Chris: On Sunday night, Stephen Paddock of Mequite, Nevada opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounded hundreds more. It was the deadliest single-shooter killing in American history. Erin and David both wrote about dealing with the shooting this week and we thought we’d continue the discussion in this week’s slack chat.
You made the point that from a historical perspective we need to acknowledge that deeper culture forces at work.
And I don’t think it helps when we characterize the shooter as a “lone-wolf” or describing the incident as “isolated.”
Those terms make this type of violence seem aberrational rather than endemic of a broader societal problem.
David: Right, I think it’s important to acknowledge the deeper cultural forces that lead to these shootings. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge the deeper cultural forces that keep us from dealing with them. I think there’s some overlap between the two, but they’re not precisely identical.
But your comment about the “lone-wolf” is important. I wrote about how our individualist ethos keeps us from seeing gun violence as a deeper problem. But that ethos also makes it easier to identify shooters as “lone wolves”.
Chris: I was thinking about this a lot this week. How many of these “lone-wolf” types have Americans encountered in the past twenty years of violence?
David: Really none, right?
I mean, every shooter is getting their ideas from somewhere.
Chris: And they’re generally part of some larger organization or group.
David: But even if they’re not — and I’m thinking especially of school shootings — there’s a culture that has fostered the idea that shooting a bunch of people is something that happens.
Chris: And it’s something that’s just the cost of our constitutional rights for gun ownership
To be clear, that is an argument that I oppose vehemently.
David: Yeah, that is a really bizarre argument to me.
Chris: We all agree that there are limits to our freedoms.
You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater is a famous example.
David: What gets me is the shocking hypocrisy, or cluelessness, or both. Matt Bevin’s (the governor of KY) comment that you can’t “regulate evil”. All through history, Americans have attempted to regulate evil. And, in fact, more often than not it’s been Republicans who have been doing the regulating!
Chris: We attempt to regulate evil all the time.
Murder, theft, rape, etc. are all illegal.
Our desire to regulate those behaviors stem from a belief that some actions are right and others are wrong.
And we as a society need to punish the wrong acts as a way to deter them.
David: Right. And beyond that, Republicans are more likely to moralize right/wrong in terms of good and evil.
Chris: To your point, how often do we hear about the abortion being evil?
I also don’t understand the argument that, “well the framers intended to protect gun ownership” so we have to do it too.
That argument strips away all historical context.
David: I really struggle with this. I try to be charitable to people I disagree with politically, but there does seem to be a shocking, willful obliviousness on the part of gun control opponents.
Chris: Arguments over the nature of government and what the government’s role is didn’t freeze in 1789.
I think it speaks to what you wrote about. If we push past the shocking and I would argue a-historic arguments, what do you have underneath?
David: Not much. And I think on some level, they know that.
Chris: What you have is a culture of violence.
A nation born in an act of violence and perpetuated by acts of violence.
Where do we divide our American history surveys? The Civil War, the biggest act of violence in the nation’s history.
David: And a culture that valorizes guns
I’ve been thinking more and more about that over the last few years. At the risk of sounding like an old crank, I do wonder if we need to start rethinking how gun violence is depicted in popular culture.
Chris: That is a symptom, I think, of this culture of violence.
Have you ever fired a gun?
Chris: The first time I ever fired a real gun was on the Fourth of July about a month after I graduated from college.
My girlfriend and I had driven her car back to her parents’ house in Louisiana after graduation and her father (my now father-in-law) took us to a gun range on July 4.
He explained that he wanted to expose me (a Massachusetts liberal who only ever shot an air rifle at Boy Scout camp) to some of southern culture. He likes to do things like that.
We shot his black powder pistol (he’s a Lewis and Clark enthusiast) which I kind of enjoyed.
Then he took out a handgun and had me shoot it. I was absolutely terrified.
As I stood at the range, I held the handgun and it struck me, this gun was designed for one purpose and one purpose only. To shoot people.
I shot it once and never again. (I’ve seen gone skeet shooting a few times with a shot gun but only at clay discs)
But what really struck me was how this was a family event. The gun range was packed with families, little kids, and the like. All just going out to shoot on July 4th.
And for that, I’m glad I went, just to experience this other culture that I had never experienced.
David: That’s always really striking to me (and, admittedly, really outside my own experience). The way gun culture defines family, recreation, etc.
Chris: Yeah, what struck me was just how normal this all was.
Another example. The people we bought our house from kept a 6 foot tall gun safe in their bedroom. They had hunting trophies mounted in one of the kid’s bedrooms and elsewhere.
I guess the hardest thing for me is how to we get from support for recreational hunting to we must protect the right to buy assault weapons.
David: What’s interesting to me is that, at least what I’ve seen anecdotally, recreational hunters are some of the strongest critics of assault weapons.
Chris: Yeah, I mean I think the issue we’re getting at, is how did we get to a point where even after a shooting like what just happened in Vegas (or any of the times before) where we all know that nothing will change?
While gun ownership is a strong predictor of political affliation, people of both parties support some level of stricter gun regulation.
David: But here’s something: I’ve been struck by the fact that people seem more determined for change this time. More so than after Sandy Hook, even. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m getting that sense. And I wonder why that is?
Chris: Perhaps, the cumulative effect?
A more mobilized/organized left?
David: Maybe. I also wonder if Obama not being president has something to do with it?
Chris: Gun manufacturers were in the middle of a “Trump slump”
When Obama was president and when they thought Hillary was going to be elected, the NRA went nuts telling people that the government was going to take away their guns.
I had an unpleasant encounter last September in a Target in Shreveport with a guy who was asking random people if they thought the government was going to take away toy guns next.
Recently, the NRA has upped its rhetoric even further, declaring that the left is out to get them.
God, I wish the Left was as organized and efficient as the NRA portrays it.
David: Yeah. I think the left has been slow to recognize that the NRA isn’t just about guns anymore, but is attacking the whole vision of society advocated on the left
Chris: Yeah, there’s a great piece by Heather Cox Richardson today that highlights how the NRA joined the conservative movement in the 1970s and 1980s and became a key player in the culture wars.
David: Yup. I saw that earlier. It was, in part, what prompted the comment.
Chris: She made another point in that piece that I really liked, which is one what we’re all grappling in the Trump era.
We have no idea where we are in the broader narrative of history, so it’s hard to know when the world has turned upside down.
Her point was, yes, the world has turned upside down thanks to this culture of gun violence.
David: Yeah, I like that point as well. And, as you say, it applies more broadly these days. I really look forward to reading the histories of this era for that reason.
Chris: I think about that a lot in terms of the Russia investigation.
I think in later histories it will dominate the Trump era like Watergate does for Nixon. But living in it, it’s something that’s just brewing under the surface.
David: That seems right. And I think the same point applies: we forget what a slow burn Watergate was for a while.
Chris: It really was. The Saturday Night Massacre occurred like 10 months before Nixon resigned.
I was thinking about this over the past week–I’ve become kind of numb to these types of shootings. Not that I don’t feel sympathy for the victims or anything like that. More that they don’t surprise me anymore.
David: Yeah, though Las Vegas stands out to me as different. In a way that Newtown did as well.
Newtown because most of the victims were young children, Las Vegas because of the scale and elaborate nature of the event.
Chris: I was thinking about how many of these types of violent incidents have marked my formative years. I remember the newspaper front page that featured the Waco compound burning. Oklahoma City, the Olympic Park bombing, Columbine, 9-11, Sandy Hook, Orlando, the Boston Marathon Bombing. Not all of those were shootings, but they nonetheless stood out to me as part of a longer historical trend.
David: What’s striking about the shootings is just how easy it is to pull one off in the US. That’s what makes the US different from Europe.
Chris: That’s a point worth stressing
The US is the only Western developed nation where incidents like this happen regularly.
Occam’s Razor tells us why that is.
Those countries strictly regulate access to guns
David: So what’s your prediction: does anything change because of Las Vegas?
Chris: Unfortunately, I don’t think so. I hope something does change.
I guess I’d also ask what you mean by change.
David: Stricter gun control laws is what I guess I had in mind. But since you quite rightly have pushed me to define my terms, I’d also add a more general shift in the cultural conversation about guns.
And I think I’m with you. There might be some token policy change. But I don’t think we’ll see any meaningful shift, other than to continue to see guns become a more partisan issue (Democrats more ardently pro-gun control, GOP more opposed).
Chris: I’d agree on the token policy change. Hopefully it does push a meaningful cultural conversation, but it’s hard to see how guns are going to rise above all the other issues that are dominating the cultural discourse right now.
Hence my skepticism.
David: Yeah. We do seem to be lurching from one thing to another.
Chris: And we all know why that is. It’s big, orange, and has tiny hands.