There’s an Onion article that makes the rounds on social media every time another mass shooting reaches the headlines. The title reads, “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” and goes on to discuss the absurd and uniquely American unresponsiveness to this uniquely American issue.
However, our gun culture is far past absurdism, and has actually transgressed into a death cult. When thirty thousand people are killed by guns every year in this country, and mass shootings occur more than once per day, many react not with calls for gun control, nor even with abhorrence of the weapons, but instead with a demand for more guns.
They condemn the violence, but simultaneously glorify it. The gun itself is made an object of worship. It is idolized, even sanctified. Guns are more than mere objects – they have rights in this country.
But guns must not be presented stripped of the violent context of their existence. They are weapons, designed to maim and to kill. When we worship guns, we worship violence. If guns are integral to Americana, then so too are mass shootings.
American gun culture is harmful in too many ways. At the most basic level, it results in widespread gun proliferation, which means terrorists can easily get their hands on weapons that could not possibly have a legal use – no one hunts with AK-47s. In a case of acute irony, NRA-funded GOP Representative Tony Dale argued against the admission of Syrian refugees to the United States because it’s too easy for them to buy guns.
As well, even our non-political crime is more violent because of widespread access to guns. According to the Human Development Index, in 2012 we had almost four times as many homicides by firearm per 1 million people than the next highest “advanced country.” Of course, that next highest country was Switzerland, which is also famous for its lax gun laws.
This culture of violent crime is then racialized in the context of the War on Drugs and gang violence, which is a leading cause of the killing of unarmed people of color by police. In a country with less guns, and thus a smaller likelihood of a suspect being armed, officers would not feel as much of a need to use lethal force. Police violence stemming from systemic and internalized racism would continue to be leveled against communities of color, but would be much less fatal.
In fact, in many countries, regular law enforcement officers aren’t actually armed. These include developed countries such as Britain, New Zealand, Ireland, Japan, Norway, and Iceland, where murder rates are – from an American perspective – startlingly low.
According to the Washington Post, about 75% of Irish police officers aren’t even trained with firearms. In New Zealand, “Only a dozen or so senior police officers nationwide are rostered to wear a handgun on any given shift.” Meanwhile, American police officers are all trained with firearms, and most are taught to shoot for the center mass, “where there is a higher concentration of vital areas and major blood vessels,” in order to debilitate or kill a suspect.
Gun culture is responsible for our overly-violent police forces, who could otherwise resemble the peaceful and unarmed law enforcement of other countries. And yet, so-called gun’s rights advocates continue to justify it, and the proliferation of guns that it represents.
One of the most common arguments in favor of guns – and against gun control – is that a gun-owning citizen can actually stop a mass shooting. The other article that trends on social media following each mass shooting is a list of “12 Times Mass Shootings Were Stopped by Good Guys With Guns.” The counter to this is, of course, to point to the 353 mass shootings committed bad guys with guns this year alone.
Then, gun advocates move onto a completely contradictory set of arguments. Firearms, they say, should be used to aid the military and police in the fight against crime and “Islamic terrorism” – to stop mass shootings, but also to combat all sorts of petty and felonious crimes. Simultaneously, however, guns are meant to be used against the military and police in the (supposedly quite likely) event of the imposition of martial law.
This was especially visible with the paranoia and conspiracy theories surrounding Operation Jade Helm this summer. In fact, three men planned to attack US soldiers during the operation, wielding an arsenal of more than thirty legally-purchased guns. The use of guns in assistance with and opposition to government forces is fundamentally contradictory.
The harms of gun culture are clear, negating any flimsy justifications for its existence. And yet, this culture is legally enshrined and protected. Various NRA-backed laws prohibit the CDC from researching gun violence; permit the open and concealed carrying of firearms in public; allow people to buy guns online and at gun shows without undergoing background checks; and let stalkers, domestic abusers, and known terrorists purchase guns without restriction.
The NRA represents a major roadblock in the campaign for gun safety. Spending more than $3.3 million in lobbying and $28.2 million in outside expenditures last election cycle, the NRA represents the erosion of American democracy – the very thing it says guns help to protect. It spends millions of dollars to promote guns and gun culture in a sickening glorification of slaughter and death.
Because of the NRA – and more broadly, American gun culture – we live in a country where four or more people are shot by a single assailant each day. That number is rising each year as well – we’ve already had more mass shootings at this point in 2015 than in all of 2014. This senselessly violent domestic death cult is growing. We must push back against it, demanding comprehensive gun reform, safer guns, and ultimately an end to gun violence.