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Bill Moyers hosted an insightful discussion on the cultural roots of gun violence in American.
MORE THAN a year after the shocking schoolhouse shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, little has changed in the picture of gun violence in the US.
Some attempts have been made at stricter gun control laws on a state-by-state basis, but the national conversation and staggering numbers of deaths – including those of children – remains largely unchanged.
An insightful analysis of why so little has happened despite the Newtown shootings was offered over the weekend by a noted cultural historian and author who has spent his life studying the issue.
It appears that violence – especially the use of guns – is so deeply embedded in the American psyche it will be almost impossible to dislodge. The tragedies will continue.
THIS ALARMING insight was provided by Richard Slotkin, Olin Professor Emeritus of English and American Studies at Wesleyan University in a Dec. 13 segment on the show Moyers & Company titled Richard Slotkin on Guns and Violence.
The web site where you can find the Bill Moyers interview with Richard Slotkin. Click image to enlarge.
In the program notes, we learn that “Slotkin has spent his life studying and writing about the violence that has swirled through American history and taken root deep in our culture.
“In his works of history and fiction, Slotkin tracks how everything from literature, movies and television to society and politics has been influenced by this violent past including the gun culture that continues to dominate, wound and kill.”
According to Slotkin, the acceptance of guns as a means to resolve disputes began even before the country’s founding with the frontier wars waged to conquer the vast territory of North America.
The gunslinger cowboy remains an American icon.
It continues in the present with gun-toting heroes depicted in movies, television and especially video games.
The gunman in Newtown, Adam Lanza, behaved as if he was following a script from a video game, Slotkin explains.
“[P]eople will model their behavior on examples that they consider to be heroic,” Slotkin said.
“And what Lanza did was really to indoctrinate himself and train himself in a way analogous to the way we now use videogames to train the military.”
Lanza and many others take their cues from the games (or television and movie heroes) which validate their actions in various ways. “You triumph within a narrative, or you simply score points and build up a score,” Slotkin explains.
“You internalize a model of heroic behavior from the media that purvey the myths that shape your society.”
On the societal level, Slotkin says, there are those who believe they have a constitutional right to violently resist the government under the Second Amendment.
“That’s dangerous stupidity and nonsense,” he says.
“The thing that’s different, that’s exceptional about American gun culture, so called, is the license that we grant for the private use of deadly force. Other countries have similar levels of guns in the home – and the guns are kept at home.”
Among the other countries where private ownership of guns is also allowed is Australia, which also experienced a mass shooting tragedy that claimed the lives of children and adults.
The article in The Guardian by Rebecca Peters on gun control in Australia.
Writing in The Guardian in the UK on Dec. 14 in the article When will the US learn from Australia? Stricter gun control laws save lives Rebecca Peters says:
“Our tragedy occurred in 1996 at the Port Arthur historic site in Tasmania, one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations. The dead numbered 35, with more than 20 others injured. The victims ranged in age from 3 to 72.”
But the reaction in Australia was markedly different from that in the US after Newtown.
“The tragedy ignited an explosion of public outrage, soul-searching and demands for better regulation of guns,” Peters writes. “We changed our laws. As a result, gun deaths in Australia have dropped by two-thirds, and we have never had another mass shooting.”
Peters led the campaign to reform Australia’s gun laws, and was Director of the International Action Network on Small Arms.
It is notable that there is no Second Amendment movement in Australia, nor the long history – and cultural approval of – gun violence.
“The 1996 reforms made gun laws stronger and uniform across Australia,” Peters writes.
Since the tragedy, gun ownership requires a license, and every sale is subject to a 28-day waiting period.
“Australia didn’t ban guns. Hunting and shooting are still thriving. But by adopting laws that give priority to public safety, we have saved thousands of lives,” Peters writes.
So it seems that a rational public response after a tragic incident of gun violence can make a difference.
It is a national embarrassment that so little of real consequence has changed in the US since the Newtown massacre.
The stranglehold that the gun lobby has on the federal government is a manifestation of deeper ills in our society. But the culture of gun violence is as much at fault; videogames like Grand Theft Auto make the perpetrators into heroes, and reward violent resolution of conflicts.
It is little wonder so many Americans feel it is acceptable to draw a gun at the slightest provocation, and settle even minor disputes this way. The end result is carnage on an enormous scale. The real tragedy is that much of it could be prevented.
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