'Why is America so angry?': Columnist explores the United States' gun problem and the rage that fuels it

'Why is America so angry?': Columnist explores the United States' gun problem and the rage that fuels it
Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1233210883. Two girls holding a banner with word guns strikethrough. Women holding sign that says not guns at a rally.

As mass shootings continue to plague various parts of the United States, many are asking multiple questions in hopes of finding the root of the problem. Now, The Bulwark's Abigail R. Esman is assessing the issue and offering her perspective on America's gun problem along with the rage that is fueling it in wake of the uptick in mass violence.

While she noted that she is in favor of the main proposals for gun control such as "a ban on assault weapons, universal background checks, and expanded red flag laws," she admitted that she's unsure those measures will prevent future incidents of mass violence.

In fact, she has very little confidence in-laws changing the dynamics as they do not address the root of the problem which, according to Esman, is "rage."

"The real problem underpinning our gun crisis is one no one seems to be addressing: the rage," she wrote while posing a series of questions. "Why is America so angry? Where does all this fury come from, and why does it keep ending in violence?"

Esman went on to discuss America's "gun problem" as she noted that politicization and societal division are key factors pushing the problem.

"The fact is, America’s gun problem is about far more than the guns themselves. Extreme polarization in politics, rising white supremacy, growing rates of suicide and self-harm among teenagers, riots across the nation—anger permeates the atmosphere and condenses into the violence that fills our homes and streets. Conversation and debate are increasingly the quaint tools of a bygone era; now is a time when 'real' men—cheered on by cynical politicians and the occasional female supporter—must stand up and fight for what is rightly theirs, or rightly should be."

So, why are these incidents occurring? According to Esman, none of these incidents are by accident. In fact, she explained where these problems appear to derive from.

"The confluence of these trends and crises—white supremacy, the January 6th insurrection, the rising rate of school shootings, the rise in gun ownership, the mental health crisis among teens—is not a coincidence," she wrote. "They are intertwined, inter-influential, and most specifically, most decidedly, of our time—this very post-Facebook, post-Instagram, post-Obama, post-Trump moment."

Esman also went a bit deeper with an analogy of the deep-rooted "honor code" which is typically based on demographical ideologies. Citing a 1990s psychological study conducted by Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen, "a large swath of the United States—and particularly the South—maintains an honor culture that shapes the behaviors and ideologies of most of those who live there."

Breaking down the connection between the disturbing "honor code" and mass shooters, Esman noted many of the disturbing characteristics many shooters have in common. "Shame, dishonor, or—above all—humiliation in such cultures are not merely painful: They are not to be tolerated. They are to be avenged. The basic pattern is consistent across global and historical contexts where honor cultures predominate; and always, as Nisbett and Cohen noted, violence is understood as a legitimate response to lost honor.

"This dynamic is apparent in the return of unconcealed white supremacy in the United States," she added. "As minority communities grow and white Americans lose their demographic dominance, their perceived loss of power borders on profound humiliation. For some, the election of a black president was a signal insult; for others, having to be supervised by a black man, or a Latino man, or even a woman, wounds their pride; for still others, it’s the decline of economic prospects that feels like an insult, an affront."

Although the disturbing phenomenon is said to have originated in the Southern region of the United States, recent reports suggest the issue is now widespread. Now, America appears to have become a breeding ground for home-grown terrorists. A number of symbols have also gained mainstream popularity among shooters.

"The symbolism of the AR-15, the favored weapon of mass shooters, channels and amplifies this impulse: when the avenging young man picks up an assault-style rifle—the biggest gun, the manliest gun, the most powerful do-not-fuck-with-me gun—and feels the unrestrainable impulse to regain honor, to retake power, to exercise the energy of his rage," she wrote.

"The values of honor culture are emphatically male, even hypermasculine. The person avenging lost honor doesn’t just poison his enemy. He uses weapons like guns or swords or knives, or even fists. Big guns. Big knives. Big, swashbuckling weaponry that warriors and heroes fight with to reclaim their land, their rights, their honor."

Esman concluded with an emphasis on her initial argument as she noted that legislation, alone, will not be enough to prevent mass shootings in America. "I believe—strongly—that we need to ban assault rifles," she wrote. "I believe we must raise the minimum age to acquire firearms, universalize background checks for gun purchases—all of it. These are all vital measures that will save lives. But they are not enough."

She concluded, "Because we will not end the carnage until we find a way to end the rage."

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