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Opinion Columns

July 29, 2012

THOMAS STEIGER: Mystique of ‘guns’ ensures control efforts fruitless

A simple Google search on “Batman shooting” produces about 376,000,000 hits. That number isn’t very meaningful until put in some context. “Barack Obama” produces about 280,000,000 hits; “Mitt Romney” about  21,000,000 hits.

Not to diminish the tragedy, but in the big picture, the upcoming presidential election is more important, yet its Google search just barely out-“hits” “Batman shooting” with 387,000,000 hits. Worldwide phenomena should produce more hits than the “Batman” shooting, so “2012 Olympics” produces about 2.4 trillion hits. It helps to put things into proper perspective.

As a sociologist I am usually more fascinated by people’s response to this kind of tragedy than to the event itself. In an age of round-the-clock media, to borrow from Roger Ebert’s review of the tragedy, “we’ve seen this movie before.” The responses are predictable: the NRA wastes no time in doing its version of a deranged Paul Revere shouting through the land, “gun control is coming, gun control is coming.” As if on cue the anti-gunners call for closing some obvious loopholes in our current gun laws which in turn has the NRA pointing with glee at evidence for the truth of their delusions. 

Politicians eager to up their hits on Google issue ridiculous statements like Louie Gomert, R-Texas, suggesting that prayer in school would have prevented this problem. I’m sure Charles Whitman (the Austin, Texas, shooter from 1966 who killed 16 people) had plenty of school-led prayer growing up in Lake Worth, Fla. He had a brain tumor that likely explained his behavior. Who knows what we will find with James Holmes, the Batman shooter? There are those who blame media violence; those who blame the death penalty (both sides, too much and not enough). There are those who blame the victims for not being armed, stupidly relying on the “guvmint” to protect them.

I predict that, as with Ted Bundy, eventually someone will get an interview with him, and he will explain his own behavior. Bundy basically agreed with the theory that pornography made him do it. The psych-pundits are saying paranoid schizophrenia. Stay tuned.

I don’t think we can prevent incidents like this. We could possibly reduce the opportunities for them to happen, but in the present cultural and political climate, any attempt to control guns isn’t going to happen. The gun control lobby doesn’t seem to understand gun owners and especially the very vocal and organized (and perhaps big in numbers) “gun fetishists.”

Some disclaimers: I own guns. I grew up with guns and learned to safely handle guns very early in life — before I could drive, before I could pilot a powered watercraft, before I could go to a movie by myself. I’ve enjoyed guns for recreation; I’ve never felt the need to protect myself or my “castle” with one. I knew three people who died from gunshots (one murdered, one suicide, and one accidental), more than I knew who died in car accidents. According to the CDC, more than 30,000 people die from gunshots each year, just a few thousand less than who die in car accidents each year. Injuries are much higher. Indeed, the price of freedom is very high.

Just as cars are more than just a means of transportation, guns are more than their designed function: recreation, protection, and a means to kill others (all protected by the Second Amendment).

People add much more to them than their designed functions. For instance, an armed populace represents the ultimate bulwark against tyranny. (Please don’t try to argue whether this is possible or not, it is part of gun mystique.) Guns represent “power.” It is the ultimate way to say no or to force someone else to say yes. With our hyper-emphasis on “individualism,” guns represent freedom, independence and self-reliance every bit as much as cars do. And when we add “gun culture” to the many fears that people have of “they” (as in “they are taking away our freedom; they are taking away our way of life; they are coming for our guns”) a gun provides a sense of security and safety that our society does not provide to everyone.

And yes, as the number of guns increases and the number of “yahoos” with guns increases, more gun tragedies are going to occur with increased handgun sales and applications for concealed carry permits following each tragedy. DIY.

As long as people perceive that guns provide more solutions to their problems than does “gun control,” effective gun control is a dead-end.



Thomas L. Steiger is professor of sociology and director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity at Indiana State University. Email thomas.steiger@indstate.edu.

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