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Guns and Glory: The Ongoing Culture War
Seven people were killed and dozens were injured in a fourth of July parade mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois. The shooting is another devastating case of gun violence the U.S has faced in recent months following other high-profile shootings in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX. The latest incident comes just over a week after President Joe Biden signed into law a bipartisan gun reform bill that would expand background checks on those under the age of 21 seeking to purchase a firearm and increase funding for mental health resources in schools around the country, among other things. Both shooters in Buffalo and Uvalde were 18 years old. However, the shooter of the 4th of July parade, Robert Crimo III, was 22 years old and would not have qualified for increased background checks under the new bill. This begs the question of whether or not guns are the inherent cause of violence in today’s America. Are guns the issue or is it a culture that propagates this type of violence?
The Hill published an article in June comparing states that have strong and weak gun laws. Two organizations that compare the strengths of state gun laws are Giffords and Everytown, both of which were cited in the article and both of which provide rankings of all 50 states. Giffords and Everytown have ranked states such as Idaho and Wyoming as having some of the loosest, and therefore labeled “worst” gun laws in the country. Everytown reported that Wyoming, for example, has the third-highest rate of gun deaths in the country. But this isn’t the whole picture. Let’s break it down. The EFSGV, or The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, provides a breakdown of gun deaths between those that are from homicide and those that are from suicide. The majority of gun deaths in most states are due to suicide, not homicide. In fact, some states that had strong gun laws, such as California, Illinois, and New Jersey had higher rates of homicide gun deaths (42%, 58%, and 52%, respectively) than did states that had looser gun laws, such as Idaho, Kansas, or Wyoming (7%, 25%, 12%, respectively). The latter three states mentioned have been rated as some of the worst in the country in regard to gun laws. Some other states that had stricter laws, such as Hawaii, experienced the opposite trend with a majority of their gun deaths coming from suicide (66%). Mississippi has looser gun laws, yet experienced more gun deaths by homicide than suicide (52%). There may be a mental health problem in this country (with suicide being a result) more than anything else. In short, whether most gun deaths were by homicide or suicide depended on the state. Contrary to what any political actor has said, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ argument to explain gun violence.
It is no piece of fiction to know that schools seventy years ago had firearms familiarization. It is also argued that there is more gun control in this country now than at any time in American history. Yet, there are more and more mass shootings now with stricter laws. The argument here is that there has developed a culture that glorifies violence or at least has become less effective when dealing with violence, and we have had a poor time combating that negative culture change. How so? Try being a political candidate running for office and saying that the reason why there’s an increase in mass shootings is because of a culture change. Most people wouldn’t like that answer. Why? Because how do you address a culture change? How do you fight that? It takes years to change an aspect of a culture and people want answers now, not in generations. What policy would an elected official implement? How do you get states to comply? And most importantly, how would you persuade people? It’s going to be an unpopular answer that would provide fierce pushback from many fronts. In reality, however, a culture shift is what has happened.
In the past year, gun violence has increased in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago - cities in states with strict gun laws. Most of the neighborhoods where crimes are committed are in areas with low-income households, high unemployment, and higher percentages of children being raised by one parent. In regards to the last characteristic, there are not many sources, if any, that I have found that show how many gun offenders have only one parent at home. It is no shock that those who grow up in environments without much parental guidance tend to be less successful than those that do. Additional stressors, like high unemployment, don’t help the issue either. These are issues that need to be looked into further.
Second, there is a problem with men and their mental health. The vast majority of mass shooters have been men. The majority of gun violence as a whole is perpetrated by men. Men, who oftentimes have been stressed in one way or another, have a psychological issue that was not dealt with properly or feel loneliness in the world may lash out and commit violence against others resulting in what we see today. Eric Madfis, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Washington at Tacoma said “We teach boys and men that the only socially acceptable emotion to have is not to be vulnerable and sensitive, but to be tough and macho and aggressive.” This isn’t a far-fetched idea. Men around the world have experienced similar things. James Lambert, a former English unlicensed boxer, said in a VICE News interview that violent young men in the UK’s underground fighting scene don’t discuss their emotions openly. “It’s never spoken about, certainly in that world where emotion is majorly and very directly equated with weakness.” Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters of Columbine High School, had mentioned that they were angry at society and felt they were not accepted by anyone. Even if there is no psychiatric disorder, the FBI’s report on pre-attack behaviors of shooters states that the majority of mass shooters between the years 2000 and 2013 experienced some type of stressor, which include things like “depression, anxiety, paranoia” or another type of stress.
Overall, the statistics do not point to guns as the reasons for mass shootings. It is easier to blame weapons for issues and for laws to deal with them. One problem I’ve come to see is that even in places with strict gun laws, criminals can still get their firearms from illegal sources. In a 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, 43% of prisoners who used a gun during their offense got it from the black market. Only around 10% got it from a store. Mainstream media and politicians have had a hard time mentioning how they will deal with a black market that can give criminals weapons while making it more difficult to get a weapon for self-defense. The conversations need to revolve around the culture of violence and investigate the main perpetrators of gun violence. The American people need to figure out how we address problems rooted in culture. If we don’t, shootings will continue to occur at heightened rates.
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