Written by Caleb Foster
Edited by Anna Lumbroso
When I learned about Sunday’s tragic events, I wasn’t sure how to react. The automatic response one should have is sadness, but I just felt numb. This kind of thing happens so often that I could mentally trace the steps of the public conversation that would follow with near-perfect accuracy, even in the early hours of Monday morning, with sleep still clouding my eyes and the radio blaring in my ears, telling the story of how almost 60 people died in excruciating detail. There would be the usual denunciations of acts of senseless violence by the same people who always did that kind of thing. Some people would call for increased gun control, while others would accuse those rallying for a crack-down on gun control of politicising a tragedy, as if trying to stop that tragedy from happening again is somehow unreasonable. Still others would talk about how “this is really about mental health issues”, a topic they’d ignored or avoided since the last mass shooting, when, as always, they had trotted it out to protect their friends in the gun lobby. Perhaps Facebook would get around to adding a filter people could put on their profile picture to show solidarity with those affected. Then, after an ever-shrinking period of mourning, the frenetic 24-hour news cycle would move on, along with everyone else, with no change whatsoever being made to any system that might prevent this.
In the midst of all this insanity, the fact that pro-gun advocates, after every shooting, simply throw up their hands and declare that it was unavoidable is staggering. It would be one thing if they were proposing a solution that I disagreed with, but the total refusal of a large body of American lawmakers to do anything is stunning. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that vast swathes of the American population seems content to allow 30 000 of their countrymen to die from firearm-related incidents each year. This is not to say all Americans are this bullheaded. In fact, a bare majority support stricter gun control laws, but the fact that almost 50% do not is shameful (like most controversial issues, attitudes towards gun control are broken down across starkly partisan lines). This antipathy towards even the simplest forms of gun legislation probably stems from that great mother of all illogical behaviour: tradition. Americans have always had a close relationship with guns, whether it was on the wild frontier, where firearms where a crucial survival tool, or in the mythologized old west presented by early cinema and novels, where the gun was a great equalizer, a tool that could make even the smallest of men big in a lawless land. The gun became interwoven in the country’s culture, a fact that is more obvious than ever in the 21st century.
For the 40% of Americans who either own them or have one in their home, guns are simply another part of the house, like a second or third couch, if your couch had a tendency to kill your kids. This familiarity with guns combines with the cultural aspect to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. America has a gun-happy culture, so people buy guns and become familiar with them, further saturating the culture with gun obsession, and so it goes. Seeing guns as essential to their culture means many Americans have trouble imagining what an America without guns would look like, in the same way that banning apple pie would change the way people live their lives in a subtle, but noticeable way. Perhaps more important than cultural issues is the fear of other people. With a sensationalistic news media constantly shoving new, scary footage into the faces of their viewers, it’s no wonder that Americans are more afraid of their neighbours than ever before. The percentage of gun owners who cite “protection” as their reason for owning a firearm has doubled to 48% since 1999, when hunting was considered the primary reason for gun ownership. Fear is a powerful motivator, and gun owners who believe they are doing what is necessary to keep their families safe are hard to convince.
Unfortunately, it seems like guns are doomed to remain a divisive issue in the American political landscape. The key issues that cause our neighbours to the south to fiercely defend their ability to buy firearms do not seem likely to disappear any time soon, and mass shootings do little, if anything, to move public opinion. For now at least, it seem like mass shootings will continue to be a regular occurrence, with the same people saying the same things each time, and at the end of the day, more people dying and nothing changing.