The number of gun deaths, suicides and homicides in particular, are not going to be much reduced soon in this country. It is important to understand why so that those of us who wish this to change are not distracted or despaired by ineffective efforts.
The number, availability and use of guns is a cultural phenomenon. As a culture we value guns. This is not new nor localized. It has been part of the American mythos since the dime novels of mid-19th cent and is not limited to those who own guns. Guns are understood as tied with individual liberty and independence, personally and politically. And perhaps more importantly, with the protection and salvation of the vulnerable and innocent.
The portrayal of the gun-wielding, West-winning, community-saving cowboy of the late 1800s is with us still. He is the loner, the outsider, the unattached one who uses gun violence to save/protect the vulnerable of the community. Matt Dillon, Shane, the Clint Eastwood characters, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, et al. These heroes from the history of the West morphed into the heroes of our present urban wildernesses–Magnum, Rockford, Mannix, Kojak and into our future as per Robo Cop and others. (I have to apologize for my ignorance of more contemporaneous portrayals. I’m not the TV watcher I used to be.)
These values are not limited to our understanding of what it means to be an American Individual, but with our national identity as well. From our war of independence through our saving of the world from fascism in WWII, we see our nation as the hero with the gun. It is no aberration that presidential candidate Ben Carson, an advocate of a citizenry made safe through universally armed self-defense, would see the D-day invasion of Normandy as a paradigm of personal courage. In other words, we should live with one another like we are at war.
It’s not that guns make sense or don’t make sense. It’s that on a deep, unexamined, uncontested level, they feel good. They feel good to own and use, especially in response to fear, to a sense of powerlessness, to a sense of moral imperative. The predominant belief is that guns are good.
The good news is in that word “predominant,” because that belief is neither universal nor permanent. It is changing. But what is important for those of us who want that change to continue is to understand that it will be tectonic in its timing until it reaches a tipping point. It will happen. We, as a nation, will get to a point in our culture where guns will be viewed negatively, handguns and assault rifles in particular. Legislation will happen. Safety will increase. Lives will be saved.
What to do? What’s practical? In the 21st century cultural change happens via digital media; it’s Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. So share, retweet, repost the statistics, the anecdotes, the memes, the quotes, the url’s. Do it over and over. Trust the unseen effect. Above all, don’t despair. Faith moves mountains.