America’s gun culture

In poor nations, parents worry their sick children will die because of a scarcity of medical resources. In the United States, parents fear their children will be gunned down while attending school. The following are some thoughts, comments and facts regarding guns, the NRA, the firearms industry, gun buy-backs and the religious response to gun violence.

-The adage, “follow the money” to the root of an issue/problem, is certainly on the mark concerning firearms. Guns are big business in this country. According to the National Shooting and Sports Foundation, the firearms and ammunition industries accounted for $31.8 billion in 2012. Smith & Wesson saw its revenues jump from $120 million in 2004 to $412 million in 2011.

-Gun massacres mean increased profits for the firearms industry as predictable talk of gun control in response to these killings results in a dramatic upsurge of sales. After the Sandy Hook slaughter, the demand for Bushmaster assault rifles was so great that some gun shops doubled the price of these lethal weapons.

-Gun advocates are correct when stating the firearms industry creates jobs, with approximately 98,000 individuals employed producing guns and ammunition in this country. Perhaps someone can create a gun-jobs-to-gun-deaths (murders, mass murders, suicides, accidental shootings) moral calculus. I wonder how many jobs, manufacturing assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns for the civilian market, the bullet-ridden body of a 6-year-old is worth.

-Sales of body armor and bulletproof backpacks for children (starting at $200) increased significantly after the Sandy Hook massacre. One company offers a “Disney Princess” pack for little girls. Another came up with a catchy slogan: “Arm the teachers, in the meantime bulletproof the kids.” Journalist Bill Moyers notes that America has turned the mass murder of children into a “profit center.”

-The nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation reports the NRA spends 66 times more on lobbying than the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Since 2011, the NRA has spent $24.3 million: $16.8 million via its political action committee and $7.45 million by that organization’s Institute for Legislative Action. Most of the $16.8 million (89 percent in the 2012 elections) was used to oppose Democrats running for Congress.

-The “slippery slope” perspective of gun control has been an NRA mainstay for decades. The argument goes like this: If the government bans assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns today, it will outlaw shotguns, rifles and pistols tomorrow. This position is buttressed by conspiracy theorists who envision soldiers of a one-world socialist government (led by President Obama, naturally) descending from the sky in unmarked black helicopters and imprisoning anyone with a now-illegal firearm. In the adolescent Rambo fantasy version of this scenario, assault-weapon-carrying private citizens and/or patriot militias defeat the bad guys and save the day.

-The NRA’s response to the latest gun slaughter was predictable: More guns will prevent gun violence. From that organization’s perspective, if the price of their Second Amendment right to own semi-automatic weapons is the routine mass murder of innocent people – including children – then so be it.

-The effectiveness of gun buy-back programs in reducing gun violence is questionable for at least four reasons:

1. The number of firearms removed from the streets is relatively small. According to one estimate, all of the buy-back programs between 1974 and 1994 netted “far less” then 100,000 weapons. Between 1994 and 2012 the number of firearms in American households increased from about 200 million to approximately 310 million, about 117,000 more guns a week.

2. Some criminologists are of the opinion that individuals participating in these programs are among the least likely to engage in gun violence. One buy-back program reported that many gun “sellers” were not gun enthusiasts. Rather, they inherited these weapons and wanted to get them out of the house.

3. Some of the guns turned in are defective and cannot be fired.

4.There is nothing to prevent participants from trading old weapons for cash and using this money to buy newer, deadlier firearms.

-Religious leaders are finally beginning to comment on gun violence. It’s beyond me why these individuals didn’t address firearm carnage about 100 gun massacres ago. Christian fundamentalists have made banning abortion a centerpiece of their beliefs. Where are these right-to-life people when it comes to banning semi-automatic weapons and protecting the lives of our children?

-Speaking of the Sandy Hook gun massacre, Southern Baptist minister and former Gov. Mike Huckabee stated, “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from schools. Should we be surprised that schools would become places of carnage?” Interfaith activist Steve McSwain notes Huckabee’s statement implies that God is “some kind of cosmic psychopath – vengeful, sickeningly repulsive,” a deity “who takes out his madness on innocent little children.”

-Let’s assume that Huckabee is correct and God is permitting mass murders to occur in this country on a regular basis. Is it because we blocked His entrance to the public school classroom, or could it be the Almighty is furious because the U.S. is the global leader in the production, consumption and distribution of video and computer game violence as well as television and movie violence? Perhaps God is upset that in a world where so many of His children are malnourished and in need of basic medical care, the United States spent $711 billion on national defense (accounting for 41 percent of global defense spending) in 2010, and this country accounts for approximately one-third of total world arms exports annually. Perhaps the Almighty is especially upset – absolutely furious – that in spite of our violent, warlike, money-making-on-weapons culture, we have the audacity to consider ourselves a Christian nation, devotees of the Prince of Peace.

-Psychologist Rollo May (1909-1994) argued, “Violence is a symptom. The disease variously powerlessness, insignificance, injustice.” There is much to feel powerless about in America: closing factories, job outsourcing, low wages, high unemployment, home foreclosures, a political system dominated by corporate money, and gridlock in Washington, to name the most obvious. Owning a gun (or 10, or 100) is a way to compensate for powerlessness. A firearm (especially an assault rife or semi-automatic handgun) is a symbol of personal power, perhaps the last vestige of strength and self-esteem many individuals have. Some aspects of powerlessness, job loss and home foreclosure, for example, can be emasculating in a society wherein a central component of manliness is to provide for one’s family. A Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle advertisement with a photo of this weapon stating, “Consider your Man Card reissued,” taps directly into feelings of powerlessness and emasculation.

-In the aftermath of the Connecticut gun massacre, some of the surviving children hiding in their classrooms were told to “hold hands and close your eyes” as they were led out of the school past the lifeless bodies of their classmates. This is what our obsession with military style firearms has wrought.

-I can’t imagine the emotional pain and suffering the parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters of the Connecticut gun massacre victims are enduring. This is the type of psychological trauma that in some capacity stays with an individual for a lifetime. Therapy that can do nothing more than partially diminish the anguish – anguish all the more difficult to bear because the killings were needless and preventable.

George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale, retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.


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