Legislation alone to fix the problem of gun violence in the United States will not suffice. We really have entered into a cultural regime in which these events are normalized. Going on a mass killing spree with an assault rifle is just one of those things you do, as an American. In most countries the act could scarcely enter into a person’s imagination, but Americans have an obsession bordering on lust for guns. An obsession which is by turns fearful and infatuated.
It seems somehow the culture a person has developed in puts a loose set of bounds on the types of pathologies they are capable of, as well the range of identities they are capable of assuming for themselves. The imagination can only stretch so far.
There are some older trans-people who have reported that they did not know they were trans until they heard it described and given a name. In the 1800’s, a time in American history when homosexual acts were near unutterable, would it have been possible for someone to identify themselves as ‘gay’? Certainly the identity would not have meant then what it does now. I mean not just that gays lived in a society that pathologized and demonized them, but also that a consequence of that oppression was a complete lack of cultural development in which an identity could be formed. The cultural context of our lives sets the scope for our possible selves…
Our ability to understand ourselves and create identities depends in some way on the molds we have available. People modify and combine archetypes to suit themselves in a sort of adaptive process. They don’t start from scratch and the possibilities, at least starting from within one’s own context and using one’s own life are not limitless. This brings me back to gun violence.
There is an identity of “lone gunman”, or “crazy active shooter” that exists now, like a meme that has bred into the American conciousness, and that gun control laws alone will not deal with. This is the particular American pathology, the American mass hysteria. There are loner kids, in high schools and middle schools in this country now who, absent this societal disease, would never have imagined for themselves such an act and would not have had the identity available. But now it is within the realm of possibility, because it is well within the realm of their imagination, as it pervades American fears.
We can hope that the NRA’s influence is undercut, and some legislation is passed. And maybe some of prayers people have been offering up will get Wayne LaPierre struck down by lightning. But even after this, it may take a generation for the country to recover from its diseased thinking (2).
- A Frontline episode about the NRA well worth watching.
- This occurred to me only after I finished this post: There are more severe pathologies taking hold of many middle eastern countries. There is an entire generation growing up in warzones, some in which children have only soldiers and terrorists in sight for rolemodels. Children who cannot imagine peace because they have never seen it. The world will pay a price for this.