Monday, October 12, 2015

The Culture Wars: We Won on Cigarettes, Then Marijuana, Then Gay Rights. Can It Happen with Guns?

The Few, the Proud, the Paranoid: (some of) your fellow Americans.

Something hopeful has emerged in the gun debate in the past few days. Since it's considered wishful thinking to expect any form of gun regulation getting through a GOP-controlled Congress, many have despaired of lowering the level of gun violence that's truly become endemic in American life. However, could a cultural shift pave the way for progress, similar to what happened with cigarettes, marijuana, gay rights, and the like?

It's possible. Michael Maiello, writing at TPM, thinks we might be able to make guns "uncool."
It’s surprisingly easy to imagine a society where gun ownership is looked down upon, if not scorned outright. This already happened with smoking, at least partly as a result of a public education campaign aimed at young people, and it happened when polite society finally came down against people flying the Confederate flag after the Charleston church shootings this year. Sometimes, when legislative action is difficult or downright impossible, a cultural approach works to curtail dangerous behaviors.
In short, we can make gun ownership uncool.
Looking at the chart below, you'll see that, by and large, the typical gun owner is older, white, conservative, Republican, rural males. (OMG aging bubbas!) How many of you are surprised by that? From a certain perspective, gun ownership is already demonstrably uncool.

We have so much "DON'T TAKE OUR GUNS AWAY MUSLIM BLACK PRESIDENT!" paranoia in the country as it currently stands that it's hard to imagine that meme dispelling anytime soon. But, well, I smoked for 34 years before giving it up -- thinking that it would be like kicking heroin. I don't miss it one bit. America is working tobacco out of its system, and I can't imagine it ever making a comeback.

Something similar happened with marijuana. Once we found some benefit and little downside with the demon weed, it became difficult to maintain the OMG-our-kids-will-die-if-they-ever-touch-the-stuff nonsense. It's much safer than alcohol.

Same with the gay. It was icky until it wasn't. Then, snap, gay rights.

It was a little more complicated than that, and there are still serious headwinds to tolerance in the hinterlands. But the hard work is done. Conversation over except among the Neanderthals.

Typical gun owner.
Side note: Yes, I just referred to Neanderthals in the hinterlands. That's right, I have contempt for ignorant bubbas with Confederate-flag bumper stickers. So sue me. I find them cavemanish.

Why? Because so much of the gun culture -- yes, clustered in the under-educated rural states -- believe things that are simply not true.

What am I talking about? Click here, here, here, here, here, and here. Okay, so those were snapshots of misinformation continuously stirring the pot. I could have listed hundreds, perhaps thousands of them

But what if those of us who favor sensible gun safety laws -- or, like me, favor virtually banning them outright -- fought on a similar battlefield that the Southerners do? What if we battled patiently and diligently, taking every opportunity to convert millennials and even younger folks into a cohort of people who are tired of Americans killing each other at alarming rates?

There is a burgeoning discussion of just that here, here, here, here, and here. As a special example of quite recent calls for a cultural and legal shift on guns, I recommend this CNN article comparing gun laws among western nations, making an important point in the last paragraph:
In other words, even if a particular state chooses to make it harder for some would-be killers to get their weapons, these efforts can be undercut by the jurisdictions that hold out from these efforts. In the U.S., of course, gun control measures at the state and local level are often thwarted by the lax attitude to gun acquisition in other states.
Again, it's white, Republican males who trust guns.
A nearly indisputable point. Which leads to the conclusion that we need national solutions, not state and local ones, though I take solace that we have stronger gun laws in California where I live and a not-so-visible gun culture if any. (Of course we have a gun culture.) Still, here in Sonoma County where I've lived for the past decade we've had police killings of kids with toy guns, the infamous Polly Klass rape and murder, and assorted gun murders and suicides, though the gun death rates are quite low by comparison. We've got our nearby Oakland, Richmond, and even sections of San Francisco that are not exactly gun-free paradises, though Richmond has made laudable strides in reducing gun violence.

Then, upon trying to prove how progressive my Sonoma County was, I was nonplussed to discover that we had concealed carry laws that included my town of Sonoma (not all of Sonoma County residents are free to concealed-carry). The law, as explained in the link, is quite strict and somewhat attached to common-sense, well-regulated, concealed-carry rules. That's reassuring.

I was, however, gratified to discover that open carry of loaded or unloaded weapons is not permitted in California, with very careful exceptions. What is especially reassuring is that both open- and concealed-carry laws contain strict regulation. Important for gun-rights supporters: People of proven good character, with no arrest record and with a provable need for open- or concealed-carry, can qualify for such privileges.

Unless you believe people with criminal records, mental-health or substance-abuse issues should have access to guns, you'll find a pretty good balance in California.

And yet there is easy access to guns here in spite of the laws. In urban areas where most concealed- and open-carry are virtually banned, we still find unacceptable levels of gun violence. Guns are still trafficked with insufficient regulation. Good gun laws alone can't overcome the gun culture.

Insufficient -- and under-enforced -- gun regulation leads to higher levels of gun deaths.

Where is my state of California in this set of statistics? California has the ninth-best record on gun deaths per 100,000. It also has a 21.1% gun-ownership rate. See the correlation between gun ownership and gun death rates? Pretty obvious.

  • Hawaii -- lowest gun-ownership rate, lowest gun death rate.
  • California -- ranked 42nd in gun ownership, ranked 41st in gun-death rate.
  • Alaska -- highest gun-ownership rate, highest gun death rate.

See how that works? Now get educated on this stuff, and every time there's another mass shooting, spread the news from every mountain top -- or, more likely, social media outlet -- to everyone you can reach, saying you're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Japanese freaks and geeks chillin' on the streets of Tokyo: They can relax in one
of the world's most populous and crowded cities, in a nation with a murder rate
in 2006 of 2 per approximately 125,000,000 (not a typo). There were 0 in 2008.
22 murders in 2007 was a national scandal. Most recent figures (2011) are near
0 again. Tell me again why we can't achieve something close to this?

Needed: a cultural shift away from the cult of guns.

Final factoid: Pooling results from 15 investigations, researchers found that a person with access to a gun is unequivocally less safe in terms of intentional death. Those with the ability to get to a gun are three times as likely to commit suicide and twice as likely to be the victim of a homicide than people without access.

 Hmm. Maybe guns do kill people.

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