Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Philosophy Weekend: The Roots of Gun Violence

By Levi Asher on Saturday, December 15, 2012 08:58 pm

Sadly, due to another terrible shooting disaster, gun control is back in the news. A poster is going around Facebook and the Internet with some amazing statistics:

Last year, handguns killed
48 people in Japan
8 in Great Britain,
34 in Switzerland,
52 in Canada,
58 in Israel,
21 in Sweden,
42 in West Germany,
10,728 in the United States

I support stronger gun laws in the United States of America, and I know many other citizens do. But we all know that gun laws alone won't solve the problem of gun violence (though it would help a lot), and we also know that there is a strong organized resistance to gun control. To solve this standoff, we need to dig deeper. We can start by looking for the roots of our society's gun violence problem.

Our Constitution states that government cannot prevent citizens from arming to form a well-regulated militia. This made sense during the tumultuous, war-torn era of the late 18th Century. Today, unfortunately, the world remains tumultuous and war-torn, and many Americans believe the country is surrounded by military or quasi-military threats: Communism, militant Islam, the United Nations. This has led to our policy of "muscling up" against all possible military threats -- a practice that has gotten badly out of hand.

The statistic about handguns above is pretty stunning, but here's a different statistic that's equally stunning:

Here are the top ten military spenders in the world last year, in ascending order:
10. Brazil: 35.4 billion
9. Germany: 46.7 billion
8 India: 46.8 billion
7. Saudi Arabia: 48.2 billion
6. Japan: 59.3 billion
5. France: 62.5 billion
4. United Kingdom: 62.7 billion
3. Russia: 71.9 billion
2. China: 143.0 billion
1. United States of America: 711.0 billion

So our nation muscles up with big weapons, and our people muscle up with big guns. I think there must be a psychological tie between hysterical militarism and hysterical gun violence, and I think an American paranoia caused by a perception of constant global warfare must be a subconscious cause of our obsession with guns and heavy weapons.

We should all speak out about gun violence, but when we do so, let's remember that militarism is the country's biggest form of gun violence. Militarism is gun violence. It's no coincidence that Newtown, Connecticut 20-year-old school shooter Adam Lanza decked himself out in desert-storm-style military amouflage beginning his rampage. To Adam Lanza, this was the uniform to wear for a shooting rampage.

It's hard to face up to the fact that we are all complicit as taxpayers for the world's greatest weapon bazaar: the USA military-industrial complex. It's easier to forget this disturbing truth. President Barack Obama forgot it as he fought back tears while speaking about the killings of kindergarten children in Newtown, Connecticut. He said:

The majority of those who died today were children -- beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old.  They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.  Among the fallen were also teachers -- men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams. 

So our hearts are broken today -- for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost.  Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.

I believe that President Obama's words were heartfelt and sincere. However, unfortunately, his words are also hollow. Our own drones have killed countless innocent children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their innocence has been broken too.

We need an activist popular movement for gun control in this country right now (Occupy NRA? Why not?). But we also need an activist popular movement for world peace, for pacifism. On a legislative level we need an enthusiastic push for gun control, and an enthusiastic push for reduction of our gigantic and wasteful military budget.

Big weapons, little weapons; the USA needs to solve both problems -- rampant militarism, rampant gun violence -- together. And we need to begin now.


This article is part of the Philosophy Weekend series. The next post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: Are We All Closet Utopians?. The previous post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: Cervantes and Descartes.


20 Responses to "Philosophy Weekend: The Roots of Gun Violence"

by TKG on

It is bewildering when evil of this magnitude and senselessness takes place.  

In response people seek solace using their most dear and fundamental beliefs  to put the evil in a context that provides some comfort due to a seeming understanding and ostensible explanation. 

Thus, I've also read how this is explained by abortion or by Occupy Wall Street.  They use the same arguments:  death of innocents, the color of the clothes he was wearing. 

But it's not due to the US military budget, or abortion, or occupy wall street, or guns, or video games or any number of other preconceived ideas.

   Evil  acts like this are used by  people to reinforce their own belief system. Responses serve  as Rorschach tests that bring out fundamental core beliefs and thoughts. 

I think of the topics you've presented here at LitKicks over the years, Levi, the most relevant were the ones on the nature of evil. 

by Levi Asher on

These are wise words in general, TKG, but sometimes a broad wisdom can prevent us from seeing the obvious. When you look at the two quoted statistics above, don't you think it's worth exploring why this country has so much more gun violence than other countries, and also why we spend so much more on military weaponry than other countries? You don't find these statistics alarming at all? Can you try to explain them?

I do think you're right, though, that militarism is not a direct cause of this shooting any more than abortion or video games. It does seem likely that easy access to guns was a direct cause of this shooting.

by David on

YES!!!

by Wojciech on

I saw an interesting stat the other day. A friend noted that in Switzerland 1 in 2 people own guns. They have the lowest crime rate in the world. So I think this is more a matter of cultural values than gun control. I don't think stricter laws on guns is going to solve the problem. Criminals don't necessarily follow laws. Look at drugs, they are illegal but there is still entire industries created by getting drugs to people who want to use them.

Your statistics are very alarming. I think in America, we don't tend to notice death until it is brought to our door step. "Who has time to care about children in Pakistan? That is so far removed from me and mine."

I don't have any answers on this subject other than my own grief and sorrow. I wish we didn't have to deal with this, I wish we didn't have the bad karma and bloodshed of drones on our souls either.

"Lord forgive them, they know not what they do"

by Cal on

Why not Occupy NRA?

Asking the questions settles for me whether you've ever really understood the Occupy movement.

The NRA is a symptom of the problem you describe.

You voted for Obama. You knew he was drone-bombing children. Further, you knew he had avoided discussing gun policy for four years. You knew he did not provide any leadership at all on this subject (as well as many others).

Yet you voted for him. Why?

Occupy NRA?

Occupy yourself this time.

by mtmynd1 on

I see today a crippled and fatigued Uncle Sam, a symbol of a once fine and honorable country who has pitifully allowed fear and corruption into the value system in order to benefit so very few. We are dying from within from our own belief that this 'Right to bear arms' is valuable enough to not do anything at all to curb our irrational gun violence, the very thing that is destroying us.

Is this latest mass killing enough to awaken our lawmakers or simply give them another reason to ignore a topic that is too delicate for their own political futures? It has been reported that 'nearly 100,000 Americans are killed or injured in gun violence every year,' which gives little credence to the idea that gun ownership protects us from any gun violence. Indeed, I believe facts will show that the more guns in the hands of our citizens, the greater the chance for gun violence to continue growing.

But unfortunately for our country and as well-armed as we are (300 million plus firearms and growing substantially), it has become virtually impossible to reduce our absurd need to feed ourselves on the belief that we must protect ourselves from other gun toting fearful people when the reality is we really need to protect ourselves from ourselves. Witness the amount of killing is family related, including the beginning of this latest slaughter, when this young man assassinated his own sleeping mother before driving to the school before his rampage. The stats on gun ownership is uncomfortable for us to face with that long engrained Second Amendment -

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." - as ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State.

It may behoove the reader to know that the word, 'militia', was defined by non-other than Noah Webster in his 1806 'A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language' as a noun meaning a national force or 'trainbands' (meaning trained bands of militia). To have a militia at the time of our founding was a necessity to guard against an invading force... a defensive act by the collective society being threatened. We see how out of context this right has been abused, in no small part due to the NRA and it's powerful lobbying efforts.

But we are where we are and I certainly have no grand answer other than what Levi's essay spoke of and that is 'peace', pure and simple. Embracing pacifism is the final conclusion facing us as a Nation. Any other suggestions are welcome.

by mtmynd1 on

Re: "Yet you voted for him. Why?"

Did you vote for Romney? Why?

by Levi Asher on

Thanks for the comments, folks ...

Cal, the fact that you are pure enough to not vote for Obama doesn't mean you can define what the purpose of the Occupy movement is. I'm suggesting that we need a popular street protest movement to abolish easy gun access. Do you have a problem with this idea?

by John Russo on

I voted for Mr. Obama 2x. I campaigned for him, financially supported him and his agenda. I would do it all over again in a New York minute. I'm a VietNam vet. I was anti-war since before I was drafted shortly after Tet in '68. I'm still anti-war. Who isn't? It's like being pro-life. Who isn't? Yet I support a womans right to choose. I also support the OWS movement. So now you know where I'm coming from. Sort of. As one of the many responsibilities of a commander in chief, it is the presidents duty in time of war, whether the war be just or not, to protect our military men & women. If the use of drones minimizes harm to our military then that is what must be done as a practical military operation. Colatteral damage and the harm to innocents was, is, and always will be a repulsive byproduct of war. War is hell. When I hear candy-assed leftie liberals and their counterpart uber-hawkish wing-nuts on the right bash the president for doing what must be done, I get really "defensive". This president in particular, because of who he is and what he inherited should be given a free pass on many of his actions that are unsavory for many people. Mr. Obama has been a demonstrably better president and C-I-C than most in my living memory. President Obama is very popular globally. He has regained the respect of America his inadequate & embarassing predecessor lost. Mr. Obama is satisfactorily adequate on all, and brilliant on most domestic & foreign policy issues. Especially considering the unprecedented intansigent, obstructionist, and hateful "loyal" opposition. Unlike any president before him Mr. Obama has had to contend with his color in a rascist country. He has had to defend his allegiance, his bithplace, and his religious identiy. With all the fookin things on Obama's plate, liberal uber-lefties and neo-conservative extremists and their wing-nut contingent have consistently hammered him. We are all frustrated. However the simplistic (understandable in some ways) argument you make, is for the president to act and get tough on gun control in light of our most recent tragedy. STOP! Everything is political in some way and too few of us appreciate or understand the nuances involved in executive deliberations and diplomatic actions. So for the lefties of which I'm a proud one and to the tea-party types, I say draw your brakes a bit. Support the president, our-commander-in-chief. I'm confident he will do the correct thing on gun violence. For better or worse we live under a system which we all are complicit with. Change is necessary but we need to give credit where credit is due. Fortunately president Obama is very much more unlike his predecessor than similar. Obama is very much unlike the mandacious plutocrat that could have succeeded him. We are so lucky. The world is. We still can, and should, go out into the streets and voice our outrages on issues we care about. For sure we must put the fire to the presidents (& congress) feet to move forward on constructive progressive change. But we need to lay off the hysterical, sarcastic, simplistic, reactionary, bloviating, divisive rhetoric. As a veteran of the VietNam war who was against it "in real time" --( Tet offensive, drafted, didn't have the balls to go to Canada)--I know war sucks and is a hell like none other. The president knows this perhaps not in a combat-sense but for having close contact with many of wars victims and their families. Mr. Obama is trying his best to end wars he never started but is caught up in the obligation&responsibility of executing the wind-down with deliberate and prudent speed. The necessary prosecution of tactical/strategic responses is routine in a war footing. It's extremely complicated in a non-state terrorist war footing. It's a global war of unprecedented complexity. Just or unjust war is hell. Any war. Shit happens and innocent people always suffer. Nothing new. Guns are a fact of life in our country and our american culture seems to glorify them in many contexts and venues. How we message our "anti-gun" sentiments and rhetoric, the linguistics must be understood before moving forward. I think we need to change the paradigm which is a tall order. Good use of psychology (Mr. George Lakoff) with well crafted wording may help. We should emphasize gun-SAFETY and craft regulations attendant to gun "safety" so that even the NRA can accept them if not like them. The word "control" must be avoided. NO! It must be discarded. We should not want to ban guns or take away the 2nd amendment. Fostering sincere, honest, and creative interpretations of the 2nd amendment that would produce gun safety is a worthwhile process. SAFETY. ... Bashin' this president sucks on so many levels. Especially because of who our president is. I know he knows what we want. He wants to do what we want and then will do his best to do it. But we have a "system" which establishes, like it or not, a certain game play. A dance if you will. Kabuki. Anyhow what do i know. I know this was a rambling rant but I'm Just sayin'. PEACE

by woo on

People owning GUNS?

idiots and cowards.

by Cal on

No. Not being a fool, I recognize there is more than one choice on the ballot.

"Did you vote for Romney" is the stupidest response anyone can make to a person who is demanding that people who are against war should not have voted for Obama.

So congratulations on that.

by Cal on

Levi: I'm not declaring anything. But you clearly failed to pay attention to various statements issued by Occupy, or else you'd realize it's more than simply "a popular street protest movement." You can still read the statements - even just the Wikipedia entry will clear the fog in which you seem to reside.

There is no "easy access to guns." Federally mandated waiting periods, ID checks, etc. all put the lie to "easy." Of course, you may claim it's a matter of opinion, but I'd ask you to explain how it's still "easy" now that there are more federal controls than there once were. I'll grant it's easier in Texas to get guns than elsewhere, but then if you're right there ought to be more shootings in Texas, where there actually is relatively "easy" access to guns.

Would I have a problem with "a popular street protest movement to abolish easy gun access?" I have a problem with fear-addled people staging protests against non-existent problems, yes.

I appreciate your artful dodge of responsibility and/or accountability for your vote. Let me put it succinctly: If you recognize a connection between our militarism and gun violence, then why did you vote for a candidate who is pro-war? Why didn't you vote for Jill Stein?

More than that, since you seem to recognize that the failure to act on guns during the first four years of the administration points to "leadership," why did you vote for the man who twice rejected the opportunity to have this debate for the last four years?

Further: if you insist you "had no other choice" or that Romney would have won if your lone vote had been cast according to your conscience, how do you propose any change will ever come? You won't vote for it - neither will other Democratic voters. How will it happen?

Feel free to dodge accounting for our own part in this problem. It is after all the American Way.

by mtmynd1 on

Re: ""Did you vote for Romney" is the stupidest response anyone can make to a person who is demanding that people who are against war should not have voted for Obama"

I assume you did not vote for Obama but yet, if I'm not mistaken, war still seems to be going on. So you are still against war, like most of us, and Obama won by an electoral landslide and the world is still spinning with and without war all across the globe. How about that, amigo..?

by TKG on

8 gun murders in Great Britain, 10,728 in the United States.

That's an amazing statistic.

Interestingly, it proves the case that guns are not the problem.

There were 1300 times the gun murders in the US than UK -- only 8 gun murders there.

How many murders were there in the UK?
What is the murder rate in the US?
What is the murder rate in the UK?

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has these data. They also have data on murder rates among all the nations of the world.

by peter longshanks on

I grew up in the rural midwest. It was only after I completed high school (1997) that anyone thought that teenage kids shouldn't bring firearms on school property.

In 1995 it was common to shotguns and rifles locked up in pick up trucks ready to be used to shoot pheasants or deer after school.

You'd get in far more trouble for having a joint then you would for having pump action 12 gauge.

It's part of the culture...

I was never into guns that much myself but if I was given the Bushmaster rifle used in the recent shootings I'd have a good idea how to use it.

Likewise you could hand me a variety of long and short arms I'd be able to chamber rounds aim and fire them. I'm a good enough aim to shoot a child in the heart or head from ten feet off.

Truthfully I'm guessing if I walked into an elementary school armed only with my mother's side by side 410 bore shotgun I'd be able to kill 20 or more children.

I would never do such a thing...

Firearms (even .22s) are dangerous and can kill people. To a person who knows how to use them the type or caliber isn't important.

From close range using a shotgun more or less intended to shoot birds with would as bad if not worse then .223 assault rifle.

This the weird part...you don't read about people using arms primarily intended for hunting/plinking killing school kids. A .22LR semi automatic rifle with a 50 round clip would achieve the desired results just as much as an AK47 styled firearm.

My Dad keeps a 22 WMR revolver...it's mostly a target/varmint hunting weapon
but in a pinch it could easily be used to kill people. But you never read about 22 WMR revolvers being used in domestic violence/school shootings

But violence at schools hardly ever involves non military style weapons. It's always some wack job that has gotten his hands some kind of gun he has seen in the movies, watched on TV or heard about in rap music.

The Bushmaster rifle used in the shootings was intended to compete with AR15/M-15 style weapons. The 10mm hand gun was designed for use by the FBI. The 9mm has little use outside of shooting people at very close range---and even then the round is somewhat underpowered unloading the full clip is standard practice.

I can understand keeping arms for hunting or shooting cans out the farm. I can also understand keeping weapons for self defense...What I can't understand is why we sell military style weapons to almost anyone.

The 2nd Amendment was written in response to the Founding Father's memories of the difficulty in raising arms to use against the British. Even still a well regulated group of men using common deer rifles (.243 7mm 280s etc) poise a greater chance of overthrowing a government then a few nut cases with machine guns.

It just seems so simple. Although all guns are inherently dangerous for some odd reason people who engage in mass shooting prefer weapons like semi automatic pistols and selective fire arm assault rifles.

Why do we sell them?

by petie cornlover on

Mostly weapons kept as home as part of Volks Wehr...those people are Nazi's---the Germans could use their weapons as part of a genocide but unlikely a school shooting. I'm ethnically German and I've lived there---but you are right their thinking is much different (and every able bodied male, by tradition) is part of the defense forces...in Amerika das is falsch

by Eliot Katz on

Levi, Thanks for your terrific article linking American gun violence to militarism. I totally agree with you that too many Americans learn, from an early age, partly by looking at the country’s leaders on TV and by the example of America’s many wars and threats of war, that violence is the way to solve big problems.

Luckily, the vast majority of people stay peaceful despite the destructiveness all around us, but those violence-setting examples do seem to have a deep effect on at least some small numbers of people who carry out these terrible acts. Another thing that I think comes into play is the American culture of celebrity, so that some young people who feel ignored or insulted are willing to do outrageous or even horrific things to get themselves famous. But I do hope this latest tragic rampage leads to a steady focus on the need for more sensible gun control laws. It’s pretty surreal to think how much political clout the NRA has developed over the years, and how few of our elected officials, including President Obama, have been willing to challenge them. Even those few officials who do seem willing to do something about gun control seem to be walking on eggshells around the NRA. On Meet the Press last weekend, Diane Feinstein said that she was going to introduce a gun control bill in Congress to limit the selling of assault weapons, a bill that she said would have more than 900 gun exceptions! When congressional representatives start with such weakened proposals, one can imagine how the NRA (which has so far issued a “no comment” about the latest shootings) can plan to just sit back and wait around a few weeks until people start to forget about the tragedy and then work to make sure that no bill will pass at all. Hopefully, after one of these crazy rampages, people will decide not to forget, and to keep urging our elected officials to act in the public interest.

by tolmsted on

While I'm not against broader gun control, I think a bigger statistic is being missed in this discussion. Every country listed in the "Last year handguns killed..." post from Facebook, with the exception of the United States, has universal healthcare. That includes resources for the mentally ill.

A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice found that "56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners and 64 percent of local jail inmates, were found to have a mental health problem". Think about that - one of the biggest mental health providers in this country is the prison system. Everyone is quickly shifting focus to the topics of gun control and violent video games. In terms of ratings gun control and video games are divisive topics that guarantee strong opinions and loud arguments. Who, though, is going to argue against making mental health services more wide ranging and easier to access? Yet the one thing that truly differentiates these mass shooters from the rest of the country isn't their ability to acquire guns or that they play violent video games - it's that they were not getting the treatment they needed.

by slog on

good point but gun laws are still 2 liberal...(opposite of normal 'liberal')

Add new comment