when they seek re-election. As Obama said, there is something very twisted when mass killings are being accepted as normal or are somehow a price that Americans must pay to be free.  

7. Americans are avoiding reality. There are choices being made. Americans don’t have to ignore the reality of ongoing gun violence. They don’t have to pretend that mass shootings could never happen where they live. Or that American societal violence is like the violence in other western nations when it’s not. Or the nonsense that individual freedom is tied to owning guns or that nothing can be done politically.

Americans need to see the reality of human nature and gun violence for what it is. People will use whatever tools are at their disposal — including guns — whether in moments of passion or rage or to commit premeditated mass murder. To assume that every mass shooter is mentally ill or insane, and somehow better screening by someone somewhere might have stopped a tragedy, is no solution.

If you know anything about human nature, you don’t tempt fate — you don’t make guns available en masse as if they were just another home appliance. You take guns out of wide circulation and only license their use in strict circumstances.

 

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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