America’s Gun Culture: More of the Same

Our grim culture of killing continues.

The month of June saw a new high for single shooting massacres with more than 100 people killed or injured in Orlando. The details are always the same. A shooter, who legally purchased guns including a semi-automatic rifle, shot, wounded or killed multiple people. In the end, it was the victims’ own fault for not all being armed. Let’s not forget that by being gay, the victims may well have deserved this or may have brought this ‘wrath’ upon themselves.

A true history of the gun in America shows its origin as a tool, like a shovel or a hammer. Nothing more and nothing less. In many homes, it was used to procure food. In the more unsettled parts of the future nation, it was a defensive tool against outlaws and Indians. As civilization progressed, the percentage of gun ownership fell as an unneeded tool. To keep their business growing, the gun manufacturers became adept at selling to the government and to developing new markets abroad.

Here at home, general sentiment following both the First and Second World Wars was very anti-gun. Guns were not needed by the masses to secure food and there was little support or sympathy for tools of war. There was no anti-hunting or anti-sport gun sentiment, any more than there was any anti-horse sentiment. Tools for hunting or target practice were fine. Tools for killing people were not.

Perhaps the popular TV show “Mad Men” might have been even more interesting if it had chronicled how the gun manufacturers used advertising to create a new mythos and demand for guns. In looking to sell us a product we did not need or want, advertising created a history of the gun as a noble instrument integral to the history of America—from fighting the Revolutionary War of Independence, to subduing Native Americans to conquering the enemies of freedom on foreign shores. Ultimately, the advertising industry was able to parlay a concern over rising crime in the 1950s and 1960s into a vision of the American male as a gun owner, keeping his family safe through his gun ownership. They then jumped on the anti-government bandwagon of the 1980s by adding a fear that the government secretly wanted to take away your guns.

Nothing feeds upon a desire to buy more and more of something than the fear that it will soon be unavailable. The fear of scarcity is a powerful way to motivate us to value more and buy and hoard more of anything. Every veiled threat of a march or legislation against guns leads to spikes in the sales of weapons and ammunition. The 1990s added a macho twist; it was not just the number but the kind of guns that were important. Real men needed military grade weapons, semi-automatic pistols and rifles. Little boys who did not want to grow up could now play with the same weapons they were unwilling to carry in real defense of their country. Inside of each of us was a Rambo just waiting to burst out and in need of his own personal arsenal.

In the 2000s, we became more gender neutral as guns became a family thing. What better present for a girlfriend or wife than her own weapon or two? Like cigarettes decades before, guns were marketed as the exemplar of an independent and liberated woman. And don’t forget our children. Before, a BB-gun might have been the rifle of choice for our pre-teens. Today, shooting classes for pre-schoolers are available because it is never too early to start packing real heat.

From 2005 through 2015, more than 300,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in the U.S. Mass shootings — as measured by four or more people shot, regardless of total fatalities — have taken place in nearly 100 metro areas over the past 12 months. Over 750 children were killed by guns last year. Guns are so commonplace that children younger than three have gotten hold of guns and shot someone at least 59 times so far this year, more than once each week. The only countries with higher death rates from guns than the U.S. are Iraq and Afghanistan. Even Pakistan is safer to live in. Yawn.

In short time, Orlando will be a receding memory. The gun manufacturers will have deflected all thoughts of treating gun ownership with even the same amount of common sense that we do to owning and driving a car. Until other business groups in America decide our current gun culture is bad for their business and unite to oppose it, we will get just keep getting more of the same.


Submitted by Craig Donovan

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6 thoughts on “America’s Gun Culture: More of the Same

  1. “…one of the reasons the younger generations have by and large left us behind. We could and should be leading the movement to make public service and public management a source for a better, safer, healthier America.”

    I don’t know that a lack of established and stated values is to blame, but the pace of the times and changing philosophy. I see what I label impatience in millennial students and my own kids (17 & 18). I see something of the same thread in the videos of police shooting survivors. I feel like the administrative aspects of life and their (often inherent) time requirements contribute to being left behind or bypassed.

    I bought my first cell phone in 1992, rationalizing that so long as a business prospect could reach me and have immediate confirmation and commitment, I would secure their business. I was right. I secured business 24 hours a day. Other sales people and organizations pursued the same rationalization and more technology and processes followed. Today, people are less patient with bureaucracy and delays. Administration is often not immediate. Explaining processes, seeking approvals, and explaining causal and responsible linkages are time intensive processes. The prevailing culture values quick responses.
    Public service and management often present time restrictions that frustrate people who have developed in the shadow of faster technology and processes.

    The frustration with time is obvious in people under thirty. But I see, what I interpret as evidence of a similar effect, in the rationalizations of people represented in popular culture. You focused on gun violence. People are often shot (an immediate event)by police instantly, but as a result of a longer series of causations and logical processes. People focus on the immediate, but ignore the lengthier series of explanation that lead to the shooting. Poverty thinking and culture, laws and lawbreaking, cultural conflict with established institutions (born of another culture), and different paradigms; all converge to create conditions that shape events and lead to a shooting.

    I think ASPA might focus on how to better balance efficiency with equity, and economy; in the interest of serving the comprehensive community and meeting the demand of our times. The latest technology helps to keep time and delays within expectations, but cost in terms of money and education are too high to employ those technologies.

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  2. As a registered Republican, gun-owner, and ASPA member for 38 years, I believe it is exactly where ASPA and an ASPA blog needs to be. America has a gun policy. I believe our experiences here in the USA, and the experiences of our global peers has shown it to be a bad policy. Right now, the blog ASPA refuses to run, says that my baby-boomer generation has failed to do a good job of leading ASPA and the world into the 21st century. Even that is deemed too controversial for the organization. If we take no stands, we stand for nothing. This is one of the reasons the younger generations have by and large left us behind. We could and should be leading the movement to make public service and public management a source for a better, safer, healthier America.

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  3. I would encourage you to distance these comments from ASPA – but to launch a blog focusing on this concept. Plant this column as its first entry, and visit the responsible gun policy and anti- gun organizations on twitter, and quickly seed blog readership. This action would share your views and an intellect powered opinion with like minded groups – who could further propel it into the political consideration streams on the environment.

    I would also encourage you to consider gun rhetoric, all varieties in the shadow of Douglas, Ellis, Wildavsky and cultural or grid group theory. I find myself drawn to that framework whenever I read arguments for anti-gun efforts (or any legal framework) and proposals relating to governing social and personal practices. I really have to question how much of this focus and urgency is about social benefit versus favoring a sectarian or egalitarian view of the world.

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  4. I don’t agree. I don’t know that “taking a stand” is relevant to the value or purpose of the ASPA blog. There is no end to issues that encourage strong personal opinions. If I made a stand on my blog for every issue (that i personally considered) worthy of attention, my time would be come be completely consumed. I don’t feel ASPA is irrelevant if it makes no comment regarding guns anymore than I think it irrelevant for not taking a stand on parents who refuse to immunize their children, ultimately leading to the death of some children or religious believers that would deny their children the benefit of modern medicine. Why is concern about one issue any more important than concern about another?
    If ASPA were to publish a position and advocate a “stand”, would it not be more appropriate to address an issue close to the organizations’s purpose and mission? How about administrative failure that leads to the deaths of the beneficiaries of administrative services? Children die in the care of child welfare organizations. Veterans die due to failures in the Veterans Administration. The citizens of Flint, MI, can relate a tale of administrative failures. What about the domestically abused, who suffer due to a bureaucratic snafus? What about people who suffer due to administrative indifference, lapsed ethics, transparency or failed supervision and organization, or rare cases of administrative evil?
    Metaphorically, I think organizations and people in general should clean their own housing before peering elsewhere. Public administration is not in a position to save lives involving reforming an industry – but it can impact policing, mental health treatment & screening, and care for gun victims. ASPA is not a legislative organization. I think it appropriate for ASPA to “take a stand” on enforcement or implementation of gun related regulations, but the emotional tug, personal outcry, and political machinations should be ignored. The danger is not in rendering ASPA irrelevant in its silence about personal causes, but rendering it without credibility through such expression.

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  5. So, is there any issue facing America which ASPA should take a stand on? Social is defined as “of or relating to society or its organization.” What policy decisions can our government or its people take that is not ‘social’? I believe that ASPA should stand for some things and stand against others. Being the gun and homicide leader of the world is one I believe we should be against. While not everyone will agree with every position, not having a position leaves ASPA as simply irrelevant.

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  6. While this submission would be appropriate in many forums, I don’t agree that it belongs in a forum for American Society of Public Administration. I don’t see any argument that is not inappropriate for this forum. Public Administration has long struggled with a balance between political and rational administrative direction. This submission is political, with themes that resonate emotionally; guns among people, subcultures and sub-populations, social and media expression, political manipulation, and cultural elements. “Until other business groups in America decide our current gun culture is bad for their business and unite to oppose it…” is clearly an emotional political and personal expression. I don’t see any connection or direct linkage to public administration and its practice.

    I am confident this essay would be appropriate for many other forums available in social media.

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