middle brow | citizen how \ 6 oct 17 /


i didn't want to rap about gun control this week. 'cuz i've already typed my heart out on facebook twenty times over the past ten years about it. but i had a few thoughts this week that hadn't really occurred to me before. so, we share.

another white man mowed down his fellow citizens monday. this time in a particularly gruesome fashion. (did you read about the 22yo who got shot? and his 21yo girlfriend? the new mother of their child? who laid over his body to shield him from more bullets? she was shot too. and what bout the teacher who died holding her fiance's hand? go read his facebook post. the stories don't stop. and you should share every last one of them. but i digress.)

it's likely he was mentally ill. but i'm tired of blaming mental illness. and, frankly, giving a bad name to the many mentally ill people who work every fucking day of their lives to be "normal". to have "normal" interactions. to feel ok. and who, 99.9% of the time, do a great job. 

it's time we instead blame something else... 

ok. look. unsurprisingly. as soon as the first body dropped. two dozen gun advocates were already booked on fox news. and facebook was filled with excuse after excuse that deflected blame on guns. but it was the same shit you always see. the same badbadnotgood arguments against gun control that are so easily debunked: 

if we ban or restrict gun ownership, only the bad guys will get them. (who said anything about banning guns? and then, what's the point of speed limits?)

it's the people, not the guns. (ok. then if we have so many such people, how about, instead of making it easy for them to kill others, we make it harder?)

but most people like me who propose gun control don't ever face the argument that many gun deaths can't be stopped by the simple measures they propose. small gun control measures wouldn't change the story very much on suicides. or gang violence. or domestic violence. and those three things make up the bulk of gun violence. there was even a viral washington post article about it. it's a tough point to counter. 

vox, unsurprisingly, took a whack at it by zooming out and addressing a different point: does gun control save lives? the answer is, generally, yes

but how can you square those two circles?

is it so obviously culture? yes. but bear with me. the point might not be as boring or obvious as it sounds. 

so, what makes a culture? culture isn't a word with a clear definition, but we can all agree that our food. and our sports. and our music. and our language. and our stories. and our religion. and our weather-coping mechanisms. these things are all culture. how do they become culture? through practice. through repetition. if we habitually cook with peppers (because, say, they're plentiful on our land), our culture becomes defined by spicy food. if we ritually sacrifice goats or good times to some god, animal sacrifice or pleasure deprivation become part of our culture. stories we tell again and again, and the motifs that go along with them, define our culture. how many ways has shakespeare been interpreted?

so then what if we make guns marginally harder to acquire? even the staunchest republican must agree that as things become marginally harder to do, people do less of them. it's the entire rationale for their tax policy. (the higher we tax income, the less people will work.) so, likewise, if we tax guns. or restrict gun access. or regulate bullet purchases. or whatever. we should see marginally less gun activity. and marginally fewer gun deaths. but this is just rational actor stuff. where does culture come in?

right now. think about the copycat effect—the tendency of sensational publicity about violent murders or suicides to result in more of the same through imitation. think about how mass shooters often are mimicking the assholes who came before them. and think about how "practices" make a culture. if you're gonna lose your mind and terrorize and traumatize a bunch of people, how should you do it? well, a mass shooting seems like the best way for white american males! it's in our culture.

or think about gang shootings and other gun activity on the south side of chicago. if your neighbor shot a kid who glanced at his girl, what are you gonna do when someone glances at yours? you're gonna find a gun and respond the way people in your america respond. 

but also think about availability heuristic—the psychological phenomenon whereby decisions are made by referencing examples that are easy to recall, either because of their recency or sensational nature. this can oddly be used to understand gun activity in ganglands and in las vegas hotel rooms. but it can equally be used to explain the tendency for average janes and joes to buy up every gun in their walmart. the more gun crime you're exposed to, the more you think you'll be victim to it, and the more likely you are to want a gun for "protection". (good luck with that, by the way.)

so look. the point is this: the NRA always blames our people and our culture for gun violence. not guns. and sure, maybe the problem is with our people and our culture. but if guns became harder to get. and therefore fewer people had them. and gun activity dropped generally. then our gun culture would change—that is, we'd see fewer copycat mass shootings, and fewer shootings in our cities, and fewer people buying up every gun they can to "defend" themselves. so, as i see it, fuck all those arguments about the true effect of this policy or that policy. fewer guns means less gun activity means less of a gun culture.

if the NRA wants to blame our culture, then fine. let's do something about it. let's change our culture. let's enact some gun control.