Why Guns are Fun in American Society

With all of the recent publicity about escalating gun violence in the United States, and proposals for and against legislation to moderate this, I’ve been thinking about the attraction that people have for guns, and why it is that legislation alone will never work to solve this problem. 

 

I grew up with guns. My dad and uncles had them, and mostly they were used for hunting when we lived in northern California. When I was little, I used to play with toy pistol cap guns that would make a popping sound when the tape was rolled into them [1]. During the summers, my cousins and I would shoot each other with water pistols, some shaped like Uzi submachine guns that would repeat fire when the trigger was held down, and you could even add red food coloring so that it looked like blood! When I was ten, I wanted nothing more than my very own BB gun, just like the kid in The Christmas Story [2], which I finally got when I was ten. I was also given a BB gun pistol with chrome plating, which looked just like a real gun like in the movies, which was fascinating; it was totally impractical and completely useless for anything, but it looked real, and that was all that mattered to me. I could pretend to shoot bad guys with it, just like I saw in the movies. When I was thirteen, I was given a 20 gage shotgun, which I learned how to disassemble clean and use, and this is the gun that I used to shoot myself in the head when I was fourteen. 

 

Guns were first introduced in the Americas when European conquistadors and settlers arrived to populate them, which were used for hunting, protection, and to kill the natives [3]. Guns have been an intrinsic part of American civilization ever since. They were needed to win the American Revolution [4]. They were needed to populate the western migration of settlers into the lesser populated regions of America [5]; protecting homesteads from natural predators and to maintain some semblance of order for communities as well as hunting for food. They were needed for Americans to kill each other during the Civil War [6]. They were needed during the Wild West for law enforcement [7]. In the early 1900’s, Thompson submachine guns could conveniently be purchased by mail order or from the local hardware or sporting goods store [8], then law enforcement needed guns to protect themselves from criminals who owned Thompson submachine guns. And so on, throughout American history. 

 

There is a part of human nature that has always been violent, but as part of modern civilization, we should be able to overcome this. So why is the problem only getting worse? It’s not just the easy availability of guns, but a combination of many factors. 

 

One large factor is the entertainment industry. 

 

As early as the beginning of the 1900’s, there has been a cultural fascination with American criminal folk heroes, including the Sundance Kid [9], Billy the Kid [10], and Bonnie and Clyde [11], plus violent counterparts such as Doc Holliday [12] and Wyatt Earp [13]; which many movies have been made to depict. The role of the Mafia has equally been glorified in American entertainment as well [14], including such movies as The Godfather and shows such as The Sopranos. The same is true for the depiction of inner city gang violence in American culture [15]. 

 

This is true for the music industry as well, which started to become more prevalent in the 1990’s with the popularity of some edge Rap performers pushing the envelope. One such was the release of Cop Killer by Ice-T [16]. Additionally, the use of violent and misogynistic lyrics in popular Rap and Hip-Hop songs since the early 2000’s have been tied to a rise in physical abuse since that time [17]. 

 

This is also true for the video game industry, where violence and crime against people in some games earns points and rewards. In a recent study, it was proven that children and young adults who play violent video games have much more difficulty exercising self-control [18], including such popular games as Grand Theft Auto, where it was possible to steal cars, have sex with a prostitute then kill her afterwards to get their money back, and kill police officers to gain additional points. In 2013, Guinness World Records announced: “Guinness World Records can today confirm that the launch of Grand Theft Auto V has broken six new world records including the Highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours and the Fastest entertainment property to gross $1 billion.” [19]. 

 

A second large factor is the growth of narcissism in American society. 

 

In a recent FAQ regarding The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement [20], it states: 

 

“We know that narcissism has increased over time among individuals based on several datasets. College students now endorse more narcissistic traits than college students did in the 1980s and 1990s; in one large sample the change seemed to be accelerating after 2002. An Internet sample of the general population also showed higher narcissism scores among younger people than older people. Perhaps most disturbing, a 2005 study using a large, randomly selected sample of Americans found that nearly 1 out of 10 people in their twenties had experienced NPD – the more severe, clinical-level form of the trait. Only 1 out of 30 people over 64 had experienced NPD in their lifetime – even though they had lived 40 more years than the people in their twenties and thus had that much more time to experience the disorder. This suggests a large increase in NPD over time.” 

 

“The Narcissism Epidemic covers a broad range of cultural symptoms, including increases in materialism, entitlement, public violence and aggression, self-promotion, and the desire for uniqueness.” 

 

In an article published in 2010 by Psychology Today, titled Shocker: Empathy Dropped 40% in College Students Since 2000 [21], it states: 

 

“College students who hit campus after 2000 have empathy levels that are 40% lower than those who came before them, according to a stunning new study presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science by University of Michigan researchers. It includes data from over 14,000 students.” 

 

“Worse, much of the time that used to be spent playing outdoors is now spent in front of screens. Television, obviously cannot teach empathy. Even nonviolent kids’ TV, research finds, is filled with indirect aggression and linked to increased real-world bullying.” 

 

A third large factor is dark propaganda in American society. 

 

The concept of propaganda has existed within all societies for as long as societies have existed. In The Story of Propaganda by the American Historical Association [22], it states: 

 

“In peacetime the promotional activities of democratic governments usually consist of making the citizens aware of the services offered by a given department and of developing popular support for the policies with which the department is concerned. The purpose is to make these services “come alive” to the everyday citizen, and in the long run official information and promotion tend to make the average man more conscious of his citizenship. If the public is interested in the work done in its name and in its behalf, intelligent public criticism of governmental services can be stimulated.” 

 

The dark side of propaganda however, can corrupt the minds of a society. In an article titled Enemy Propaganda by the American Historical Association [23], it states: 

 

“Hitler is the arch propagandist of our time. These are examples of his strategy in attempting to mold the opinions and attitudes of his intended victims to his own purposes. Division, doubt, and fear are the weapons he uses within one nation and among Allied countries arrayed against him. His purpose is summed up in his own phrase-to sow “mental confusion, contradiction. of feeling, indecision, panic.” ” 

 

This tactic is alive and well in America, and with the ever present availability of online news resources and social media, dark propaganda can easily be spread to millions instantly. 

 

In a recent article titled Beware of the online war of propaganda by USC News [24], it states: 

 

“As more people get news from social media, the spread of misinformation is a risk.” 

 

“The growing popularity of social media raises all sorts of questions about online security. According to a recent Twitter SEC filing, approximately 8.5 percent of all users on Twitter are bots – fake accounts used to produce automated posts. While some of these accounts have commercial purposes, others are influence bots used to generate opinions about a certain topic.” 

 

This concept is important, as noted in an article titled Media’s Use of Propaganda to Persuade People’s Attitude, Beliefs and Behaviors by Stanford University [25], where it states: 

 

“As a result of our increasing sophistication and to build our civilization, we have created and environment so complex, so fast-paced, and information-laden, that we must increasingly deal with it in the fashion of the animals we long ago transcended. Thus, from the case studies on how the media uses propaganda, we can understand that the media does more than presentation facts and information. The media has the ability to exploit persuasive tactics to the specific definition of propaganda: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. Indeed, as we have shown, this does not have to be the “in your face,” World War II propaganda. Instead, the presentation is subtle and unaware to the untrained eye, so that even slight difference in the presentation can help change contextual understanding.” 

 

The spreading of false news is a prime example of this type of propaganda, the danger of which is illustrated in a recent personal account titled Fox News – Clear and Present Danger to America [26]. 

 

“These are people who I used to have spirited but intelligent political discussions with. That’s gone now. Those people are gone.” 

 

“In all other ways, they remain competent, functioning adults. My mom still works, they both are very computer-literate and active. Yet they believed that Dearborn, Michigan was under Sharia law. They believe that Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts for profit. They believe our President is a Kenyan Muslim Socialist.” 

 

As part of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, we enjoy freedom of speech. This is a critical asset for a democracy. However, there is a dark side to this, because many people in our society will believe anything if it sounds like news. 

 

This was exploited by William Randolph Hearst in the late 1800’s as noted in his biography [27]: 

 

“The Daily Examiner became young Hearst’s laboratory, where he gained a talent for         making fake news and faking real news in such a way as to create maximum         public shock.” 

 

The same tactics are being used today to spread false news to millions through the Internet. This can be observed in an article titled NASA Confirms Earth Will Experience 15 Days Of Complete Darkness in November 2015 by NewsWatch33 [28]: 

 

“WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEWSWATCH33) – NASA has confirmed that the Earth will experience 15 days of total darkness between November 15 and November 29, 2015. The event, according to NASA, hasn’t occurred in over 1 Million years.” 

 

As opposed to an article titled Earth to face a 6-day blackout, viral hoax cites NASA as saying by RT [29]: 

 

“The original report was   published on a satirical news site Huzlers.com, citing NASA   administrator Charles Bolden as the source.” 

 

“Bolden’s emergency preparedness video was taken out of context to   add weight to the report.” 

 

“When viewed as a whole, however, it becomes clear that Bolden was   discussing emergency preparedness in case of an earthquake or   hurricane, in order to help US families to be ready for such   scenarios.” 

 

“Still, many people reacted in panic, as the story went viral on   Twitter.” 

 

The spreading of dark propaganda through seemingly trustworthy news sources is very dangerous for American society, because this constitutes an abuse of our freedom of speech, and spreads malcontent and divisiveness where there should be none. 

 

A fourth large factor is population growth and economic disparities. 

 

According to the Population Clock from the United States Census Bureau [30], there is a net gain of one person every thirteen seconds. With this constant population growth in mind, the division of economic disparities in the United States is literally growing wider every minute of every hour every day. 

 

In a recent article by Scientific American titled Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think [31], it states: 

 

“According to Pew Research, most Americans believe the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, but 60% believe that most people can make it if they’re willing to work hard.” 

 

“In a candid conversation with Frank Rich last fall, Chris Rock said, “Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.” The findings of three studies, published over the last several years in Perspectives on Psychological Science, suggest that Rock is right. We have no idea how unequal our society has become.” 

 

“The average American believes that the richest fifth own 59% of the wealth and that the bottom 40% own 9%. The reality is strikingly different. The top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%. The Walton family, for example, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined.” 

 

The results of this are discussed in an article by Fortune titled Wealth inequality in the U.S. is 10 times worse than income inequality [32], where it states: 

 

“Furthermore, there’s reason to believe that such levels of inequality can have even worse consequences. The late historian Tony Judt addressed these effects in Ill Fares the Land, a book on the consequences of the financial crisis, writing:” 

 

“There has been a collapse in intergenerational mobility: in contrast to their parents and grandparents, children today in the UK as in the US have very little expectation of improving upon the condition into which they were born. The poor stay poor. Economic disadvantage for the overwhelming majority translates into ill health, missed educational opportunity, and-increasingly-the familiar symptoms of depression: alcoholism, obesity, gambling, and minor criminality.” 

 

“In other words, there’s evidence that rising inequality and many other intractable social problems are related. Not only is rising inequality bad for business, it’s bad for society, too.” 

 

A fifth large factor is the mental health of those effected by all of these factors and the impact of stress on the human psyche. 

 

In an article by World of Psychology titled How Stress Affects Mental Health [33], it states: 

 

“Chronic stress increases the risk of developing health problems including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and a weakened immune system. Chronic stress also affects a person’s mental health. Many studies show a correlation between stress and the development of mood disorders such as anxiety disorders and depression.” 

 

“According to the American Psychological Association’s latest stress survey, 66 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, and 63 percent experience psychological symptoms.” 

 

“Previous research has found physical differences in the brains of people with stress disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and those without. One of the main distinctions is that the ratio of the brain’s white matter to gray matter is higher in those with stress-related mental disorders compared to those without.” 

 

“This study shows that the oligodendrocyte cells might play a key role in long-term changes to the brain that could lead to mental health problems. The researchers also believe that the stem cells which, due to chronic stress, are becoming myelin-producing cells rather than neurons, affect cognitive function, because it is the neurons that process and transmit the electrical information necessary for learning and memory skills.” 

 

So to conclude, it’s not just an overabundance of guns in America that are to blame for social violence, nor is it simply the lack of sufficient legislation, but rather a combination of all of these factors that continue to negatively affect our society. 

 

This also includes children, as illustrated recently when an eleven year old boy in Tennessee fatally shot an eight year old girl when she refused to show him her puppy using his father’s shotgun [34]. 

 

We in American society are becoming desensitized to violence by constantly being bombarded by it [35]. We watch it on television and in movies, we play video games where we earn points for doing it, we listen to music that promotes it, we as children are raised with war games that emulate it using fake weapons to do it, and we as human beings are learning not to care anymore. 

 

Violence has always existed in all societies around the world since the beginning of humanity, which seems to indicate that this is a fundamental aspect of human nature. However, human beings also have the capacity to be compassionate and empathetic as part of a cohesive society. This is why as intelligent beings we can exercise free will and choose not to be violent. 

 

What needs to be addressed, are all of the factors that lead up to violence in our society. One clue to this is rather simple, happy and well-adjusted people are typically not violent. This is because they have no reason to be. 

 

Personally, I don’t know how many of these factors played a part in my childhood. I do know that my favorite movie that summer was The Crow [36] starring Brandon Lee, who died during production from an accidental gunshot wound on the set. It wasn’t until years later that I realized why I liked the movie so much. I’m a romantic, and the provocative darkness portrayed in the film appealed to a darkness within me that I didn’t have the experience needed to properly understand. My favorite song at that time was The Unforgiven, by Metallica [37]. So, for a variety of reasons leading up to the end of that summer in 1994, I decided to end my life.  

 

The presence of guns in the house made this decision much easier. Even if they were not present though, it would not have changed my decision, though the outcome would have been different. To be perfectly honest, if a person really wants to end their life, they will find a way to do so no matter what tools are available. 

 

At the time, it never occurred to me to harm anybody else other than myself, physically at any rate. The idea of harming innocents is totally alien to me, and I don’t understand it. At some point though, the practice of murder suicide has become popular for some twisted reason, and this is reflected in all of the mass shootings that we’ve witnessed in recent years. In the early 1990’s, this was even depicted in the music video Jeremy, by Pearl Jam [38]. 

 

I’ll end this here with this last thought, even though the lack of access to guns would not really make a difference for a person who truly wishes to take their own life, a lack of guns would make it much more difficult for such a person to take the lives of innocents at the same time. 

 

Also, the multiple factors that lead up to violence in the first place, must be addressed in our society if we are going to have any hope for the future.

 

References

1. History Of The Toy Gun
http://ezinearticles.com/?History-Of-The-Toy-Gun&id=5370607
2. A Christmas Story (1983) – IMDb
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085334/
3. Epic World History: Conquest of Central America
http://epicworldhistory.blogspot.com/2012/07/conquest-of-central-america.html
4. Revolutionary War Timeline
http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/revwartimeline.htm
5. Westward Expansion – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.com
http://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion
6. A Brief Overview of the American Civil War
http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/civil-war-overview/overview.html
7. Cowboys – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.com
http://www.history.com/topics/cowboys
8. Thompson Submachine Gun
http://www.auto-ordnance.com/ao-thompson-submachine-gun.asp
9. Sundance Kid – Thief – Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/people/sundance-kid-9499214#early-years
10. Billy the Kid – Criminal – Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/people/billy-the-kid-278971#early-life
11. Bonnie and Clyde – Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/people/groups/bonnie-and-clyde
12. Doc Holliday – Criminal, Folk Hero – Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/people/doc-holliday-9342122
13. Wyatt Earp – Law Enforcement – Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/people/wyatt-earp-9283338#synopsis
14. Why Hollywood is married to the mob
http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/why-hollywood-is-married-to-the-mob-20100913-158dl.html
15. Drugs, Violence and the Street: The Top 10 Gang Movies of the ’90s – SundanceTV
http://www.sundance.tv/blog/2015/03/drugs-violence-and-the-street-the-top-10-gang-movies-of-the-90s
16. ‘Cop Killer’ controversy | EW.com
http://www.ew.com/article/1992/12/25/cop-killer-controversy
17. The Influence of Rap and Hip-Hop Music: An Analysis on Audience Perceptions of Misogynistic Lyrics – JournalQuest
http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/792/the-influence-of-rap-and-hip-hop-music-an-analysis-on-audience-perceptions-of-misogynistic-lyrics?ab=ad-above&utm_expid=22625156-1.5tC6-gkOQEG4cY5MGWGX_A.1
18. Violent video games decrease self-control | Psychology Today
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/get-psyched/201401/violent-video-games-decrease-self-control
19. Confirmed: Grand Theft Auto 5 breaks 6 sales world records | Guinness World Records
http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2013/10/confirmed-grand-theft-auto-breaks-six-sales-world-records-51900/
20. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement – Book
http://www.narcissismepidemic.com/aboutbook.html
21. Shocker: Empathy Dropped 40% in College Students Since 2000 | Psychology Today
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/born-love/201005/shocker-empathy-dropped-40-in-college-students-2000
22. The Story of Propaganda
https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/gi-roundtable-series/pamphlets/what-is-propaganda/the-story-of-propaganda
23. Enemy Propaganda
https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/gi-roundtable-series/pamphlets/what-is-propaganda/enemy-propaganda
24. Beware of the online war of propaganda | USC News
https://news.usc.edu/82853/beware-of-the-war-of-propaganda-taking-place-online/
25. Media’s Use of Propaganda to Persuade People’s Attitude, Beliefs and Behaviors
http://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/war_peace/media/hpropaganda.html
26. Fox News – Clear and Present Danger to America
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/10/09/1429662/-Fox-News-Clear-and-Present-Danger-to-America?detail=facebook
27. William Randolph Hearst Biography – life, death, history, wife, school, mother, young, son, old, information, born
http://www.notablebiographies.com/Gi-He/Hearst-William-Randolph.html
28. NASA Confirms Earth Will Experience 15 Days Of Complete Darkness in November 2015 | NewsWatch33
https://newswatch33.com/science/nasa-confirms-earth-will-experience-15-days-of-complete-darkness-in-november-2015/
29. Earth to face a 6-day blackout, viral hoax cites NASA as saying – RT USA
https://www.rt.com/usa/200279-nasa-darkness-hoax-debunked/
30. Population Clock
http://www.census.gov/popclock/
31. Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think – Scientific American
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/economic-inequality-it-s-far-worse-than-you-think/
32. Wealth inequality in the U.S. is 10 times worse than income inequality – Fortune
http://fortune.com/2014/10/31/inequality-wealth-income-us/
33. How Stress Affects Mental Health | World of Psychology
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/02/25/how-stress-affects-mental-health/
34. 11-year-old charged with murder in Tennessee 8-year-old’s death – CBS News
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/boy-11-charged-with-murder-in-tennessee-8-year-olds-death/
35. Desensitizing the Mind to Violence – Dave Grossman, Author
http://www.killology.com/art_trained_methods.htm
36. The Crow (1994) – IMDb
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109506/
37. Metallica – The Unforgiven (Video) – YouTube

38. Pearl Jam – Jeremy (Official Video) – YouTube

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One thought on “Why Guns are Fun in American Society

  1. Great article, Bryan. I’ve thought about this quite a bit over the years and feel that you are spot on in your analysis. I came here to read about the ARIA tabs, but discovered we have some social perspectives in common. I don’t think I could have written something as well cited as this, kudos for diligence! Sorry to hear you struggled as an adolescent – thank goodness you were largely unsuccessful in your stated goal. I had a similar darkness at the same age, but I never acted on it. I’ve never really been around guns. I really like your conclusion about the role of happiness in people who decide to take violent action. When someone is happy they will rarely inflict harm on themselves or on others, and this is an astute observation. We rarely focus on happiness in modern society as a state-of-mind free from material and virtual gains, assuming it is simply a byproduct of the these things. In fact, happiness is only superficially related to the material world, and can exist in abundance with or without it. As you mention, the true source of happiness comes from “compassion and empathy as part of a cohesive society.” Unfortunately, it would be difficult to find an account of modern society that would conclude it to be cohesive. In spite of this lack of cohesion, it is incumbent on the individual to develop compassion and empathy by whatever means available, perhaps simply by understanding and following ‘the Golden Rule’, so that perhaps in the future more people can coalesce around these ideals.

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