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The people can change our gun culture


On Tuesday morning, October 3, the second day after the massacre in Las Vegas, media reported this and that as it does every day.  One piece of information, nevertheless, stood out for me. It was among “story stocks” where the U.S. company, Sturm Ruger, a firearms maker, saw its shares trading higher with investors pondering whether the violence in Las Vegas will lead to greater gun sales. This news about profit-making among firearm makers is sadly repeated time and again after every mass shooting in America and subsequent to the foreboding University of Texas tower shooting in August 1966.

One can interpret this news however he likes; yet, to me, it notifies that more and more of my fellow Americans are getting armed. And that, statistically speaking, means more and more among us, including the mentally ill, those seeking to settle a score, the very-angry-about-something-crowd, will commit an act of violence with use of a firearm.  The bottom line is that this violence problem is not shared to the same degree around the world in democracies like ours.

It is an old and tired story that reminds us that our legislators, in state capitals and Washington, D.C., are too often financially and ideologically beholden to the National Rifle Association (NRA),  Gun Owners of America, firearms makers, gun clubs and their personal interpretation of the Second Amendment cannot put their heads, hearts and, most importantly, the gray matter they possess, to action sufficient to bring this matter of excessive firearms-use-violence under control. Simple adjustments even, like personalizing technology such as fingerprint recognition, could make a big difference.

An experimental psychologist, Steven Pinker of Harvard, argues that people alive today are actually living with less violence than in former times. He sees a world, as we all do, with brutal wars, mindless killings, terrorism and even genocide yet Pinker stands by his position as one who believes we actually appreciate improvement nowadays.  One case study to support his contention was World War II, from September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945, that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 60 million people.  Meanwhile, events such as the one in Las Vegas could persuade a modern day observer to contend another point of view.

Analysis by Pinker sees motives in the human brain that attract us to violence as well as those motives that inhibit us from violence.  He labels the former motives as inner demons, referring to pure predation or exploitation, drive for dominance, revenge and sadism.  The other side of this paradox he calls the better angels or those motives that pull us away from violence, providing with empathy, self-control, fairness, reason, and rationality.  In our lives, then, it depends on which motives have the upper hand: those inner demons or better angels which govern our decisions and consequent actions.

Why is violence so high in the U.S.?  America was a land of lawlessness for much of the years before the 20th century what with the Revolutionary War, the Indian wars, the conflicts with other nations vying to control North America and the state of anarchy that prevailed just before and for long after the Civil War.  Ordinary Americans often could not count on any government to protect them—such as when the nearest sheriff was 200 miles away—provide an insight to those former times.  Without laws being enforced, Americans made up their own “laws” and decided what constituted justice.  Deciding for oneself what’s right and wrong determines the wild ways a whole lot of Americans behave to this day and  a major reason why we have so many lawless events.

Other democracies, such as Australia and New Zealand, with frontiers to settle not entirely unlike our own, have come together with a common interest to establish and maintain a civilized society.  We could and should do the same but have failed deplorably to date in not doing so. The most obscene and disgusting of violent acts, such as that at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., did not bring reform any more than the more than the 30,000 Americans every year who lose their lives to firearms along with day-in-day-out at least 30 Americans being shot and murdered.

Are we helpless? Have we not proven our mettle so many times in our history and thereby rise to wrestle this issue to a successful win should we set our minds to it. Most American-based surveys show that a clear majority of us want controls on firearms with those controls enforced; so, what’s stopping us from stepping up in a ground swell to demand a safer America where every American no longer wonders whether he will be the next to be shot.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)