Every time a mass shooting occurs in the US, it blasts holes in the pro-gun argument, says Taylor Glenn. So why does nothing ever change?
I remember sitting around with a group of friends at someone’s house one afternoon when I was at high school. His parents weren’t home, and we were drinking a little, sharing cigarettes, talking about stupid stuff. It was the typical picture of American, pre-internet, white suburban adolescent rebellion.
Then our host offered to show us some of his father’s guns. We knew all about them, as he worked at a shooting range and liked to talk about guns a lot. Suddenly, there it was: an AK-47, the notorious assault rifle, thrust into my hands.
I felt a burning knot in my stomach, which was a mix of disgust, fear, and awe – the gun was so heavy, very compact, and I remember being afraid to even handle it lest it accidentally fire, even though my friend assured me with a grin it wasn’t loaded.
Would I like to see the Glock as well, he asked politely. No thanks, I said, handing the assault rifle back and pretending none of it fazed me. He said if anyone ever tried to mess with his father, he was ready.
To this day, it chills me to think what easy, immediate access we – a bunch of drinking, silly, emotional teenagers – had to such deadly weapons.
Three years or so later, the Columbine massacre happened. By then I was starting to learn a little bit more about American culture. The truth about it, I mean. About our complicated history, and the inequalities between races, cultures, and subcultures, and our love of capitalism and freedom and deep fear of socialism and governmental control. Our patchy, inadequate treatment of mental illness and sense that healthcare is a privilege and not a right. Struggles in rural versus urban America, and in agricultural v industrial. The dark underbelly of the American dream, laid out carefully and safely within the confines of the university setting.
“Every time a mass shooting occurs, I see the sad, grim facts making the rounds – how more toddlers have fired guns than terrorists in the US, or how we own more guns per capita than any other developed nation many times over and we absolutely soar ahead when it comes to mass shootings.”
I ended up at one of the more liberal universities in the US, a place where I first started to learn about gun control laws and the dangerous love affair between Americans and their guns, especially post-Columbine.
Even then, I can recall that one of my public policy professors, a left-wing ‘radical’ who had supported the Black Panthers and marched at every social justice rally you can think of, was pro-gun – albeit for very different reasons than my old high school friend.
This was the heyday of ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ and there was quite a pressure to believe that little saying. Don’t focus on the weapon, focus on the real problem. Which is – well, bear with us while we work that out, it’s complicated, of course. Meanwhile, enjoy your guns.
Every time a mass shooting occurs in the United States – and as we all know, it happens extraordinarily, heart-breakingly often – the same questions get asked. What was the profile of the perpetrator? What was the motive? Was there mental illness involved? What was the criminal history? Was the family aware of any problems? And then – tentatively – we wait for the answer to the whispered question: how were the guns obtained?
For years, it feels as though many Americans have been spoon-fed myths about gun ownership. Everything from how ‘different’ we are compared to other nations which have stricter gun laws and lower rates of gun crime (so there’s no way to compare or look into radical gun policy change, like Australia for instance), to the idea that most gun crimes are committed with stolen or illegal guns (true on a general scale, not true for mass shootings, but oh, so complicated, that we may as well just throw up our hands in defeat, or better yet, go out and buy more guns to protect ourselves from all those illegal guns in circulation).
Every time a mass shooting occurs, I also see the sad, grim facts making the rounds – how more toddlers have fired guns (sometimes fatally) than terrorists in the US, or how we own more guns per capita than any other developed nation many times over and we absolutely soar ahead when it comes to mass shootings. Mass shootings of all kinds: from urban gang violence, to school shootings, to this most recent tragedy in Orlando.
There are now (important) discussions happening around homophobia, hate crimes, religion, and possible terrorism links. It’s a tragedy so fresh that it is still being investigated, so fresh its victims’ families and friends are in the very earliest stages of shock and indescribable grief.
“Argue with a pro-gun American and you will find that they are fervent in their belief that gun ownership is a right, and a way of life which should be afforded to any law-abiding citizen. Ask them what they mean by law-abiding and they’ll say something like ‘just that.’ ”
Not so fresh, of course, that a certain presidential candidate felt he couldn’t go ahead and smugly brag he was “right” about banning certain groups from the US because they are “pouring in and we don’t know what we’re doing.”
Except, besides being a hugely tactless, psychopathic dick for tweeting that in the wake of such an incident, Trump has also failed to address two inconvenient facts: one, the perpetrator was an American citizen. And two, the guns – as is so often the case in these awful instances of US mass public shootings – were obtained legally, even though he had been known to the FBI and had a history of violence.
The narrative about the ‘dangerous outsider’ doesn’t really hold water when your citizens are killing each other on such a scale, with weapons to which they have easier access than a packet of birth control pills.
Look into the recent research around the psychology of gun ownership and you’ll uncover a treasure trove of facts which may or may not surprise you, depending on which perspective you hold: gun owners tend to be paranoid, insecure, impulsive, and angry; they tend to be part of a social culture of gun ownership; those with racist views tend to oppose gun control laws; men who carry guns tend to suffer from a ‘crisis of confidence’, and risk-taking students are more likely to carry guns at school. High-five this most revered of clubs.
Argue with a pro-gun American – and I have, many, many times over – and you will find that they are fervent in their belief that gun ownership is a right, and a way of life which should be afforded to any law-abiding citizen. Ask them what they mean by law-abiding and they’ll say something like “just that.”
But then ask what the problem is with stricter gun laws and background checks and waiting periods and you’ll be met with a barrage of passionate research which claims to show these background checks don’t work, or are already in place, or aren’t ‘constitutional’. The paranoia, and perception of possible imminent threat, is palpable in a pro-gun person.
They’ll tell you about the cities (always Chicago) with high rates of gun crime but strict gun laws and this proves gun laws don’t work. You’ll ask if maybe there are different factors at play to explain that and they’ll remind you that the average citizen works hard and has a right to look after his/her family and therefore has a right to responsible gun ownership. A right to protect what is theirs.
“To this day, it chills me to think what easy, immediate access we – a bunch of drinking, silly, emotional teenagers – had to such deadly weapons.”
Point out the stats that suggest gun ownership offers only limited protection against crime and in many cases, does more harm to the owner and their family and has never in fact stopped a mass shooting, well then you may get an anecdote – they all have anecdotes – about how their family member was saved by their gun. So there.
Why do people need to own assault rifles then, you ask, if this is about protection? You’ll be hit with a bunch of statistics about how most gun owners don’t favour these and mass shootings aren’t as common as the stats show and most gun owners are responsible and the lunatics and criminals are giving them a bad name and why don’t I go pick on them with my elitist, liberal bullshit.
What about comparative nations, you ask? Can’t compare. We are too different, they say. America is just too different.
And this is where, in the wake of yet another horror story, I worry they are right – but not for the reasons they think. Not because we are such unique and beautiful snowflakes in the US that we are beyond comparison, but because I think the culture of gun ownership, and the deep-seated fear and insecurity that fuels it has become nearly insurmountable.
I say nearly, because I want so dearly to hold on to some hope that surely this time – this time – someone will do something radical. Will stand up against the NRA lobby and withering politicians and the simmering, angry groups of defiant, fearful gun owners and say “enough.” And mean it. And be unafraid to stand unarmed against a fearful, paranoid army.
There are many questions to be asked about what fuels gun violence in the US. Questions around mental health, poverty, religion, extremism, race, crime – the list goes on. But the one thing which links them all, is the almighty, plentiful, accessible gun.
I once held a gun, and I handed it back. It’s time more Americans faced their fears and did the same.4342 Views
Taylor is an American comedian, writer, and former psychotherapist based in London. She has a two-year-old and a dead basil plant.