We Must Change the Conversation Around Gun Culture

Gun Ownership Gun Control Oregon Shooting

Mercer’s guns were apparently all acquired legally. Red flags are raised when someone buys too much fertilizer, but stockpiling guns and ammunition never seems to set off alarm bells.

Chris Harper Mercer was a terrorist.

Yes, I wrote his name.

He is not Voldemort. He is not magic, or evil, or powerful, he will not come back from the dead; and he will not be glorified, or even famous.

He was a domestic terrorist.

If he had walked into Snyder Hall at Umpqua Community College and detonated a backpack, that’s what we would be calling him. Instead, because his weapon of choice was a gun, at least four of them, we speak of him as “the shooter” or “the gunman” and point to his “loner” status.

And just as we did in the days after Sandy Hook, we will clamor for details, we will hold vigils, we will ask ourselves why. We will speak of mental illness, as we did with Adam Lanza, but more than likely, we will not do a damn thing about guns.

Mental illness, or at least the way we speak of it, is another excuse. Invoking it allows us to take ourselves off the hook for any kind of social responsibility. We tell ourselves we cannot be responsible for the mentally ill, and they cannot be responsible for themselves. As Jeb Bush so callously put it, “Stuff happens.”

We need to change the language around gun ownership. This is 45th school shooting in 2015 alone. There have been 142 attacks since Sandy Hook. Add to that incidents of domestic violence involving a gun and the “accidental” shootings of or by children with access to unsecured guns around the home and you have to really question any use of the phrase “responsible gun owner.”

Mercer’s guns were apparently all acquired legally. Red flags are raised when someone buys too much fertilizer, but stockpiling guns and ammunition never seems to set off alarm bells.

We need to start talking about the pathology of gun ownership and its relationship to the need for power over others. Criminal behavior is not always necessarily outside the confines of the law; witness George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson, or any gun nut who would stalk a Target, a playground, or the Starbucks down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary, just because they can.

It has not gone unnoticed that most mass-shooting terrorists are white males. Why is this? Is it our culture of hyper-masculinity and the desire to overpower and punish? Frustration and confusion over evolving gender roles and the need to feel in control? Perhaps economic anxiety and uncertainty, and the crumbling American Dream are part of the equation.

We don’t ask these questions enough, and the National Rifle Association spends big money to keep questions from being asked. It considers any research on gun violence to be gun-control advocacy and NRA-backed members of Congress continue to attempt or threaten to defund the Centers for Disease Control if they engage in such research. The agency’s current budget for firearm injury prevention research is just $100,000.

What little research exists points clearly to the risks. A gun in the home is more likely to be used on a resident of that home than on an intruder. Any access to a firearm increases the risk of death by homicide, particularly for women. According to researchers at the University of San Francisco:

Firearms play a significant role in both suicide and homicide, accounting for slightly more than half of all suicide deaths and two-thirds of homicide deaths, according to 2009 data from the 16-state National Violent Death Reporting System, which is run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 75 percent of suicides occur in the victims’ homes, and a similar percentage of female homicide victims die in their homes. The figure is about 45 percent for men.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, and the American Medical Association are increasingly concerned about gun violence, and many doctors counsel their patients about gun safety in the same way they speak about seat belts, bicycle helmets, and baby-proofing. Yet in Florida, Missouri, and Montana, NRA-backed state laws prohibit physicians from asking their patients about gun ownership. Several other states have proposed similar bills. It’s as if junk food purveyors were able to muzzle doctors who discuss nutrition, or if the tobacco industry won a gag order on those warning about smoking. That leaves parents with the only line of defense of awkwardly asking other parents about guns in the home before their children can go over to play.

The gun industry is getting away with murder. While that sounds like hyperbole, there is actually legislation that protects gun manufacturers from being sued or prosecuted or held in any way responsible for making and distributing military-style guns that should never be in the hands of the general public. It shields them from ever concerning themselves with making their products safer with child locks and fingerprint technology that keeps a gun from being fired except by its owner.

Incredibly, the gun industry profits from each of these terrorist acts. It is in their interest to keep guns easily available so that people who fear random gun violence will buy more guns. The NRA falsely promotes the need for more guns to keep us safe and it disingenuously raises the spectre of gun control activists and the government attempting to take away guns that are already privately owned. Gun sales go up. Every time.

We budget billions for Homeland Security to fight terrorism, and much of that fight has merit. Yet we willfully ignore, or worse yet, lie about, the impact on our security made by those who stockpile weapons unnoticed, untracked, and woefully unregulated. We pay more attention to email than we do to ammunition sales.

It’s no secret that countries with stricter gun laws do not have these heartbreaking headlines week after week; and it is distinctly out of character for Americans to look at a problem and say “there’s nothing we can do.”

We can and we must change the conversation around gun culture and gun violence. We must challenge the narrative that more guns will make us safer, and fight against the complacency and complicity of elected officials. We must hold them accountable for the fact that the guns they endorse and protect are made to do one thing: kill another living being.

Melissa M. Tingley is a writer and instructional designer who served on her local school board for twelve years. She is an occasional contributor to The Broad Side. Her essay, Evil is Just an Excuse, about gun use after the Sandy Hook massacre, was chosen as a BlogHer Voice of the Year in 2013. 

Image credit

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    Our federal government uses violence to solve its problems, and it teaches, by example, our young men to do the same… “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?” They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent… A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4, 1967)

  • Thank you for writing. We too are complicit when we elect, and reelect representatives not committed to public safety. We must vote accordingly, and not stand for “stuff happens.” It continues to happen because we continue to let it. In congress and on election day. xo from Newtown.

  • Pocono Shooting Range

    We’re not giving up our guns so go find something else to write about.

    There are enough Americans willing to die fighting to protect their Rights. Not enough people like you willing to die to take there Rights away.

    So there it is in a nutshell that is easy to understand. Unarmed people will never disarm armed people.

  • Pocono Shooting Range

    The NRA is not a building. It is millions of peoplw working together to protect their Gun Rights.

    Liberty is worth the Risk of Death.

  • Melissa Tingley

    @Pocono: The NRA is millions of people working together to protect gun industry profits, often at the expense of children. No one is asking you to give up your rights, we are asking that you accept the inherent responsibilities.

Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
Get Over Yourselves. We’re All Rory Gilmore
Hillary Clinton, Shake It Off, Taylor Swift, Hillary Clinton Campaign song
Six Reasons “Shake It Off” Should Be Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Theme Song
Nancy Reagan dies, Just Say No, Ronald Reagan
A Not-So-Positive Ode to Nancy Reagan’s Frothy “Just Say No” Campaign
I Married for Health Insurance
Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
A Case of Nixonian Deja Vu
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
Why I Wrote “Trumping And Drinking”
A Case of Nixonian Deja Vu
Trump Reality Check, Now with Actual Facts!
Fascism Facts
I Married for Health Insurance
Get Over Yourselves. We’re All Rory Gilmore
Post-Election Munchies: What is Your Grief Snack of Choice?
Women’s Elections Rights in Saudi Arabia: A Token Drop in an Abysmal Bucket & the Plight of Women Under Sharia Law
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
Paris attacks, Paris terrorism
Is Paris Burning?
Chinese government and women's reproductive rights, adopting Chinese girls, international adoption
Dear Xi Jinping, I Am Writing to You as an American Mom of a 19-Year-Old Chinese Daughter
The Vital Voice of Hillary Clinton: Part 1
Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives
The Eyes Have It!
Ashley Madison, Jared Fogle, sex, rape, sexual affairs
Ashley Madison vs. Jared Fogle: Rape, Sex and Hacking in America
women's viagra, Viagra, Flibanserin, sexual arousal, women's desire, sex after menopause
That “Little Pink Pill” Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Get our new weekly email
Broadly Speaking

featuring our best words for the week + an exclusive longread