You can’t have a gun culture without guns

Many supporters of guns say that our problem is not too many guns, but rather a culture of guns that emanates from mass media and video games. It’s just incidental that the U.S. has almost one gun per citizen.

The problem with this argument is that, in countries like Japan and South Korea, there is as much, if not more, presence of “gun-tertainment” as there is in the United States. Yet their incidence of actual gun violence is but a small fraction of that of the United States. Japan’s firearm death rate is 6percent  of that of the U.S., and South Korea’s is 12 percent. What’s the difference between the U.S. and these countries? It’s clear; it’s that the guns per capita in the U.S. is much greater than in Japan or Korea. For every one person in Japan who has a gun, 147 Americans have a gun. For every person in South Korea with a gun, there are eighty people in the U.S. with a gun.

It has become more acceptable for those Americans who have concerns about the high rate of crimes committed by firearms to challenge our gun culture. Pro-gun control advocates can find some degree of common ground with anti-gun control advocates on the issues of media and entertainment. But it’s difficult to take action because of real issues with the First Amendment, not the Second Amendment. Possible infringement of free speech is as much of a real issue in limiting guns and violence in our movies, television shows, and video games as it is with limiting the flow of money in politics into candidates’ hands.

And in spite of the NRA’s opposition to background checks, many pro-gun people join the anti-gun people in wanting to keep guns away from those with criminal records or a histories of mental illness. But that’s about as far as the bond of common ground can stretch.

As Occasional Planet journalist, Bill Kesler,  recently pointed out in his post “Mental health gun-control misses the bigger point,” that the exclusion of those individuals with criminal and/or mental health issues represents just a small portion of gun owners in the U.S. If we were to ensure that no one with a criminal record or history of mental health issues had a gun, we would still have far more guns per capita than the second most “gunned-up” country in the world, Yemen. Thus, the gun culture would still be pervasive; the worship of guns would continue to be prominent in many sectors of our society.

Some of the best insights into our society occur when individuals go “out of their bailiwick.” Such was the case in December, 2012, when sports commentator Bob Costas related the fetish with guns in the National Football League to our societal gun problem. He clearly illustrated how a gun culture will not necessarily relate to high incidents of homicide and suicide if guns are not readily available. He made an impassioned, if not thoroughly direct, plea for us to reduce the number of firearms in our society.

Not long after his remarks, Sandy Hook occurred, and suddenly other leaders in our society, including the president and vice-president as well members of Congress, have spoken out for action. As we possibly move toward meaningful legislation, let’s keep in mind that the easiest actions will provide the least amount of benefit. As difficult as it is, we need to start the long, slow process of not just disarming America, but also disarming Americans.