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Culture of Violence April 6, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Cross-posted at Reviving the Left

If it seems like every day there is some nut job mowing down as many people as possible for no good reason, that is because it has been happening every day—last week, over a period of 6 days, 30 people were gunned down in mass shootings. The shootings in Pittsburgh, where 3 police officers were gunned down make 33 in 7 days.

But these shootings are only the anecdotal surface of a statistical sea of mayhem—approximately 30,000 dead, 60,000 injured from gunshots in 2005 in the U.S. according to the CDC, of which almost half were homicides.

Compared to other countries, the U.S. is still the wild west:

Gun deaths per 100,000 population (for the year indicated):

  Homicide Suicide Other (inc Accident)
USA (2001)      3.98 5.92 0.36
Italy (1997)  0.81 1.1 0.07
Switzerland (1998) 0.50 5.8    0.10
Canada (2002) 0.4 2.0 0.04
Finland (2003) 0.35 4.45 0.10
Australia (2001) 0.24 1.34 0.10
France (2001) 0.21 3.4 0.49
England/Wales (2002) 0.15 0.2 0.03
Scotland (2002) 0.06 0.2 0.02
Japan (2002) 0.02 0.04 0

Data taken from Cukier and Sidel (2006) The Global Gun Epidemic. Praeger Security International.  Westport

Why are we prone to such violence? This is one of the deepest questions we must answer if the American Dream is survive.

The recent shooting in Pittsburgh, where Richard Poplawski gunned down 3 police officers, is especially disturbing because the shooter was apparently motivated by a political perspective that I would like to say is bizarre:

Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon,” said Edward Perkovic, his best friend.

I would like to say this is bizarre—Obama has explicitly rejected any policy to ban guns or to take away anyone’s rights—except that this is the same rhetoric that we’ve been hearing from “respectable” spokespersons for the conservative movement since Obama was elected. Via David Neiwert, Fox News ran a feature in which Glenn Beck and the NRA’s Wayne Lapierre made the same charge.

This apocalyptic rhetoric resonates with other conservative “spokespersons”—Chuck Norris, Michele Bachmann, and the ubiquitous Beck—calling for outright revolution. The conservative hate machine is working overtime to convince their supporters that Obama is a socialist who wants to take their freedom, their money, and their guns. And the GOP members of Congress are repeating their nonsense.

This rhetoric has been accompanied by a surge in gun sales immediately after the election.

According to FBI figures for the week of November 3 to 9, the bureau received more than 374,000 requests for background checks on gun purchasers — a nearly 49 percent increase over the same period in 2007.

And FBI statistics report “1.2 million more requests for background checks of potential gun buyers from November to February than there were in the same four months last year.”  

I am not blaming right wing rhetoric for our homicide rate or for the Pittsburgh shooter. He was clearly crazy and likely didn’t need encouragement from loudmouths on the teevee.

But these conservatives (surely not all conservatives) clearly contribute to the culture of violence that permeates our society. They are one contingent of a vast network of mutually reinforcing cultural actors who think violence is the answer to any problem. That idea dominated our foreign policy during the Bush years and now infects our political discourse.

If its intended effect is not to encourage nutjobs like Poplawski, then what exactly is intended?