A friend sent me an interesting article that got me thinking: The case for requiring gun licenses. As I read the article, the first things that came to mind were data sets I had seen related to guns in America.
According to Gallop (2020), 32% of Americans personally own guns and 44% of Americans live in gun households, which amounts to approximately 146,500,000 people. It is estimated that those Americans have direct access to over 393,000,000 guns; however, only 7,511,303 or 1.9% of those guns are registered. Said another way, 98.1% of all guns in private hands are NOT registered. Click this link for a table listing gun registrations by state.
The discrepancy between the number of guns and the number of registered guns highlights the futility of looking toward processes like licensing—despite the relevant logic of having such a process in place that is analogous to other government-ordained licensing requirements (think: driving a car, being an electrician, a hairdresser, or practicing medicine)—because licensing the millions of currently unlicensed owners of 393,000,000 guns is beyond unwieldy.
In other words, licensing as a strategy to address American Gun Carnage is a ship that sailed long, long ago.
Even though they would be unlikely to have a significant impact, laws that require the licensing of gun owners do give politicians an opportunity to erroneously appear to care about the ludicrous number of gun deaths in our country.
40% of Americans do rate gun violence as a top campaign issue, but in 2022, We the People care more about the price of gas than we do about mass shootings, suicides, war zones in cities, or a decades-long and murderous assault on wives and girlfriends by pissed off, toxic males.
If you need proof that collectively We The People do not care enough to stop the carnage, all one needs to do is look at the fact that We the People haven’t stopped the carnage. Hell, we haven’t even slowed it down.
If We the People are as morally outraged about gun violence as some seemed to be in 1999 after Columbine, we would have ascertained the root causes of American Gun Carnage. And then we would have done whatever needed to be done to end the carnage. In 1999, there was already a model for We the People to follow: Australia’s 1996 National Firearms Agreement (NFA).
The NFA was an agreement concerning firearm control that had been made in response to the Port Arthur Massacre , which had killed 35 people. Four days after the massacre, the Australian Prime Minister told Parliament “We need to achieve a total prohibition on the ownership, possession, sale and importation of all automatic and semi-automatic weapons.” The laws to give effect to the NFA were passed by Australian State governments only 12 days after the Port Arthur massacre. Click on this link for more detailed info about the NFA: The Effects of the 1996 National Firearms Agreement in Australia on Suicide, Homicide, and Mass Shootings
Unfortunately, nothing of lasting significance was accomplished by We the People after Columbine, unless you count the burgeoning power of the NRA. Since Columbine, the only Americans who have attempted to tangibly respond to the horror of murdered innocents are the families and community members who have lost friends and loved ones. A probable majority of Americans celebrate the rare victories of those loved ones (e.g. Sandy Hook Parents v. Alex Jones), but celebrating does nothing to stop the carnage.
We the People are proving incapable of channeling the moral outrage needed to end the carnage because, frankly, mainstream America contains a critical mass of tens of millions of angry, immoral, desensitized, unempathetic, and egocentric individuals who have, thus far, managed to distance the carnage from what is happening in their own self-centered lives.
That distancing has been reinforced endlessly by politicians of all stripes who utter what are now expected responses to mass killings by guns: 1) they distance us from personal responsibility by proclaiming that mass killings do not reflect who “we” are, 2) they ask us to pray for victims and their families, and 3) they declare killers would not kill if only we could identify them and get them therapeutic help …
None of these proclamations, repeated over and over again, have diminished the carnage, nor have they expunged the deserved guilt of every American who has not made a concerted effort to bring about the legislative actions necessary to end the carnage. I am ashamed to acknowledge that beyond the occasional rant in this blog or a targeted response to a Tweet, I am one of those guilty Americans.
If my non-scientific sample of one is correct, why is there a critical mass of Americans who are “angry, immoral, desensitized, unempathetic, and egocentric?” Have we always been this way? Perhaps it is a manifestation of our biology, the manifestation of our belonging to a species of killer apes.
Or perhaps, given our biology, we have been poisoned by the toxic stew that America’s killing culture has created from these ingredients:
- ready availability of guns of war
- social media outlets devoted to hatred, and those like Facebook and Twitter that keep the stew of hatred simmering
- national media outlets in pursuit of ratings that shout out the commentary and news of confrontation and hatred 24/7
- the wide gap between many folks’ economic expectations for themselves and their actual achievements, which is exacerbated by media’s celebration of the wealthy and powerful
- over one-hundred years of the portrayal in visual media of thousands of gratuitous and graphic examples of gun carnage, which desensitize to one degree or another all viewers (including you and me) to the killing of humans
- video games that allow an otherwise impotent person to aggressively and realistically kill humans—deliberately portrayed as dangerous, evil “others”—virtual killers motivated by wanting to better a previous score, and more insidiously, by the emotional reward of feeling a delusional sense of power
- vicious politicians who, every day, publicly bully opponents and create and blame scapegoats for societal ills, which encourages many Americans to overtly express hatred toward those persons they see as the “other”
- pervasive worship of and acclaim for both the bravery and killing power of actual American warriors
We worship our warriors, brave men and women who sacrifice much in order to do their duty, but our worship endorses and encourages the brutal killing of hundreds of thousands of humans whose freedom to live has been eradicated in the name of Freedom*
While the points on the above list may have a bearing on gun deaths, I must defer to the conclusions of a NYT Article: Why Does the U.S. Have So Many Mass Shootings? Research Is Clear: Guns.
While many of us do try to avoid consuming the stew, we cannot because America’s intolerant, violent, and hate-infused culture is pervasive. After 75 years, I am beginning to accept that the love I have held in my heart for my country all of my life is being laid flat. John Winthrop prophesied: “We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”
Winthrop’s prophesy has been proven correct, but what the world sees is not a paragon society that follows the tenets of Christian Virtue, which is what Winthrop envisioned; rather, the eyes of all people of the world can clearly see that We the People live in a murderous, rapacious city upon a hill comprised of citizens who do not have the collective inclination or will to stop what is our uniquely American Carnage.
For some thousands of years, prophets have been attempting to instill social norms that would demand that—dare I say it—love would guide our collective behavior and lead us away from the world of fang and claw.
When those norms are nonexistent or nearly so—as they can be, for example, when humans are submerged in abject poverty and/or live in a culture that desensitizes humans to killing—individuals may figuratively return to the grasslands in which we evolved, where survival of the species was dependent upon the forming of aggressive gangs, which distrusted “the other” and used a superior intelligence to design and use ever escalating strategies and weaponry against rival gangs, or anything else that threatened the clan.
The strategies identified in the article that was cited at the beginning of this post (plus real gun control) may have a bit of an impact upon American Carnage, but nothing is likely to happen until America becomes a national community that is held together by norms based upon love, tolerance, and understanding.
Given that such communities have been the unfulfilled dreams of prophets, it seems that We the People have a very, very long and tough row to hoe.
* I fully understand the concept that “we have to kill them; otherwise they’ll kill us,” the concept that is the basis for what constitutes and drives warfare, and the concept that demands courage and sacrifice that those who have never experienced battle can even begin to imagine. See Steinbeck on the Nature of a Soldier. The point that I am endeavoring to make is that our American Culture glorifies and thereby justifies a category of killing, and in doing so, the value of the lives of “the other” are diminished. This, I suggest, contributes to the poisonous stew that desensitizes most of us but fuels the motivations of sociopaths, the tiny but lethal sliver of Americans who are driven to kill innocents, the sliver of Americans who are the ultimate agents of American Carnage.
** In the composite image, the image on the left is from Smithsonian Magazine and is a photo of a reconstruction of an Australopithecus africanus by © P.Plaily/E.DyP.Plailly/E.Daynès, which is based upon fossil parts that are between 2.1 and 2.7 million years old. The image of Vladimir Putin on the right is from a copyright-free image from pngimg.com.