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A worker restocks AR-15 guns at Davidson Defense in Orem, Utah on March 20, 2020. (Photo: George Frey / AFP via Getty Images)

The US Is Sick With Guns

Let's face it: We are a sick country. Our debate on gun violence can best be described as deranged and pathetic.

It's 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. There was shock, fear, even nausea, and then disgust at the realization that this nightmare we've experienced too many times before was playing out again.

Each new tragedy gives birth to short-lived horror, a bit of finger-pointing, a half-hearted attempt to pass some limited reforms, and then failure. 

As expected, the next day's papers were filled with graphs and charts showing how many mass shootings we have had in America (an average of one a day); how many school massacres we've had in the past few decades (dozens); how many gun homicides (50 a day); and how many guns are owned by civilians (more than 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 times we are told this and how many outrages we endure, we know in our hearts that nothing will be done. And so, we are resigned to live with fear, knowing the nightmare will return. 

Let's face it: We are a sick country. Our debate on gun violence can best be described as deranged and pathetic. Republicans and some Democrats fearful of getting in the crosshairs of the "gun lobby" refuse to take any action. They refuse to allow even limited controls on guns, arguing that the unfettered right to own weapons is sacred. The solution to gun violence, they argue, is more guns.

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

The reality is deeper than policies or legislation. It's not just that our guns are too sophisticated or that we have too many of them. 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 simply improvised with a pointed finger, a thumb trigger, and "pow, pow, you're dead." My grandchildren do not play these games. Instead, they act out more fanciful tales of fantasy futuristic heroes, all possessing more potent weapons. But they will also make do, when needed, with sticks or fingers morphing them into weapons possessed of all sorts of destructive powers. And the video games they play and movies we watch are largely based on killing—so much so that it has become normalized. 

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

There is a scene in the film noir cult classic "Gun Crazy" where Bart, the film's main character, as a young boy is staring longingly into a store window. The object of his desire is a six-shooter. Unable to resist its call, he shatters the glass and attempts to steal the weapon, only to be arrested in the act.

The next scene has Bart standing before a judge trying to explain his obsession with guns. He tells the court, "I feel good when I'm shooting them. I feel awful good inside, like I'm somebody."

Gun Crazy Bart's fixation with the weapon is pathological and it leads ultimately to his demise. When I see the look on 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 or "zoned out" at the shooting range, I think of Bart, knowing that nothing good can come of it.

We know all this. And yet there continues to be a pathological obsession not only with owning weapons, but also with blocking any reasonable controls on their ownership. The modus operandi of this lobby is simple and direct. They allow no discussion, no compromise, no concessions, and no wavering or weakness. And they mask their deadly advocacy with the Constitution, arguing that what is at stake is the very survival of America's freedoms. In the process, they further inflame the passions of their adherents.

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

We will have more angry debate. We may pass some weak and ineffective legislation. And then we'll move on to another issue that will distract us 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.

James Zogby

James Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the author of Arab Voices (2010) and the founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization which serves as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community. Since 1985, Dr. Zogby and AAI have led Arab American efforts to secure political empowerment in the U.S. Through voter registration, education and mobilization, AAI has moved Arab Americans into the political mainstream. Dr. Zogby has also been personally active in U.S. politics for many years; in 1984 and 1988 he served as Deputy Campaign manager and Senior Advisor to the Jesse Jackson Presidential campaign. In 1988, he led the first ever debate on Palestinian statehood at that year’s Democratic convention in Atlanta, GA. In 2000, 2008, and 2016 he served as an advisor to the Gore, Obama, and Sanders presidential campaigns.

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