In the spring of 2001, while in Copenhagen, I went to Gun Nation, an exhibit by British photojournalist Zed Nelson. Nelson’s opus, with book of same title, intertwined Americans’ love of weapons with carnage: victims’ photos juxtaposed with images of domestic bliss, say, a man holding a pistol in one hand while cradling his infant in the other. Guns, mass shootings, and gang violence have been a part of America for decades. So why does every shooting generate incredulity in this Sisyphean landscape?
Recently, on December 2, 2015, two heavily armed persons entered a community centre for the disabled in San Bernardino and killed at least 14 people.
Social media erupted. Sans evidence the media speculated that perhaps a nearby Planned Parenthood was the target; others ascribed it to the myth of the white male shooter. In the end, however, two Muslims emerged as perpetrators.
The aftermath has seen the usual tropes and distractions, including oblivion to the definition of terrorism, which is “violence or the threat of violence, especially bombing, kidnapping, and assassination, carried out for political purposes.” Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist, the Sandy Hook shooter wasn’t.
Helping the media distort, consider the ‘whatabouters’. They ask,
“What about the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting?”
They defend Daesh by saying,
“What about the KKK?”
“What about aborted babies?”
Then there’s the ‘blame the gun posse’. I blame the killers not the National Rifle Association (NRA) or gun culture. That doesn’t mean guns are not a problem, but the blame-game riles up paranoid Second Amendment activists who complain about how their right to bear arms trumps victims, which leads to the ‘Conspiracy Freak’. The most repulsive views derive from nuts such as the Sandy Hook Truthers who somehow believe the government plotted the massacre of school children so they could ban guns in the United States.
If that’s not enough, we have an identity crisis of ‘Tag, you’re racist!’ – Faux accusations of bigotry that fuel division. The South Carolina church shooter does not represent white people, and the San Bernardino shooters do not represent Muslims.
And in a way we all become apologists, for aren’t we all sorry?
What should we do? Process information, use data, and fact check. Make correct analogies. For example, compare Australia, a country that has a more comprehensive ban on guns, to the United States. After the 1996 Port Arthur killings in Tasmania, Australia has seen no mass killings, with “mass killing” defined as four or more fatalities. Pew Research reports that the homicide rate has dropped since 1993 in the US, but gun crime remains disproportionately high compared to most countries in Europe, Japan, Singapore, and elsewhere in the developing world. When Michael Moore, in Bowling for Columbine, says that Canada has similar gun ownership to the US but far less gun crime, we can verify. We can use the internet as a library.
And informed arguments make for convincing arguments. Yes, guns are, for better or worse, part of our society, whether for hunting, recreation, or security. We cannot ban, but we can control and regulate. Let’s keep moving in that direction. To reduce violence all the self-righteous blaming will add nothing, we can only improve society by changing the culture. Let’s change the culture.