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4 News Stories That Probably Make the Rest of the World Think Americans Are Gun-Crazed Bigots

A future person reading the newspapers from 2012 would surely conclude that Americans were a bigoted, gun-crazed bunch.

As always, the news cycle this summer has had its ups and downs – tales of hope mixed in with plenty of stories that make you want to scream (cough, ahem, Chick-fil-A).

Looking back at the stories that dominated the news over the past few months, it’s clear that many of them are indications of the state of our nation. In particular, they point to some of our major problems as a country: persistent economic inequality and prejudice against people of color, LGBTQ Americans, and women, to name a few. Though we have seen some progress toward a more equitable and fair society, a future person reading our newspapers from the past several months would surely conclude that the Americans of 2012 were a bigoted, gun-crazed bunch.

Here are some of the stories from this summer that illustrate just where we stand.

1. Shootings, shootings, and more shootings

There are some people -- conservatives for sure, but some moderates and liberals too -- who argue that “this isn’t the appropriate time” to talk about gun control legislation. I understand the impulse to avoid politicizing personal tragedies, but if the aftermath of three deadly shootings – in Colorado, Wisconsin and just this week, Texas – isn’t a good time to talk about gun control, when is? As this infographic created for the  Nation by Tracy Loeffelholz Dunn illustrates, every year we see some 20 mass murders using guns in this country. Meanwhile, 30,000 people die each year from guns, while 70,000 are injured. You will literally never find a time when multiple Americans have not recently suffered because of guns. So if not now, when?

That’s not to say it will be easy. If it was, the fierce gun control advocates out there (and there are many) would have had more luck influencing policy. As the  Nation’s Katha Politt wrote in her latest column:

The trouble is, as with so many aspects of conservatism—the anti-choice movement, the Tea Party, Ron Paul—“gun rights” supporters win on intensity and single-mindedness. We have common sense, but they have a master narrative: rugged individualism, patriotism and self-defense....

Of course, your average gun enthusiast is hardly tomorrow’s Holmes or Loughner or Page—you have to be mentally ill to commit mass murder—but without a gun, it’s difficult to kill and injure a whole crowd of people, no matter how much you’d like to. Gun advocates have devoted a great deal of ingenuity to trying to discredit this elementary point. And to the extent that gun-control supporters have become depressed and discouraged, they have succeeded.

Still, the widely publicized shootings this summer illustrate that the need to get our gun laws under control has never been greater.

2. The Olympics

The Olympics may have been hosted in the UK this year, but they sure told us a lot about Americans’ views on race and gender.

There was, for instance, the absurd chatter about gold medal-winning gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair. Douglas made history by becoming the first African-American woman to win the all-around gymnastics gold, immediately becoming a role model for girls everywhere. Although this story may have been overblown on sites like Jezebel, she also took some legitimate heat for not having a perfectly coiffed ‘do. To her credit, Douglas was unflappable. “I don't know where this is coming from. What's wrong with my hair?" Douglas told the Huffington Post . "I'm like, I just made history and people are focused on my hair?"

Then there was the fact that, immediately after Douglas’ big win, NBC aired a commercial featuring a monkey doing gymnastics. Of course it’s likely that the commercial was scheduled in advance. But because NBC’s coverage was tape delayed, the network did have time to recognize the problem. Even more to the point: did no one over there think of the racial connotations of that commercial in the first place? (Apparently not.)