Tuesday, October 6, 2015

An Adolescent and Selfish Obsession

Another week, another mass shooting in our insane country. Remember, though, that these events are responsible for only a tiny percentage of American deaths by gun. In 2010, there were:

  • 19,392 suicide deaths by gun
  • 11,078 homicide deaths by gun (574 of which were men killing women in domestic violence...source, page 7)
  • 26 active shooter incidents, in which 37 people were killed (not counting the killers)
  • 606 unintentional gun deaths (source for suicides, homicides, and unintentionial deaths)
Even though mass shootings have been increasing in number and frequency, they have a long way to go before they can begin to compete with domestic violence gun killings, men shooting men to death, or suicide.

While mass killings are not responsible for many of our country's deaths by gun, they can't  help but command our attention. A commentary in today's Star Tribune by Kent Nerburn, an author and former Minnesotan who now lives in Oregon, expressed a lot of my thoughts about this. His main point is that our country's gun culture underlies these acts, and the all-too-common obsession with Second Amendment rights does not explain it.
There are otherwise perfectly normal human beings in northern Minnesota, where I lived, who can barely feed their families but who have 25 rifles, pistols and semi-automatic weapons in their closets.

Why? You don’t have 25 refrigerators, or 25 pipe wrenches or 25 of anything other than perhaps baseball caps and pairs of shoes, and those things are questionable enough. So, what is it about a gun? Is it some feeling of power? Is there some crypto-sexual thrill in holding it? Shooting it? Stroking it?

....[guns] disgust me and it makes me ashamed that such an adolescent and selfish obsession can be one of the few sacrosanct things in our country.

What drives it? Why are we like this?

Sometimes I think it is part of this culture of fear that comes with our out-of-control capitalist society where every advertisement is based on fear and perceived deficiency, and a gun is just the physical embodiment of a sense of control. Sometimes I think it has a subterranean racism at its heart, where fear of the terrifying black man at the door drives white people to want to have the fantasy of a protective weapon at hand.

Sometimes I think it is the residual frontier ethic. But the Canadians have every bit as strong a frontier ethic, and they don’t share this cultural mental illness.

And, yes, that’s what it is — a cultural mental illness, fomented and fanned by an armament industry that needs, or, at least, wants every man, woman and child to be packing a weapon in the name of freedom or security or whatever abstraction they can sell us.
Nerburn's ideas for fixing our cultural mental illness wouldn't limit just mass shootings: they would affect all of the other categories of gun deaths as well, because it's access to a gun in the first place that makes death more likely in suicides or homicidal incidents. 

A recent Mother Jones story about efforts to identify mass shooters before they act sheds light on the shooters, generally, beyond the obsession with guns. They have an "unshakable sense of grievance," which then takes a particular shape in our gun- and media-fame-obsessed culture.

Removing their general access to guns won't stop them from being aggrieved or fame-obsessed. But it could make it a lot harder for them to take so many people with them when they strike out in rage.

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