by Lael Ewy
We can talk all we want about gun regulations or the right of “innocent” people to defend themselves. We can talk of “safety” and “freedom” and the meaning of the 2nd Amendment. But one deep and undeniable belief runs through almost every aspect of American life: we believe that violence solves problems.
This basic notion is evident from two bums brawling on the street to the upper echelons of foreign policy “deciders.” That we believe this is evident in almost every popular scripted drama on TV and in almost every popular video game on the market. It’s the primary plot point in stories aimed at children and in action movies aimed at adults. We believe this sincerely and deeply. It’s why our cops carry guns, knives, pepper-spray, Tasers, and truncheons. It’s the reason we have home security systems and the reason we have street gangs. It’s how the US has dealt with the vast majority of its foreign policy entanglements over the years and how presidents “secure” their “place in history.”
Our confidence in this idea leads us to wonder why “they” hate us.
After all, we thought that was a problem we solved.
Here’s a clue: “they” hate us because we have perpetrated violence against them. For the better part of a century the guns being pointed at them, the bombs being dropped on them, and the planes bombing them have been made in the USA.
H. Rap Brown was absolutely correct when he said that “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” We reify this idea when CSI, Law & Order, The Profiler, or whatever ostensibly smart police procedural we consume ends in gunplay. We reinforce this idea when John Kerry gets excoriated for solving our problems with Iran peacefully instead of bombing the shit out of them.
We reinforce this idea when police violence is exonerated and when we make heroes out of gangsters. We reinforce this idea with the death penalty.
Westerns, those stories so dear to American mythology, are characterized by the figure of the “lone wolf” gunslinger who will save the town, that his propensity to violence is the only thing that can save the effete townsfolk from the savagery of the lawless cattle rustler and the wild, indigenous Other. It’s no accident that the rise of the US coincides with the ability to manufacture high quality firearms at low cost.
We manifest the belief that violence solves problems when we posit the Revolutionary War as the origin of our nation and not the Constitutional Convention.
As much as well-meaning lawmakers would like to believe that we can reduce mass murders through legislation or technical fixes to mental health care, as much as well-meaning progressives think we can reduce gun violence through the regulation of firearms, they’re fooling themselves. Our problem is cultural, not legal or technological.
Our problem is that we believe, against all evidence but at the core of our beings, that violence will solve our problems rather than compound them infinitely.