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  • Apr 20, 2014
  • Updated: 10:52am
CommentInsight & Opinion

US culture to blame for gun violence

Barry Weisberg says that in no other democratic country has the use of force been as pervasive

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 10:06am

It is now routine for everyone in the US who has access to a microphone or the printed word to ask the question: "Why the mass shootings?" The answers always centre on two reasons. Either there is an attempt to explain the motive of the shooter or it is said that there are just too many guns.

First, a motive claims to explain why a person acted in a specific manner. But a motive is not a causal explanation of behaviour. In some instances, the perpetrator lives an unsatisfied life, feels threatened, and seeks to direct their hatred towards perceived threats. In cases of severe violence, the perpetrator often suffers from some form of mental illness.

Second is the discussion about guns. The second amendment to the US Constitution is outdated and a justification for gun violence. There are an estimated 270million civilian guns in the US - or 88.8 guns per 100 people. With each state having their own, individual gun control laws, effective gun control is impossible.

Yet, despite these two arguments, commentators are not prepared to recognise that the source of the problem is in the culture of the US itself. In no democratic country has violence been as pervasive and banal.

The country was founded on the genocide of the native people, pursued a course of religious puritan violence, and still retains blatant patterns of post-slavery racist violence. It pioneered the film and television industry in which violence has arguably been the most prevalent motif. And then there are the large numbers of young men who are conditioned by watching/playing hours of violent video games a day.

Former president Dwight Eisenhower understood the threat when he described the "military industrial complex". The US has been the only country to use nuclear weapons not once, but twice, against civilians. And it has been engaged in more military actions in foreign countries, has more military bases abroad, and spends more on its military budget, than all of the other countries of the world combined.

This gun violence will not change regardless of who is elected president this year. The Barack Obama government has demonstrated an utter lack of interest, or worse, political disdain, for helping the most disadvantaged communities where black-on-black violence occurs. Mitt Romney's deficient policies would worsen disadvantages, which could increase the numbers suffering from mental disorders that lead to violent outbursts.

The unprecedented number of gun shootings in the US is a product of a culture of violence unmatched anywhere in the world.

Barry Weisberg is the global cities reporter for Chicago Public Radio and an adjunct professor at Hong Kong University. barryweisberg@att.net

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