Almost a week ago, I presented one of my proposals to curtail gun violence more broadly (ending the War on Drugs), and teased that that was “one of two solutions.” Ending the War on Drugs is primarily a problem of policy, but you can’t exactly extricate policy from culture. Nonetheless, I think of the second solution as primarily a problem of culture, but you also can’t exactly extricate culture from policy. The two inform each other, although policy tends to be a lagging indicator of where the culture is already shifting, hence why marijuana legalization engenders overwhelming public support, but tepid responses from the federal government, states, and local governments (not to discount the great leap forward we’ve seen on marijuana legalization at the state level, but still, it’s not proportionate).
I should also caution that because it is a cultural solution, there is not a quick-fix here. Even with policy, even if Congress moves fast on a policy (for once), policy is not a quick-fix, either. But culture is particularly harder to tackle because it’s more nebulous than getting a group of lawmakers together and passing some piece of legislation. We’re talking about 330 million people across a swath of differing geographic idiosyncrasies.
So, my cultural solution to the broader problem of gun violence is to demilitarize American culture. I’ve touched on this to some extent by leaning on conservative writer David French’s writings, where he argues specifically against gun fetishism within gun culture and how that’s actively harming the Second Amendment movement, but I want to extrapolate it more culture-wide.
There are two primary areas that come to mind when I think about the militarization of the country, how that’s infected our culture, and how I would argue that leads to gun violence, perhaps even the more specific phenomenon of public mass shootings:
- Military adventurism, for lack of a better phrase, has contributed greatly to American society being more aggressive and violent (now that I think about it, though, is this a chicken or egg problem?). Broadly speaking, being a warring nation that tries to solve a lot of problems with violence, even if we think we are justified in doing so (and we always think we are justified in doing so), inevitability has an effect on the culture. At least, I would posit as such because admittedly, that seems like a hard thing to quantify.
- The most obvious way military adventurism becomes harmful in a domestic sense is the way it bounces back upon the domestic population in terms of the Patriot Act, NSA spying, the TSA, and all manner of civil rights issues.
- Secondly, we send four million Americans to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan earlier this century, so I’m not even talking about prior veterans of prior wars, and when they come back, many of them are unfortunately falling through the cracks. As such, back to the drug war point, they are committing drug trafficking and firearm offenses (although both of these two categories are at smaller rates compared to the general population), and child pornography and sexual abuse offenses (veterans committed child pornography offenses four times as often as citizens, and sexual abuse offenses more than twice as often as citizens).
- We also know that some of the public mass shooters have been veterans. Just like with persons with a mental illness, we don’t want to stigmatize a whole class of people (veterans) as being prone to violence and such. However, we can’t ignore, either, that three of the 10 deadliest shootings (at least as of 2018 when ABC News looked at it) were at the hands of veterans.
- There are cultural spillovers from our militarized our country is, like the proliferation of the military flyovers at NFL and MLB games, military recruitment at high school and college campuses, and in partnerships with Hollywood.
- How about just language itself? The War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on Cancer, the War on everything, apparently. How in political and media talk, we say the other side is “weaponizing” something. I could go on and on about this topic, including the problem of the imperial presidency, but I think you get the gist.
- The militarization of the police over the years. As a result of the aforementioned military adventurism, police departments across the country, big and small, are not only receiving military-grade vehicles and weapons, and not only dressing like the military, but they are acting like the military. In some urban cities, they act like an occupying force, creating a very negative “us vs. them” mentality. You can certainly link this militarization of the police and its resulting occupying mentality to the steady horror of use of force, and fatal use of force, incidents. Plus, it should be noted, circling back to my first solution, that most of these surplus military-grade supplies are utilized in the War on Drugs, not in the more narrow violent encounters we imagine.
Just like with ending the War on Drugs, I don’t see addressing both of these bullet points as being a panacea for the broad problem of gun violence in the United States, but I do think it would help! If we weren’t such a warring nation, had a better safety net for veterans, returned police to be properly thought of as a civilian peace force by ending the pipeline of surplus military equipment and weaponry, and trained police differently, so you aren’t attracting the violent, aggressive types, and so on, I think that would go along way toward the violence problem generally speaking.
American culture is steeped in militarism; it’s all around us, and it’s not healthy, for our polity, for our culture, and for our own individual well-being.