What Part of Our Culture is Really to Blame for Gun Violence?

First published at jedmorey.com

With the gun control debate taking over the national conversation, I’ve forced the writer in me to look at the issue critically, to reconcile the far-left idea of gun control with conservative fears of a too far-reaching government. But it was the mom in me who “liked” The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and as such, has been drawn into debate with right-leaning friends through social media. “It’s not the gun laws,” I’ve been chastised. “It’s the culture.” A culture of violence based on a departure of religious celebration in deference to political correctness, a culture of video games that have taken over parental duties in what are now the new normal: broken families. And a culture that celebrates violence in song lyrics that brags about gun murder and echo misogynist sentiments of “hoes” and “bitches.” It’s the natural progression of the deterioration of this country, so I’m told.

It would make theoretical sense that exposure to violence in films and the pretense of shooting people in violent video games would desensitize children to violence in actual reality. In practice, however, the research suggests otherwise. A ten-country comparison reported by the Washington Post shows little correlation between video games and gun murder. In fact, the countries that tend to have the highest rate of video game consumption rank lowest in gun murders, seemingly because these countries are richer and more fully developed. So the economy tends to affect the purchase and use of video games, but that statistic doesn’t carry over to gun violence. Simply put, video games don’t create killers. As a friend recently told me, “I’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto since I was ten and I’ve never had the urge to pistol whip a prostitute.”

We know that the Japanese play violent video games, yet their fire-arm related death rate is the second lowest in the world. Violent movies like Trainspotting, Hellraiser, and the slew of Guy Ritchie films originate in the UK. The British are a violent people, as their history and crime rate will show you, but due to strict laws, gun violence is not an issue there. It’s embedded in us here. In our culture.

It must be something bigger.

Is it in the parenting? In Nancy Lanza’s case, that certainly seems to be a fair assumption. She bought semi-automatic assault weapons, introduced them to a child of nine who seemed to have been showing signs of disturbance, and had them within reach of that son. Yet, this wasn’t the case with the parents of the Columbine shooters, or others. My own son unwrapped a Nerf Hail-Fire rifle this Christmas. It shoots out 200 foam bullets at lightning speed. He was nothing less than ecstatic at uncovering this bounty. But it made me feel uncomfortable, in light of recent events. Am I complicit in the expansion of this violent culture? Is this how it starts? What exactly is the appeal of such a toy gun? What is he thinking in his mind when he aims it at his little sister, who screams in delight for at least having captured his attention for a few spare minutes, even if it is only to be his target?

If I had withheld the toy guns, might this have fostered an obsession, something like forbidding sweets to a child who grows up to be a Type-2 diabetic candy fiend? How can you know? These are the complexities of parenting, the second-guessing, the regret and the unknowing. But as parents we move forward, and if we are lucky, we get to learn from our mistakes. We allow ourselves to build on the successes of our past and learn from the missteps of others.

Can the disintegration of “family values” be the source of the corrosion of society? Or is it dangerous to mark non-traditional families as a pock on society? I know families with gay parents that are filled with the same love and discipline that I strive to have in my own two-parent heterosexual home. Single mothers have raised two of the last three Presidents. And only heterosexual parents have ever bred American mass murderers. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that heterosexuality is the cause.

Pop music today has some blatant sexual references, designed to shock parents, but if you think that’s a new phenomenon, ask your grandparents about what their parents thought of their music. The modern equivalent of the chicken or the egg conundrum seems to be the question of whether violence in our art is the cause or the reflection of what we see. And although we can find examples of how art and literature can change the world (Catch 22, for example, or the writings of the Harlem Renaissance that helped to spur the Civil Rights Movement), the answer seems to lie in the after. Like Monet’s water lilies or Van Gogh’s sunflowers, the artists of the world are painting what they see before them, in the mediums that are available: television, film, song writing – especially rap lyrics. And it’s there on Twitter, on Facebook, in blogs and advertising and gaming.

So how did it get there?

Filmmaker Michael Moore cites one of the main problems with this country to be the “Me” syndrome, a culture that translated from “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” to a separation where we don’t care about our neighbors’ problems: poverty, lack of health care, education. We blame the poor for their own missteps and misfortunes, their lack of success. We define ourselves by our singular identity, instead of in the context of community. That makes it easier to shoot those neighbors, and to stomach it when they shoot each other.

That gun owners are motivated by fear is apparent. The argument for unrestricted weaponry appears to be the threat of a government overcome by tyranny. Background checks and registration lists that can be cross-checked inspire a fear that the government is compiling a master list from which to work when they come to confiscate all guns (and then enslave us.)

But what if believing that this is fear motivated is too charitable? What if it stems from our uniquely American sense of ownership and entitlement, reflected and distorted by U.S. policy? Noam Chomsky chronicles the attitude that has informed the American zeitgeist since World War II, when the United States was the global power that we pretend it is today. In his book “Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire,” Chomsky discusses an event in 1949 in which the U.S. “lost China.” That China’s emancipation was independent of the U.S., who in fact, cannot “lose” something it doesn’t own, was lost on American leaders. It bred fear that we might “lose” the Middle East or Latin America. Our ownership of the entire planet, its resources, people, economies is so engrained in our collective psyches that it informs so much of who we are as people, and what we tolerate from our own government. Is it possible that our tacit consent to the United States throwing its weight around the world, under the guise of “nation building,” informs our domestic egos and our intolerance for dissenting opinions?

Our rights have become our righteousness.

We infringe our notions of “freedom” and democracy in the world unilaterally, at gun point, in oil-rich deserts only because of this sense. This is how we justify indefinitely detaining prisoners in Guantanamo without due process, though we pride ourselves on due process as a distinction from other countries and as a way to prove how civilized we are. This is what allows us to justify unmanned drone strikes that don’t have nearly the precision we’d like to believe they do, that cause death and destruction to people in countries we cannot pronounce, yet we bow our heads and cry when one of our schools gets shot up.

We laugh about global warming. We ridicule Al Gore and his wishy-washy environmentalism, preferring our version of bad-ass representatives who kill, sometimes without provocation. We gobble up the resources of the planet as our birthright. That sense of entitlement – the we “lost China” syndrome – is uniquely American. The fear that the government is coming to take our guns – to take away our rights to protect ourselves with high-capacity rifles, shotguns, AR-15s, our right to shoot someone 13 times without reloading, stems from this American ideal.

My right to kill you is stronger than your right to live.

From foreign policy to individual rights, we hail from the promised land, the chosen country whose rights supersede all others. It makes sense that who we are as a country informs who we are as citizens. This naturally includes our attitude about immigration, global warming, and gun ownership. This is the culture from which mass murder is committed – atrocities far and wide. Blaming video games, rap lyrics, and divorce is lazy. And dangerous.

What divides us from all other countries?

Guest contributor Jaime Franchi is a freelance writer living on Long Island. Her work can be found on Salon.com, Milieu Magazine, Punchnel’s, and soon in the New York Times “Motherlode” blog. www.JaimeFranchi.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Jaimimimama

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Voice of America

  • http://www.amyabbottwrites.com Bernadine Spitzsnogel

    Excellent piece. Posted to Facebook and Twitter.

  • Joan Haskins

    This is quite simply an excellent piece. Thank you~

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