No matter which ‘metaphoric’ instrument/lens/perspective one adopts to take a look at culture, (behavioural, artistic, historic, racial, legal, medical/health, theatrical) each culture has a dominant influence, several minor influences, and others that rate minimal attention, all of this dependent on the scribe/reporter/observer/analyst.
So, a Canadian trying to parse the “American” culture, is a trip into a very turbulent, swirling, polluted, and fast-flowing river. And, each lens and observer will grasp and mention only a portion of the “beast”. Not only is the “river” turbulent and murky, the observer almost by definition is “in over his head” given the simpler, somewhat innocent, somewhat naïve, deliberately polite and militarily unenthusiastic descriptors that could readily be ascribed to his homeland. When one searches for some topical and relevant depictions of American culture, one reads words like “big” and “competitive” and ‘small talk” and “eating out v eating on the go” ….all of which descriptors are presumably intended for people new to the U.S. who might be attempting to begin to integrate in that culture. Stereotypes that seem to cling to the Canadian “identity” (as a culture) include excessively polite, bureaucratic, bilingual, “north” (whatever that might mean), friendly and inconsequential on the world stage.
In each culture, there is a level of debate about public issues that centres on the words chosen by public figures to indicate their “positions” on issues needing votes and legislation, as well as to seed specific views, information and perspective in the public mind, foreshadowing a shift in public opinion that might follow those chosen words. Naturally, at moments of crisis, the words of leaders are selected for their impact in potentially calming an angry or anxious public, while also incentivizing the potential of political actions, laws even, that might emerge from the incident. Or not!
In the last two weeks, the U.S. has suffered two mass shootings resulting in the deaths of 8 and 10 people respectively. The first, at Asian Spas in or near Atlanta Georgia, the second, yesterday, in Boulder Colorado. And while motives of the respective shooters remain unknown to the public, the very incidents themselves, compounding a series of similar incidents (CNN reports these two events are among at least 7 mass shootings in the last seven days across the U.S. Their report also cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which tracks gun violence data, reporting nearly 40,000 people having been killed in incidents involving firearms in 2019. Many of those deaths, tragically, were also suicides. And public reports indicate there are more guns than people in that country. (330 million people)
Given the often-cited argument of gun-rights advocates that the Second Amendment guarantees every American the right to own a gun, (it does not actually say that; it reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.), this morning the Canadian television network, CTV, reports, from The Associated Press: Columbia S.C.—
“A South Carolina senator has a proposal to make sure no federal law can ever seize guns---make everyone over 17 who can legally own a gun a member of a militia. South Carolina’s constitution allows the governor to call up an ‘unorganized militia” of any ‘able bodied male citizens’ between ages 18 and 45. State Sen. Tom Corbin’s proposal would automatically expand membership to everyone who is over 17 and could own a gun.”
With the rising volume of calls for legislation restriction assault weapons, imposing background checks, and lengthening the time between a check and a purchase completions coming from some Democrats, the hue and cry about ‘coming for your guns’ is spewing out of mouths like those of Texas Senator Cruz. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, who opposes gun control legislation, and could block any move in the U.S. Senate, if the filibuster rule is not set aside, calls his state a “gun culture”. Quoted in Newsweek in a piece by Elizabeth Crisp, on 03/23/21 entitled,” Joe Manchin Still Opposed to House’s Gun Control Bills Despite Atlanta, Boulder Shootings,” Manchin is reported to have said, “I come from a gun culture, and I’m a law-abiding gun owner who would do the right thing. You have to assume we will do the right thing. Give me a chance to.”
Let’s say that Manchin is correct about his “gun culture” in West Virginia, (and for that matter, many would expand the title to the American culture itself!). Let’s agree that, as a law-abiding citizen Manchin is unlikely to perpetrate anything like the kind of massacres that have been documented over the last two decades since Columbine in 1999.
What then does it fully mean, this phrase “gun culture”?
Forbes, November 25, 2018, in a piece by Elizabeth MacBride, entitled, “America’s Gun Business is $28B. The Gun Violence Business is Bigger,” reports as follows:
Gun stores had revenue of about $11 billion, IBIS World said, in its 2018 report. Gun and ammunition manufacturers had revenue of $17 billion, but the majority of that revenue comes from the defense side of the equation: arms sales to the U.S. and foreign governments….What is larger than the revenue in the gun business is the amount of money spent on securing ourselves against America’s gun violence problem, though its harder to separate. The security alarm business alone, for instance, brings in $25 billion a year. There are 1.1 million security guards employed in the United States, according to the Department of Labour….The Washington Post estimated schools are spending $2.7 billion a year on security measures. Government spending on domestic h0omeland security averaged $65 billion per year from 2002 to 2017…You can argue that all the political firms and non-profit’s in this space, from the NRA to gun control groups, are part of the gun violence ‘industry,’ with their vested interests growing the longer they are engaged in battle…You can even argue that the amount spent on health care, (estimated at $2.8 billion a year for hospitals alone), though a cost to taxpayers, is also revenue to the health care companies and thereby part of the gun violence business….In short, one of the reasons that we can’t solve our gun violence problem is that it’s complicated, emotional and deeply enmeshed with Americans’ sense of power and control.. Our gun violence problem and the political conflict surrounding it have existed so long that there are now markets that have sprung up and companies making profits off the efforts to solve gun violence.”
And MacBride goes on to cite miscellaneous items like “bible-shaped gun carrying cases” and back-packs that protect against gun violence that saturate the market, given the absolute fixation on guns that captivates the American psyche. Her phrase, “deeply enmeshed with American’s sense of power and control” is especially cogent. Whether it is the pursuit of “freedom or die” or the absolute conviction that the government must not ever tell me what I can do, or the perverse epithet “the only way to counter a bad man with a gun is with a good man with a gun”…there are so many hooks, like bar-drinks, that are consumed, digested, assimilated and then spewed out in each and every argument with a “gun-control advocate”…
Although Ms MacBride’s piece did not specifically mention it, arms sales to foreign countries is another significant component of the U.S. “gun culture”. Thomas C. Frohlich, in USA Today, March 26, 2019, in a piece entitled, “Saudi Arabia buys the most weapons from the US government…” writes this: The United States is notably not just by far the world’s largest military force, but also by far the largest supplier of arms…The United States supplies arms to at least 98 nations, and it is the largest supplier to 20 of the 40 largest arms importers in the world. These arms include ammunition such as missiles, various aircraft, submarines, surface ships, anti-submarine weaponry, tanks, armoured vehicles, as well as electronics such as radar, sonar, and guiding systems….Of the 25 countries buying the most weapons from the U.S., 10 ar either NATO member nations or part of other alliances formed with the United States since the Cold War.
Born in an armed military revolution, and still raising millions of young men and women in military service, albeit voluntary, and showered with public acclaim in “thank you for your service” as a greeting and salutation whenever a current or retired military veteran appears in public, there has been little surprise or disagreement with President Eisenhower’s warning, in his farewell address, January 17, 1961, revisited no npr, January 17, 2011, Ike’s Warning of Military Expansion 50 years Later: “On January 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower gave the nation a dire warning about what he described as a threat to democratic government. He called it the military -industrial complex, a formidable union of defense contractors and the armed forces. (Exerpting the speech the piece continues): In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought of unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.
Clearly, Senator Manchin’s “gun culture” applies not only to his own state, but to the nation wholly. And, the mind-set that is invested in both the sustainability of that culture, but also the growth of that culture, witnessed the largest number of gun sales in U.S. history in 2020.
What seems obvious to an outsider, albeit one who spent nearly four years working in the U.S. is that political arguments to ban assault weapons, and to enhance background checks will fail to convince senators, especially Republican Senators, including Manchin. Even if such measures were to be passed, the ‘gun culture’ dependence, both by individuals, and lobbyists, as well as the massive industrial behemoth that feeds both manufacture and sales, (not to mention the hundreds of thousands of jobs in each district, thereby embroiling every elected official to maintain such jobs) is not about to surrender the deep and entangled roots of the “gun” that sustains much of the American pride and patriotism.
As military planners confront cyber-attacks, espionage, and increased evidence of state-based hacking, not only into election machinery, but also into the very heart of such engines as the energy grid, and health care systems, no doubt the budget of the Pentagon will shift to counter such incursions. The American people, however, are unlikely to surrender either their guns or their freedom to carry those guns, (even in church and on university campuses in some states); the white supremacists, too, will continue to bring their reliance on weapons in their struggle to paint the culture white. The elected officials will rant and rave about how real American patriots must do something beyond prayers and heart-felt sympathy for families of victims of mass shootings like those in Atlanta and in Boulder. And, likely minimal steps will find enough votes to placate a few electors in a few districts. Yet, no one can credibly hope or expect the American culture to surrender, even in Lent, one of the most identifying characteristics of their history: the gun.
Linked to the gun, too, is the notion that any conflict has the potential to be resolved through a bullet, and that applies to the suicides, and the barrage of domestic abuse through gun violence that plagues the nation, (and many other nations as well, including Canada). And, although there are racial and ethnic nuances in the ways and numbers of weapons in any community, the ubiquity of their spread infects all communities, in what Senator Durbin of Illinois yesterday calls, and “epidemic of guns”…for which there is no therapeutic and no vaccine.