• It’s a sickness
    December 15,2012
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    It is worth saying again, on the day when a gunman murdered more than 25 people at a school in Connecticut, that America’s infatuation with guns and gun violence is a sickness.

    The fundamental problem is not our gun control laws, or their lack. The fundamental problem is the sickness that prevents us from adopting sensible gun control laws, that perpetuates a cultural fascination with gun violence and a fetish of firearms. These cultural conditions are the manure out of which the noxious plant of mass murder springs.

    Our response to incidents of mass murder follows a pattern. Eventually, it is revealed that the killer was a disturbed individual, a loner, whose symptoms of derangement or alienation had been ignored or overlooked. He is the kind of person who might feed on the destructive fantasies that sluice through our culture, latching onto the idea that he might find redemption in a spasm of violence and suicide.

    There is no guarantee that any gun control law could keep weapons out of the hands of shooters like those who have killed in Colorado, Arizona, Virginia, Arkansas and other places. But a society that fetishizes guns and celebrates gun violence creates a dangerous berth in which disturbed people can feed their fantasies.

    It is argued these days that guns should be more widely available in order to afford people protection from crazy killers. If someone in that Connecticut school had been carrying a handgun, he or she may have been able to stop the killer in his tracks before he completed his deadly work. It is a plausible argument that equates life with TV shows. It could work from time to time, but it could also happen that bullets sprayed from multiple sources could take even more lives. The trouble is that answering the problem of guns and gun violence with more guns would seem to exacerbate the problem.

    It is easy to prescribe a solution to a broad social ill. Russia suffers from widespread alcoholism, which takes a serious toll on the society. The answer: Don’t drink so much. Take vodka down from its enshrined place as a sort of cure-all. Transform the culture. Of course, vodka in itself is not harmful. A drink now and again is a pleasant thing. But the plague of alcoholism is not a pleasant thing.

    Guns are our vodka. They are useful for hunting and target shooting and, in rare instances, for personal safety. But a combination of custom and law has elevated them and the culture of gun violence to a destructive level. Of course, the Second Amendment establishes the right to bear arms, a right that has been more broadly interpreted in recent years, partly in response to the political machinations of the firearms industry (the NRA). But within that constitutional boundary there is room to modify our gun culture.

    Before meaningful changes can be made in the law, the culture must recognize the sickness that plagues it. That means looking squarely at incidents like the murders on Friday in Connecticut and seeing the ways that we are encouraging or enabling the monstrous acts of damaged people.

    There will always be damaged people, and they will commit monstrous acts. The point is to minimize the damage. Instead, the United States, unlike all other advanced nations, refuses to change the composition of the sea in which those damaged people are swimming.

    We have been subject to a variety of destructive trends in our history — racial violence, excessive drinking and smoking — and over time attitudes have changed. Solving the problem of gun violence will not happen until attitudes change, and even then it will never be fully solved. The shooting of Gabby Giffords in Arizona, who survived as a living rebuke of our inability to address the problem, raised the possibility that we might see more clearly the problem of guns. We don’t know what is going to come out of the massacre in Connecticut. It was a killing spree more deadly than others. We can only hope it opens eyes to the culture sickness that enables the sickness of troubled people to create hideous waves of carnage.
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