GUN MAD

By now we’ve just about heard it all regarding guns—call it what you wish: gun control, stopping gun violence, protecting gun rights, “second amendment remedies”—it’s all been covered, and I’ve doubted I could hear anything truly new.

And with this past week’s showdown vote in the Senate, I’d say we’ve felt it all as well. The sense of disappoint and outrage has been palpable here on the left coast. We have a hard time assimilating the utter venality of politicians so cowardly that they cannot conceive of doing the right thing even when it’s a matter of lives to be saved versus dollars to be raised.

But anger should not be confused with surprise.

When I get those earnest phone calls from The Brady Campaign, I’m told recent tragedies have given real “momentum” to the long-languishing efforts to curb death and mayhem in this country. After recounting the difficulties of passing new gun regulations, they say—and I love this one for its quiet assertion of American exceptionalism—“We’re better than that.”

Well, all the evidence says, “No we aren’t.”

You may have read or heard summarized the recent CBS News poll on these matters. Popular support for stricter gun laws is, shall we say, ebbing. Even for the least demanding among us, such as the supposed bipartisan 90% who would like to see universal background checks, our dysfunctional democracy cannot deliver the goods to such a bloc of voters.

Still, I was caught by surprise recently by a piece of cogent analysis in the Washington Post that takes the gun debate in an intriguing direction. The headline—“White men have much to discuss about mass shooting”— gives a hint that the authors, researchers Charlotte and Harriet Childress, are not trapped in the same tedious back and forth as the rest of us.

The argument is not so much about race as about being honest in our perspective on the epidemic of mass shootings. These seemingly random outbreaks of gun violence—Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Columbine, and many others of smaller scale—are almost always the work of white men and boys.  And the absolutist opposition to gun legislation is led, again almost exclusively, by white men. Not mere coincidence, the writers say.

If it is merely the mentally ill we have to fear, it should be noted that it is not deranged women, not bullied Latinos, nor video game-crazed immigrants we need to flag. Could there be something about white male culture that primes these mass shootings? Will white boys who grow up enthralled with war play and who never stop longing for the self-confidence supplied by rapid-fire weaponry be the best prepared among us to suggest answers to the problems we face with guns?

As the Childresses frame it, “If Americans ask the right questions on gun issues, we will get the right answers. These answers will encourage white men to examine their role in their own culture and to help other white men and boys become healthier and less violent.”

Something new to consider.

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