America’s Gun Culture: Infatuation, Fetish or Curse?

I awoke this morning to the breaking news of another shooting in America with multiple victims.

People are shocked (yet again), so we can take solace that at least this hadn’t yet become “ho-hum, meh” news. But how often does this tragedy have to occur before our legislators – and we – honor the victims and ourselves by eradicating this social malignancy?

I immigrated to the United States 26 years ago, where I’d been offered a professional opportunity. I was enthused about moving to a country which had represented idealism and been a beacon of welcome to millions of immigrants.

I was also wary because America had become infamous for its “gun culture,” easily available weapons and ammunition, and frequent shootings and killings.

It was unnerving that in my first week here there was a school shooting in my new home town, and I was to give a prearranged lecture on “Violence in America.” I wondered whether this was mere serendipity, or ominous synchronicity.

 

Fast forward to the present, and if anything, gun violence in this country is even worse. Nowhere else in the world, except for battlegrounds and war zones, is there a country with such alarming numbers of injuries and deaths due to firearms.

How is it possible that this singular country, with its enviable freedoms and achievements, its great discoveries in the sciences, its creativity in the arts and letters, its prodigious output and wealth, its remarkable educational institutions and record number of Nobel Laureates…has a gun-caused death rate that is well beyond the realm of comparison with any other civilized countries?

 The following statistics are valid and verifiable, yet almost unimaginable: There were 35.000 gun-related fatalities in the U.S. last year. Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in all other developed countries. The American gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher and gun-related suicide rate 8 times higher than in any other high-income nations. The U.S. owns half of all the guns in the world, with civilian gun ownership rates in the stratosphere compared to other developed countries.

Sad to say, we all recall, with shudders, the names of schools which were scenes of mass shootings over the last few years: Sandy Hook; Columbine; Parkland; Virginia Tech; Saugus…Had enough? I could readily list many more, but this would be too painful a task, with too heavy a heart…

Have we learned nothing? I ask because in 46 weeks this year thus far there have already been 45 school shootings and 369 mass shootings in this country, all with heartbreaking personal and family stories.

Thus, I cannot for the life of me understand, “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!” and “WHY ONLY IN AMERICA?!”

WHY are/is:

  • Guns are so easily available here?
  • Politicians so loath to regulate and control the availability/accessibility to guns?
  • So many of our lawmakers in the sway (and pocket) of the National Rifle Association (NRA)?
  • The Second Amendment (enabling the arming of militias) so entrenched in the American psyche? (Even so, why not keep that Amendment, but add regulations to prevent weapons falling into the hands of children, or mentally disturbed, violent, racist or other dangerous individuals?)
  • Semiautomatic or battlefield (military) weapons openly bought and sold, and in the possession of everyday citizens?
  • Ongoing active trainings for children in Elementary, Middle and High schools and colleges for protection from the “next shooter” who arrives? (This is less consciousness raising and protective then it is scare mongering and panic-inducing).
  • Physicians, epidemiologists and other scientists forbidden from pursuing federally-funded research on gun violence, although this is a true Public Health Epidemic and a social Tragedy and Travesty?

As a psychiatrist, I can confidently say it is not that we have a higher incidence of mental illness here. So why do we have so many guns and shooters? Is this a product of our Second Amendment? Our Wild West history? Is it our worship of individualism? Our antipathy to government control and regulations?

If it is true that guns make men (vastly more than women) feel safer, more powerful or perhaps more virile, why is this valid only in America? Why then is this not the case for men in England, Sweden, Canada, Germany, Israel, Japan, China, France, South Africa, Australia…?

We obviously cannot prevent all shootings, but there is strong evidence that we can dramatically reduce the numbers of these tragic occurrences. In countries which have introduced new strict regulation of firearms, there have been significant drops in the occurrence of mass and individual murders and the incidents of self-harm and domestic violence using guns.

But not in America.

“Only in America” used to be said with wonderment and awe. The United States has recently become increasingly at odds with previous allies and progressive nations for many reasons. The widespread uncontrolled abuse of weapons here in America is just one of many degrading aspects of our country’s recent demeanor. This regrettable part of our current culture has greatly reduced our civility and compassion, and our once-inspirational leadership position.

Surely, we are better than this.

As an American citizen, I find our Gun Violence situation: Appalling. Incomprehensible. Inconceivable. Immoral. Dangerous. Indefensible. Intolerable. Tragic. Unconscionable. Unforgivable. It is also Embarrassing. Humiliating. Shameful. Demoralizing. Degrading.

Most important, our rampant Gun Violence is Unnecessary and Preventable.

 

 

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