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We are sick about guns

Jun 14,2022 - Last updated at Jun 14,2022

It is difficult to find the words that adequately describe our feelings on first learning of the massacre of 19 children and two teachers in Texas last week. Shock, fear, even nausea, and then disgust at the realisation that this nightmare was playing out again. 

The next day’s papers were filled with graphs and charts showing how many mass shootings, school massacres and gun homicides we’ve had, and how many guns are owned by civilians (400,000,000+). Bottom line: We own more guns and have a higher per-capita murder rate and mass causality events annually, by far, than any other country on earth. 

No matter how many outrages we endure, we know in our hearts that nothing will be done. We are resigned to live with fear, knowing the nightmare will return. 

We are a sick country. Our debates on gun violence are deranged and pathetic. Republicans and some Democrats, fearful of the gun lobby’s crosshairs, refuse to act, arguing that the unfettered right to own weapons is sacred. The solution to gun violence, they argue, is more guns.

With legislation to ban assault weapons or place limits on gun purchases routinely defeated, Democrats have either given up or been reduced to offering weak proposals. The result: Each new tragedy gives birth to short-lived horror, some finger-pointing, a half-hearted attempt to pass some limited reforms, and then failure. 

The reality is deeper than policies or legislation, beyond the sophistication of our guns or their sheer number. The root problem is our sick "gun culture”.

My generation grew up playing "cowboys and Indians" or "cops and robbers". If we didn't have cap pistols or toy rifles, we improvised with a pointed finger, a thumb trigger, and "pow, pow, you're dead". My grandchildren act out more fanciful tales of fantasy futuristic heroes, possessing more potent weapons, but will make do, when needed, with sticks or fingers as weapons possessed of all sorts of destructive powers. The video games and movies they watch and play are largely based on killing, so much so that it has become normalised. 

From cradle to grave we’re fed a steady diet of guns and violence. From cartoons and video games to cop shows and Quentin Tarantino's "bullet and blood fests", guns and killing are ingrained into our "deep culture". Like "Mom and apple pie", guns are part of us as a nation.

In the film-noir cult classic "Gun Crazy", the main character Bart stares longingly into a store window. The object of his desire is a six-shooter. Unable to resist, he shatters the glass and attempts to steal it, only to be arrested.

As Bart stands before a judge trying to explain his gun obsession, he says, "I feel good when I'm shooting them. I feel awful good inside, like I'm somebody."

Gun Crazy Bart's fixation is pathological and ultimately leads to his demise. When I see the faces of gun enthusiasts lining up to make what they fear may be their last purchase before "Democrats take our guns away", I think of Bart. When I watch them sensually cradling their assault weapons, I think of Bart, knowing that nothing good can come of it.

This obsession is also blocking any reasonable controls on gun ownership. The gun lobby’s modus operandi is simple and direct. No discussion, no compromise, no concessions. They mask their deadly advocacy with the Constitution, arguing that the survival of America's freedoms is at stake, further inflaming their adherents’ passions.

In the end, we have a "gun crazy" culture, armed to the teeth, convinced they are the true patriots defending liberty against tyranny. Add the resentments and pressures that gave birth to the Tea Party and Trumpism (including a not-so-subtle appeal to race) and we are left with a dangerous and volatile brew.

We will have more angry debate. We may pass some weak legislation. Then we’ll get distracted until the next massacre occurs. And another one will occur, because until we have a prolonged and serious national discussion about our sick love affair with guns and purge ourselves of this pathology, we will only be skirting around the edges of an issue that is killing us.

The writer is president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute

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