After Santa Barbara, America Should Take Another Hard Look At Its Gun Culture

Whenever there’s a demonstrably horrifying event like 9/11 or Tucson or Sandy Hook, a debate always begins in earnest over who or what we should blame and what needs to happen next. And one of the central speed-bumps on the road to further gun control legislation is the fact that gun defenders have all-too-often masterfully skewed the discourse away from firearms and focused the blame on, well, everything else. It doesn’t matter what, just anything that’s not the American gun culture.

What specifically do I mean by “gun culture?”

There’s an almost historical, genetic aspect of Americanism that’s synonymous with firearms. Somehow, perhaps because of our revolutionary founding or the glorification of war or the romance of Wild West or all of the above, guns have become embedded in our national DNA, perhaps more so than any other industrialized nation. Due to effective marketing and lobbying, gun ownership has evolved from being a frontier necessity to a traditional metaphor for masculinity and power. American guns have become unmistakable displays of virility and strength — of aggression, resolve and heroism — a necessary means for conflict resolution, even though firearms are merely retail products sold for profit.

And so the gun culture was on display yet again in California this past weekend, when a disturbed young man used three handguns to resolve his personal crises.

It was the latter half of the 20th Century, spanning the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, when gun ownership became almost inextricably entrenched in our culture. I hasten to note that I’m not saying every American raised in those generations is individually to blame, but we shouldn’t overlook the national history of the post-World War II years when, for the first time, we kept a standing army and developed the infamous military-industrial complex, with its lifeblood drawn from the pervasive notion that more firearms (in this context, weapons of war including nuclear warheads) were necessary for national security against the Soviet Union along with its successor, Islamic terrorism.

Indeed, by the 1980s and on through the George W. Bush post-9/11 era, American patriotism — our basic love of country — was defined, right or wrong, by armed aggression toward our enemies, and our arsenal of weaponry defiantly engaged against them. Meanwhile, our national history is often timestamped based on what war was occurring at that time. (When was the last time you watched a documentary about the 20th Century that wasn’t based on a succession of American wars?)

This is the American gun culture.

Despite what 2nd Amendment absolutists have suggested as a means of distracting from the real issue of the gun culture, breaking the nightmarishly escalating wave of mass homicides, as well as accidental shootings, home-spun murders and so forth, requires considerably more than just targeting video games, mental health or television violence, it’s about breaking a lopsidedly dominant cultural attitude that aggression and weaponry are the only bulwarks standing between us and doomsday, even though it’s difficult to observe tragedies like Sandy Hook or Santa Barbara and not regard these episodes as the latest in a long line of doomsdays.

To extricate the gun culture from American society, Americans ought to engage in a tenaciously ongoing effort to, 1) pass new background check laws supported by upwards of 74 percent of NRA members, and 2) disconnect the association between power, patriotism and gun ownership.

Everything else is secondary to undermining the visceral, entitled demand for firearms. If both the supply and the overly-glorified demand for guns can be limited, we can begin to roll back the culture surrounding them. The campaign against Big Tobacco, for example, has been highly successful on both fronts: cigarettes are more difficult to purchase (advertising has dissipated and prices have skyrocketed, though not enough), and the very act of smoking has become increasingly stigmatized, with smokers banished outside to huddle like societal pariahs under awnings and in bus shelters. It’s absolutely possible to accomplish the same goals with firearms.

There isn’t any law or amendment that will solve this problem because gun violence in the United States isn’t symptomatic of one area where regulations are lax or awareness is inadequate. Besides, the NRA has proved to be a formidable match, able to overcome 90 percent support for new gun regulations in some cases, even passing relatively modest gun laws in spite of massive support appears to be a waste of time. The change has to be cultural, societal and incremental, with an eye on the longview. There can be safe gun ownership, but America can only really reach that ideal if the flag-waving cowboy swagger surrounding the use of firearms is slowly diminished to where it ought to be: a last resort tool, without all of the marble-statue, red, white & blue, pretentious trappings.

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  • http://www.gunsafetyblog.com HG Pro

    So basically the author thinks 1%ers should be allowed to keep their bodyguards and everyone else gets 911 roulette to rely on.

  • http://usrimfireshooters.wordpress.com/ RimfireShooter

    “1) pass new background check laws supported by upwards of 74 percent of NRA members,” – I support them as well. Tell you what, so long as they are free on the consumer, without hassle and record keeping of make/model/serial#, can be done via the phone, and can be done across state lines, we might be able to make that happen. Wasn’t what was offered and you killed the attempt with suggesting a ban, but maybe your side will get smarter in the future.

    Pragmatically though, we have no reason to give you even this tiny thing unless your side is willing to compromise on a host of other things. We haven’t seen that yet. You know, more than demands. Offer the following 5 things at this link as a starting point and we’ll talk.
    http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2014/05/daniel-zimmerman/p320-entry-gun-control-advocates-lets-make-deal/

  • don

    It is seriously beyond reason that you can take a brat raised in Southern California, driving a BMW his “daddy” bought him, getting all the modern psychological treatment (including drugs I am sure) he could ever want or need, and runs over people, stabs people, and shoots people after writing a 140 manifesto rationalizing the killings because he can’t actualize himself as a male and blame some redneck out in the boondocks because guns are part of the redneck culture. UTTERLY, COMPLETELY, RIDICULOUS.

    • CL Nicholson

      Actually, you can make the connection, don. We couldn’t prevent the stabbing (because he could have just as likely picked up a butcher’s knife or an box cutter), but we could definitely minimize the shooting part.

      Said Brat wouldn’t be able to go on a shooting rampage if said hillbillies weren’t burning the midnight oil coming up with new ways to stop sensible gun reform. The only thing what will stop bad guys with guns is….stop making guns so damn easy to get.

      • don

        I get where you are coming from. I really do. Its all horrific. But, focusing on the gun part prejudices us past the more critical risk factors of this and other events. Risk factors that are uncomfortable to consider for those depending on therapeutic narratives to deal with problems. This kid clearly had problems. Do you really think you could create a system to prevent him from getting anything he wanted?

        • CL Nicholson

          I think you’re missing the point – no one is saying that this kid couldn’t do harm without a firearm. However, he would have been a far less serious threat to his fellow students if he a) got serious professional help because he clearly had issues and b) couldn’t easily access a gun.

          Also, more broadly, a gun is normal life situations what a nuke is to warfare, its a best a deterrent but its usually unnecessary and dangerous.

          This kid could easily drive to Vegas Friday night, buy a gloc at a gun show and be back in Goleta before class. THAT is a serious problem. And lets not talk about the fact that Rashid and Jose in Stockton or Compton shoot off shots every night and that doesn’t make the national news. Two different issue, one single link – any idiot with gall and $100 can buy an instrument of death in America. That is the real issue.

          What’s so overbearing about a system that says “Hey, if you’ve been hospitalized for serious mental illness in the last 2-5 years, your gun license is suspended”? Or, how about “Hey, if you’re a convicted wife beater from Arkansas, you shouldn’t be able to purchase an Uzi at a gun expo in Arizona”? Or, how about, “You, average American citizen do not need a anything more than revolver or a hunting rifle to protect your family. You’re not a soldier or a cop. Now hand over that M-16.”

          Frankly, we as a nation have to ask ourselves what does it say about the world’s richest, most powerful democracy that its citizens feel the need to be armed to the teeth 24-7? That we’re so terrified to lose our weapons, we’re willing to watch innocent people die? Are we so scared of government or invading hordes of unwashed rabble that we tolerate this kind of madness? No other 1st world nation tolerates this bloodshed.

          But we do. We have the ability and need to change. We won’t and we all know why. Americans love our guns and so scared of brown people that we as a nation refuse to think about the consequences.

          • don

            I think the facts are still coming in but I think he has been under psychological care since the age of 8.

            I think your comparison of guns to nukes is not perfect but I think it a good one. Do you really think zero nukes is a realistic, or even desirable goal?

            I don’t think everybody should have unrestricted access to guns or any other types of weapons. I am just not convinced you can really do anything about them and you will end up only disarming good people and feeding the power of government in a bad way.

            BUT, I think we are getting off track here. I still think focusing on the gun and not the culture the kid has grown up in misses the point. However you cut it when someone who kills and then commits suicide are vengeful and hopeless. Is that really that hard to detect if we have our eyes open?

          • CL Nicholson

            One, we should get rid of all nukes – no questions asked. Just talk to boomers from Hiroshima. or deformed kids from Chernobyl to figure out why nuclear weapons are dangerous. Weapons that can literally kill people decades after they were first used have no place in this world.

            And no one is denying this kid has problem. The point is that easy access to weapons is the key factor as to why this lunatic’s killing spree didn’t stop at 3 people. Its the reason why Gabby Gifford will be disabled for the rest of her life and a room full of 1st graders from the Nutmeg state will never get a chance to grow up. Guns are the glaring problem – distracting with other minutia means we don’t get to the root of the problem.

  • Art__VanDalay

    Yeah. Right.

  • Roman Fernandez

    What about the Gun Culture of Myrtle Beach this weekend?

  • tomjohnson

    Remember the 18th Amendment? All of you gun fanatics had better get with the program and repudiate the madness of the NRA. The 2nd will definitely fall into the Sights.

    • BlueMoney

      Fat chance. The NRA will continue to win because it is a steadily growing, grass-roots organization of impassioned one-issue people.
      The anti-gun movement will continue to lose, because it is a top-down affair in which a few deep-pocketed nabobs (like Michael Bloomberg) occasionally galvanize support (usually after a high-profile tragedy) from basically disinterested, fickle voters whose list of priorities has gun control at position #7 or #8 (ahead of gay marriage rights, but behind pot legalization.) Support for gun control may be a mile mode, but it’s an inch deep.

      • formerlywhatithink

        “The NRA will continue to win because it is a steadily growing, grass-roots organization of impassioned one-issue people.”

        Oh for fucks sake, the NRA is about as grass roots as the tea party. Tell me this, why would the leadership of the NRA defy three quarters of it’s membership when it came to a new background check law? If the NRA was actually grass roots, i.e. driven by the desires of it’s membership as opposed to it’s corporate sponsors, they would have pushed hard for background checks.

        • http://usrimfireshooters.wordpress.com/ RimfireShooter

          The NRA likely read the bill and recognized the title didn’t match the substance. We pay them for that. I’ve read this so-called compromise, and it was a joke.

          1. Make me a felon for driving across a state line with a firearm?
          2. Make me take time off from work, drive an hour to the closest FFL for a background check when a simple free phone call does the same thing in my state?
          3. Expect the ATF to arrest and monitor themselves when they break the law? Please.

          And more here
          http://www.volokh.com/2013/04/15/the-pro-gun-provisions-of-manchin-toomey-are-actually-a-bonanza-of-gun-control/

          For fucks sake, if you’re going to write a bill and want support, don’t write it in such as way to make yourself look like a total douche bag. Especially when you have no political power to force the legislation through the Senate, let alone the House.

        • BlueMoney

          Keep thinking that way… keep refusing to KNOW YOUR ENEMY (i.e., America’s gun owners) and just as Sun Tzu warned over 2000 years ago, you will continue to lose, and lose, and LOSE every battle against therm.
          Which suits me just fine!

  • Jason E

    Where is the American religious community when we need them? Are they sitting on thrones made of cash praying on the matter?

    • Neddy Merrill

      There is no religious community in the sense of it speaking with one
      voice on any issue. Religious folk are as fragmented on guns as they
      are on other issues. The religious community can’t agree on much of
      anything, and FSM save us if they did.

      • Jason E

        They agree that a throne built of cash is comfy. Who would Jesus shot and why? That is a tough one!

    • TruDat

      Libs hate religion. Why would they help you with anything?

      • Jason E

        Again quite dickish!

        • Jason E

          Ps. I don’t hate religion, I don’t like it being forced on me, but I respect others freedom to believe. I simply wish their pro life beliefs included gun control and the death penalty.

          • http://usrimfireshooters.wordpress.com/ RimfireShooter

            Gun control isn’t a pro-life position. At best, its wishful thinking. At worst, it gets people killed.

            Most religions distinguish between killing and murder. Murder is clearly wrong but not so with killing

          • Jason E

            Thou shall kill? I think you’re twisting religion to meet your needs. Don’t worry many do.

          • http://usrimfireshooters.wordpress.com/ RimfireShooter

            I’m non religious. Our laws regarding self-defense are also an extension of the same Judeo-Christian moral code. Its pretty clear that there’s a moral difference between killing someone and murder.

            No twisting at all. The difference was always clear until we started to dumb down society

          • Jason E

            Society isn’t dumber, it’s just that some of us are living in a fantasy world. I hope you never have to kill anyone! I hear it’s not as satisfying as portrayed.

          • http://usrimfireshooters.wordpress.com/ RimfireShooter

            I’m sure from your perspective society isn’t dumber. This might help you further on the distinction between Thou shall not Murder and Thou shall not Kill. Took me 2 seconds to Google.
            http://www.gotquestions.org/you-shall-not-murder.html

          • Jason E

            At what point in human history were people smarter?

      • Badgerite

        Simple humanity, I guess. Or would that be giving some religious leaders too much credit?

    • formerlywhatithink

      They’re too busy pretending that they’re being oppressed, suing the government over contraceptive coverage (which they used to provide before Obamacare…hmmmm, wonder what’s different now?), protesting in front of abortion clinics and fighting against gay marriage. With a schedule like that, how could they possibly have time to do or say something as trivial as gun violence? It would cut into their into the time spent in victimhood status.

      • Jason E

        Besides their congregations might contain people who are gun “enthusiast”. And that cuts into the bottom line. I read recently that Joel Olsteens sp? mega church was robbed of $600,000 they had in a safe (apparently a couple days worth of collections). I bet Joel wishes he’d had a chance to mow down the vile motherfucker who did that. Or turn the other cheek? What evs

  • Da Dorq

    I’ve seen NRA stickers that read: Guns Save Lives. I’ve also seen stickers and other NRA merchandise that says: Guns Don’t Kill People, People Do. So, the “logic” of the gun nut is that guns can only save lives, never take them–taking lives being the sole domain of the human being, apparently. Well, I hate to tell you, but it’s one or the other, you can’t have it both ways. Sorry. Try again.

  • Victor_the_Crab

    If Sandy Hook wasn’t a game changer, then I’m not really sure what will.

    • That River Gal

      Agreed. Every decent parent and person who loved a child wept for a near solid 24 hours plus after Sandy Hook. We did NOTHING. NOTHING. I do not want to even know what it will take to change things. I do not wish that on any of us. Not ever.

      • JozefAL

        The problem was that the scaredy-cat politicians were too fucking afraid to deal with the issue “when feelings were so raw and so heated.” No, they had to wait till “the people calmed down and could be rational.”

        By that time, of course, it was too late. The gun lobby had time to organize and rally their troops to terrorize Congressmen to keep any serious action from being taken.

        Next time: NO MORE WAITING. Force Congress to take IMMEDIATE action on the issue. Maybe it’s time for the IRS to review the NRA’s tax status (and maybe call an audit of their tax records–just to make sure they’re following the letter and spirit of the law).

      • TruDat

        They should make a law against murder; that’ll stop ‘em.

        • Badgerite

          Or a law requiring that every citizen be packing heat. That should absolutely bring down gun violence.