Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Demonization of Guns Contributes to Mass Shootings

I’m 59 years old, and I grew up in an age when guns were just another normal tool around the house, like chainsaws and drills and car jacks.  I was 8 or 9 when I fired my first BB gun, aiming at cans set up on a log.  High Schools still had marksmanship teams, and younger kids all played with cap guns and water pistols.  I learned safety rules and respect for firearms at a young age.  And to be clear, this was not in some rural southern hill town – it was in a suburb of New York City. 

And while there were always – and will always be – news incidents of crimes committed with guns, the societal understanding was that the majority – nay, 99+% - of gun owners – were responsible citizens, your neighbors, and the outrage was focused on the criminal.

Fast forward to today, and the climate is extremely different.

The message one hears in a constant repetition in both traditional and social media is that guns are bad. Guns are dangerous.  No one needs guns.  Grade school kids who engage in the simple activity of drawing a gun in class are reported to the principal’s office as a possible danger.  Just this morning I read a Twitter post from someone who commented that anyone who opposed gun control was a “potentially dangerous person,’ and the author wished to cut all ties with them. Dick’s Sporting Goods and other retailers have curtailed firearm sales.

Rather than sponsoring marksmanship clubs, schools are gun-free zones.

I am still a gun owner.  I have lived in rural Vermont, New Hampshire, and western Massachusetts for the last two decades.  And even though there is a right to carry and few restrictions on firearms in NH and VT, I have rarely seen anyone carry.  In fact, if I see one person every few months carrying a firearm, it’s a lot.  Young people don’t play with toy guns, much less learn and practice with real ones.

Restrictions on carrying have increased to the point that it is nearly impossible to legally carry in large cities like New York and Chicago.  Guns are no longer seen as a useful tool, but something to be tightly regulated and controlled.  Gun Free Zones -  schools, parks, private malls, Town properties – are everywhere.

And yet, in spite of the increase of controls on firearms over time, we live in an era where mass shootings by troubled individuals seem to dominate weekly – or daily – news cycles.

Some of the more strident statements – by both politicians and the general pro-control public – are overly shrill  (and I’m being generous.)  Gun owners are stereotyped and characterized as uneducated, scared, or racists.  It isn’t hard to find online posts linking firearm ownership to “toxic masculinity,” white nationalism, or small-penis-compensation. 

“Gun manufacturers have blood on their hands.”  “The NRA has blood on their hands.”  “Children are being sacrificed on the altar of the Second Amendment.”  All of these statements showed up in my Twitter Feed and Facebook page today. Still another woman wrote, “If I see you carrying a firearm in public, I’m calling the police, because I don’t know that you’re not a terrorist.”

The message has been very loud, and very clear:  Guns, and those who carry them, are Bad.
This message was given moral support when President Obama referred to fearful people who “cling to guns and religion.”  It was in full display when Hillary Clinton employed the word “Deplorables” describing certain segments of the population.  It is reinforced every time John or Jane Doe write a screed about anyone who opposes gun control being an [expletive.]

What I am suggesting here is that the strident, virulent attacks on firearm ownership have had their intended effect: while there are many guns in the country, a falling percentage of Americans own them, use them, or carry them.  It’s no longer socially acceptable.

On the other hand, it has had a terrifying unintended consequence.

Guns are now ‘counter-culture.’ And therein lies the danger.

An entire generation of young people have now ‘grown up’ without casual firearm exposure, practice, or use.  They hear from their friends, teachers, neighbors, entertainers, and media influencers that guns are bad, gun owners are bad, gun manufacturers are bad, and they are unnecessary to have. 

In short, “only bad people and idiots need guns.”

The problem here is that young people – especially troubled young people – gravitate towards anything they’re not supposed to do or have.

The story is as old as time itself.  Teenagers smoking cigarettes in the boy’s room.  Smoking pot.  Boys growing long hair.  Wearing only a White T-shirt (scandalous when James Dean did it, and indicative of a bad boy, a rogue, a rebel.)  Listening to Ozzy Osbourne and exulting in the superficial satanic symbols on the album cover or in the lyrics. Sporting a Confederate flag in some far-northern town.

For the vast majority of teens and young people, this is normal – a phase of rebellion that almost all go through to some degree or another.

But we don’t live in a perfect utopia, and there will always be a subset of young people who exist in a darker place.  They feel different, ostracized, and outcast.  In short, for one reason or another – bullying, income level, learning disabilities, unsupportive living arrangements – they are Angry. Or Hopeless.  Or Outcasts. Or all three.

And they embrace the moniker of “rebel.”  They take pride in taking on the persona of being that outcast, of being that rebel. Heck, If I’m an outsider, I‘ll be the best damned outside I can be.

And if destruction is on their mind, what better idol - what better symbol of being society’s outcast – than a gun?

The demonization of guns and gun culture has caused a simultaneous drop in the use of firearms as a normal tool within general society (with the resulting degradation in the ability to protect oneself), and in increase in its symbolism as something bad.  When you’re a desperate outcast who can no longer shake the feeling of being “on the outs,’ what better item to grab to “stick it” to those who have put you ‘on the outs?’

Restrictions on guns have increased, while mass shootings (rare as they statistically are) have increased.  The Average Jane or Joe shies away from firearms more than in the past, while the image of that tool has become a symbol of the Bad Boy, the counter-culture, and the loner.

If we continue to demonize firearms as we have, don’t expect any law or regulation to change a thing: we have a sent a message to troubled young men that if they feel like outcasts, a gun is a perfect match for them.  And just like restrictions on pot, steroids, cocaine, alcohol or any other prohibited or restricted product, guns will becomes magnets for those who troubles began long before they thought of acquiring one.