• As the President conducts his lonely campaign to remind us of the ongoing murderous assault of Americans against Americans, and as the Senate gun bill is stripped of automatic weapons limitations, we are brought up Gun Violence flagagainst some sad and serious truths about our society.

    It is not the “nut with a gun” who is the real problem, but the “gun nuts” among us, trading on rampant, untreated American paranoia.

    Given the current state of national politics—formerly “the art of the possible”—is it even “possible” to envision a significant change in gun policy? Is it possible to imagine an event leading to a moment of reckoning? An incident so horrifying, so apocalyptic, with so many people slaughtered by “a nut with a gun,” that we would actually do something about it? Are you crazy? No! We are Americans, and Americans do not kowtow to anyone, especially nuts. To “give up our rights” because of the twenty dead first-graders at Newtown, or perhaps even a few hundred more, is just not our style.

    What is that style? It was identified by Richard Hofstadter in his 1964 article, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. He starts by telling us that “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” and proceeds to review the long xenophobic history of American politicians who create bogeymen in order to “leverage” the “animosities and passions of a small minority” into votes and policies. It’s a short article (use your search engine), and well worth reading. Its main defect is its conception of the paranoid style as political, when in fact it pervades our entire culture. Perhaps that was not true in 1964; but it is now.

    Cultural paranoia allows people to suspect the worst of each other, to imagine the most terrifying scenario, to harbor irrational fears of invasion and dispossession. Hofstadter saw this paranoid style in terms of certain individuals (say, McCarthy) who would evoke “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” for their own (political) ends. Today these qualities seem ingrained in the body politic, preventing the two major parties from finding any basis for cooperation, in Congress or elsewhere. We see it, and see it reinforced, in terms of race and class, in newspapers, the TV news and news-rant programs, the cop shows and the murder shows, the Internet, everywhere—a many-headed conspiracy to dispossess us, to reduce us to un-armed helplessness. Broad-based, deep-seated American paranoia rules our culture. Translated to the “gun-control” issue, and institutionalized by the position of the NRA, it constantly reminds Congress and the President of its powerful grip on certain voters (90+ guns per 100 people in America) and its potentially lethal effects on political careers.

  • gun violence smoke over americaRegarding the deplorable debate over the gun-bill, there may be a silver lining to the cloud of gun smoke that hangs over this country.

    Since President Obama’s Feb. 12 State of the Union address, in which he promised to honor the victims of the Newtown Massacre by doing something about gun violence in America, much has been said but nothing has happened. The Vice President suggested that the general acquisition of shotguns might be a good idea. The NRA advocated for arming all of the nation’s classroom teachers. “Committed criminals” are identified as the targets of gun keep-away, when everyone knows that criminals will always be able to get firearms in a country that has 95 guns for every 100 people. Senator Feinstein’s proposal for a renewal of the assault-weapons ban, supported by President Obama, was shot down by Senate Majority Leader Reid—all of them Democrats. The President was so discouraged that he left Washington to take his message to the people, whom he felt he had to remind that the Newtown mass-murder—twenty children and six teachers—even took place.

    Nonetheless, out of the crossfire has emerged one safe haven of general agreement: the need to increase the availability of mental healthcare—of which, I should note, clinical social workers are the majority providers in this country. Senators from both parties are rallying behind the mental healthcare standard, as a way of salvaging something useful from their otherwise dismal failure to address gun violence. A majority seems to like the proposals of Sen. Debbi Stabenow (D-MICH) for more community mental health centers, more training in recognizing people with mental disorders, and more Medicaid funds for mental health care, as well as suicide-prevention efforts and support for gun-trauma victims.

    It was the gun lobby that steered the debate toward mental illness and criminals, rather than toward the widespread availability of the handguns that hundreds of Americans use to kill each other every week. Presumably, the gun lobby will support the Stabenow proposals. Given that the Senators cannot agree on anything else—including, it seems, tighter background checks on would-be gun owners—more mental healthcare facilities and better access to behavioral health treatment would not be the worst of outcomes.

  • Americans have learned to accept our continuing national shoot-out, in which people use handguns to kill each other by the hundreds every week.  So there’s nothing we can do about this, right? We’re too far gone.

    gun violence, backapckThat’s what a lot of people in Australia thought about their own gun-toting country, right up until the day in April, 1996, that something so terrible happened that it changed everything.

    A deranged man got his hands on an automatic weapon and gunned down 58 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania, at a restaurant, a toll booth, and a police barricade. Thirty-five of them died. Australia (33 guns per 100 people) has a cowboy-outlaw cultural-historical mythology (think Crocodile Dundee) similar to that of America, but somehow the Port Arthur massacre was the final straw Down Under.

    The Australian federal government led the charge to restrict the availability of firearms. At first, it met with strong resistance in the states and among yahoos (Ausi Freedom Scouts!) and certain politicians. Then it was learned that US pro-gun interests were supplying money and PR ammo on the issue. This helped to set off a wave of outrage which resulted in the Aussie states and territories heavily restricting all self-loading (automatic) weapons and banning others outright. The Australian federal government followed up by confiscating 700,000 firearms through gun buy-back. In the fourteen years since the passage of that legislation, there have been 59% fewer Australian gun homicides, 74% fewer gun suicides, and zero mass-killings. That is a great tribute to the victims of Port Arthur—a tribute of the sort that we in the US, and in Congress, are not prepared even to discuss.

    If our leaders could face up to the fact that our whole society is in need of brief, solution-focused policy-therapy, perhaps we could recover, as they did in Australia. At the moment, as citizens of the nation and of its states—and relying on fearful political leaders bankrolled by gun-makers and gun-lobbyists—we Americans are in the grip of a national mental disorder. The paranoid style of our culture prevents us from experiencing Newtown as our Port Arthur—the moment that we suddenly realize, with horror, what we have become: a people whose sick love of guns—the so-called right to bear arms—outstrips the actual rights of our citizenry to be safe.

    So much for the dead children and teachers of Newtown. Evidently something much worse must happen here; just as evidently, something terrible and pervasive already has.

  • Sheriff Obama is right to take his anti-gun campaign into the streets of America, because the violence will not be stopped in Washington.

    Congress is not listening to him or to the majority who wanted something done, ifgun violence  only as a tribute to the little victims of the Newtown. As conducted on Capitol Hill, our national gun debate has (as usual) been hijacked by the gun-lobby with its money, fanatical followers, and media visibility. The problem behind gun-violence, per the NRA, is mental illness and the problem of how to screen potential mass-murderers. Guns do not kill people; crazy people do.

    Although Congress continues to dodge the issue, the fact is that the nation is in the grip of a public-health disaster, an epidemic of murder and suicide by handgun. Americans—alone among the peoples of the world—kill each other with guns by the hundreds this week, at the rate of about a thousand per month.

    Stopping this war against ourselves is the real problem; but the gun-lobby has everyone ignoring the millions of handguns and the thousands of bodies and instead looking for the next deranged person who will lay hands on a gun and commit a mass killing. Horrifying as those killings are, much more horrifying is our daily national bloodbath—guns are everywhere; if you’re angry enough, just pick one up.

    No one will try to stop you.