From Our Cold Dead Brains

The one (and only) point of contact liberals seem to have with NRA head Wayne LaPierre, is that they blame the level of gun violence in the U.S., at least in part on a culture of violence.  The point from LaPierre however, came across as rather hollow and seemed a pretty obvious scapegoat maneuver.  After all, if anything, the gun lobby has a vested interest in keeping guns a thriving part of popular culture (as cigarettes did until the 90’s), and to which they crassly added with their target practice game in the App Store.  That which followed was equally troubling to me, and that is that how quickly liberals ceded our thoughts and depictions of violence along with their desire to see greater gun control.

Of course, I think the issue of gun regulation is a difficult one that should be treated with tact and nuance.  Sam Harris’s view is so far the only that seems to take an honest account of the problem, and one that offers, perhaps not politically viable, but at least efficacious regulatory suggestions that are not largely symbolic, as the call for a renewed ban on assault rifles seems to be.

I won’t disagree that violence is the object of an unhealthy obsession of humanity, but it is in no way disproportionate to that of other countries.  Violent Hollywood films are one of America’s last great exports, and the thing that seems to keep violence in the U.S. high compared with other countries is our availability to guns, not violent movies.  As argued in Steven Pinker’s newest book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, in the grand scheme of history, violence (both murders and assaults) are on the decline.

Based on this graph from a study by David C. Stolinsky, M.D., a cursory glance will indicate that poverty, more than anything is the clearest catalyst for violence in the U.S.  A trend which thankfully did not follow with the latest recession, and although mass shootings are on the rise according to the Mother Jones graph, overall gun violence has been down since the 90’s.

Gun rights advocates will attribute the decline to the growing number of that indomitable equalizing force, the gun.  America has nearly as many guns as people, and gun owners see that security from assailants and even our own government as owing to Heinlein’s adage, “an armed society is a polite society.”  While I think this is true to a certain extent, there is room for constructive regulatory measures, that will save thousands of lives and only slightly burden gun owners like myself.While that is not the view of most liberals, they seemed eager to surrender their own weapon of choice, art and literature.  As Pinker notes, times of great decline in violent attitudes, forgetting the 1960’s, was accompanied by– or rather induced by– a period of enlightenment, the first major one being in the 1600s.The zeitgeist at the moment is exploring, not only the practical realities of an anarchic breakdown of society, but also the moral implications of what one would be forced to do in such a situation.  Is it potentially dangerously fetishized?  Absolutely.  And I am not sure why LaPierre would condemn it (as ideas of Socialist nightmares and the undead have done nothing but create boom times for the gun lobby) other than the fact than that it is the only worthy or suitable antidote to violence in general, even if it is at times a cause.

Each successive period of literature/popular culture, accompanied by longer and more pleasurable lives, hones our empathic sensitivities, and even some of the most violent movies are seldom bereft of the tenor of social or personal justice.  Even if they lacked these features, we are free to our own thoughts and expression–no matter how unsavory or taboo.  We have a right to our own minds, and if we cannot trust one another with those, our democracy may be worthy of the anarchy of which we fantasize.

The question, “can we trust one another with guns” is altogether a different one.  We answer that question as a society, through democratic processes.  We impose limitations on one another constantly, and if people decide certain weapons have no place in society, they won’t be there.  If we want to micromanage that trust, we put a background check system into place, and rejigger what we think entitles you to that right, etc.  But we all are free to possess our own consciousness, and a right that either party seems so indifferent to, is fundamental to our being and was the starting point for our democracy in the first place.  It’s preeminence is unequivocal, and that’s why it’s the first amendment rather than the second–protecting minds, then bodies.  In other words, I know which one I’d sooner dispense with.

You can follow Russell’s posts on his blog 22oftheday.blogspot.com, on Twitter @NeoKubrick, and on Facebook under Russell Winfrey or 22 of the Day.

What say you, the people?