It’s been 11 days since the latest insane person (they’re always men) armed with military firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammo commenced a public slaughter. Since then we — American culture — have followed what is by now a completely predictable ritual of ineffectual hand-wringing, stale punditry, pampleteer-style moralizing and finger-pointing. In fact, given the opening of the Olympics, pro football training camps and the nip-slip du jour of some silly pop star we may have dispensed with this particular outrage in record time. (As usual, The Onion had it about right.)
Quite obviously there is no will to do anything about any of the facets of this latest slaughter. The “debate” is so stagnated that even the idea of regulating the ability of anyone being able to buy thousands of rounds of ammunition on-line is too fraught with political peril to consider seriously. The argument that there are too many guns floating around American society, or that there are too many high-powered military-style killing weapons available to anyone with enough brainpower to game the laughable security check system, has been had hundreds of times over and is for all intents and purposes futile. The people who feel the greatest need for exotic weaponry feel that need so intensely, which is to say so irrationally, that they form an impermeable obstacle to writing gun-ownership laws along, say, a Western European or Japanese model. Gun “control” just ain’t going to happen.
For years, I’ve been fascinated with the perceived need for firearm self-defense. Or, put another way, the threat perception of the most adamantine “gun enthusiast”. The American society these people see bears very little resemblance to daily reality.
I suspect conventional wisdom will tell us that we live in one of the most violent societies in human history. But that is simply … flat-out … wrong, by any available metric. In fact, according to every credible statistic I have ever seen, not only is gun-crazed USA circa 2012 experiencing an ongoing. dramatic decrease in violent crime, the northern tier American states — essentially Minnesota east, including Chicago and Detroit — is nearly at a point where their h0micide rate is as low as that socialist hell hole, western Europe. (Sun Belt and western states, still in the thralls of their “rugged individualist”, “pioneer” ethos are a different story, but even those rates are in a steady decline). Moreover, and this is where it gets interesting, the rate of gun ownership, which is to say the number of individual people owning guns … is declining. Fewer and fewer of us own guns, of any kind, even hunting rifles, much less, one presumes, sleep with a Glock under our pillow in anticipation of a home invasion by, (take your pick), a pack of thrill-killing gang-bangers, or a dozen newly arrived “illegals” bent on beheading suburban Americans for the sheer pleasure of it all.
The twist to that last fact is that while gun sales continue to spiral into the ionosphere, (a result of a moderate liberal black guy being elected president, and groups like the NRA fear-mongering about gun grabs by Big Gummint), more and more guns are being purchased by the same people. Arsenal-building is another way of describing it. While most Americans feel secure walking the streets of their neighborhoods, grilling in their backyards and watching junk TV from their Barcalounger with the windows and doors open to a cooling breeze, others are effectively arming themselves to the teeth, in preparation for … what?
At this point you drop down the Rabbit Hole of the psychology of gun fetishists. While each mass killer comes with his own witches brew of demons, including prescription drugs, it is reasonable to describe all of them as “marginalized men”, men who for whatever the reason feel they’ve lost their chance at whatever they wanted/needed most and have no way to restore themselves. In a word: fatalism.
Fatalism was the quality that leapt out at me doing a story about Michele Bachmann’s Sixth District true believers a couple of years ago. One after another after another described the world in semi-apocalyptic terms, with Bachmann and her ilk being prophets of some kind of reckoning, that I suspected, would restore marginalized men to the kind of prominence they enjoyed by right of birth in the 1950s.
My suspicion is that if a thousand owners of multiple gun permits were given a thorough psychological test, the picture that would emerge would be one of a highly fatalistic world view, a world of irrationally perceived threat, full of a pervasive hostility to their interests and beliefs warranting a kind of martial response to every kind of adversary.
The media end of this wondering why this dramatic reduction in the threat of violent crime is not better understood? As much as I’d like to see Surgeon General PSAs dropped into the middle of “Monday Night Football” showing the remarkable drop in homicide rates, along with the implicit message that those who require a .45 to feel secure at Southdale are to be pitied for their Chicken Little state of high anxiety rather than admired for their cowboy individualism, that too ain’t going to happen. If only because, whether they want to admit it or not, a pacifying America (at least in terms of flying lead) is at odds with the prevailing themes of both popular drama and popular news, which require constantly whetting an appetite for mortal conflict to assure financial success.