Violence: A Cultural Problem

It is no surprise that the hot-button issue of gun control has unfortunately escalated into a nationwide pandemic given the events of the last few months. Gun violence and misuse has now been attributed to the loss of well over 60 Americans so far this summer.[1] Last month, Augusta residents experienced first-hand exactly how deep this problem runs when a dispute turned violent in a Walmart parking lot. A group of drug traffickers from New York allegedly became invested in a narcotic-related argument in which a firearm was shot off attempting to injure one of the people involved. Thankfully, the scene was de-escalated before any fatal injuries could have occurred. Unfortunately, this is not always how incidents involving gun violence end.

Prior to the altercation in Augusta, the nation was still mourning the losses from the shootings of June and July which claimed over sixty innocent victims and is now gravely considered one of the bloodiest summers in modern U.S history.

This is an issue we have seen repeated ten fold throughout the last decade. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 2000 and 2013, there was a total of 671 reported casualties due to mass public shootings. Further, there was an estimated 607 casualties attributed to gun violence from 1999 to 2013.[2] This year alone has presented us with some of the largest public body counts in our modern history. The Gun Violence Archive states that there has been 28,435 reported incidents involving a firearm this year alone. This is close to 150 firearm incidents per day. One hundred seventy five of these incidents resulted in the injury or death of a reporting officer and 984 resulted in instances in which a suspect was injured or killed at the hands of law enforcement. According to The Guardian, a total of 586 people have lost their lives due to police brutality or misconduct this year alone.[3]

Through an international perspective, the U.S is the number one provider and exporter of firearms, controlling over fifty percent of the global weaponry market.[4] According to TIME Magazine, American arms sales jumped 35 percent, reaching a total of $36.2 billion in 2014 due in part to a high international weapons demand from South Korea, Iraq, and Brazil. Further, roughly 46 per cent of small arms sellers rely on some amount of American demand from the U.S-Mexico border.[5] As if this was not enough, the United States is the leader in the number of firearms per capita in the world, totaling 88 for every 100.[6]

Jayman. "Guns & Violence...Again." The UNZ Review. June 11, 2014.

Jayman. “Guns & Violence…Again.” The UNZ Review. June 11, 2014.

After a surge in favor of stricter background check policies and public campaigns against firearms, the demand for firearms in the United States has increased, peaking soon after the incidents of Sandyhook, Orlando, and the Dallas shootings.[7] One of the most interesting facts about this is that gun sales actually increased not only because of the shootings, but also because of the controversy that followed the attacks. The result has been quite lucrative and positive for firearms manufacturers. It seems that the more society attacks each other the better business gets.

Ever since crime rates due to firearms began to rise in the nation, cases have been made searching for someone to fault. Non gun-owners blame weapons, the NRA blames perpetrators, and society chooses to blame the conscience, or lack thereof, of the person who commits these hateful crimes. Americans on the side of gun opposition and control look at all the devastations in Orlando, Dallas, and Sandy Hook as proof and justification for the implementation of stricter laws surrounding gun control.

Some imagine that the blanket prohibition of gun sales could quickly diminish gun violence and crime in general. This has not worked in the past and will not work now. Prohibition in the 1920s did not diminish the consumption of alcoholic across our society; it made it even worse. The outcome then was an increase in alcoholism, drug use, and the strengthening and empowerment of organized crime. Just like it was as easy to make the argument that alcohol had caused crimes, it is just as easy to say that guns kill people. But, the truth is that the physical presence of alcohol was not responsible for alcoholism prior to prohibition, and the existence of firearms in and of themselves is not solely responsible for the tragedies as of late.

That said, there are certain measures which have been shown to reduce gun deaths.  Giving into the nation’s gun-frenzied culture, lawmakers in Missouri ended a program which required background checks on private gun sales, which make up about 40% of the market.  Multiple studies have shown that the years following the repeal of universal background checks saw a rise in gun deaths in the state.  In contrast, Connecticut saw a reduction in gun deaths when they instituted broader background checks.[8]  In total, eighteen states have set into place laws which expand background checks.  In those states, 46% fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners in domestic violence cases.  The prevalence of gun trafficking and gun suicides is also diminished.  This November, Maine has an opportunity to become the nineteenth state to pass expanded background check legislation with Question Three on the ballot.[9]

Common sense gun measures would save lives, but they would only be a first step toward a more peaceful world. The recent public shootings have not only devastated our society, they have also succeeded in dividing our nation. The American public now faces a difficult decision regarding gun control that seems to make only slight progress after every national horror involving firearms. It’s irrational to believe that we can eradicate crime by abolishing guns. The truth is that these acts of violence stem from hate and prejudice, not because the person who committed the crimes had access to a weapon. Those who want to commit acts of evil, will do so by any means necessary.

Instead of placing the blame on weapons, we should consider that the root of these atrocious crimes is social inequality. It is injudicious to reject the existence of social stratification in our culture. The U.S. is a democratic-republic whose foundation was tragically built upon racial stratification. The hard truth is that some people experience more privilege than others due to a variety of reasons, including race, gender, income or social class. Thus, birthed the institution that we now recognize as social inequality. This is the leading cause of hate and prejudice which is a major motive for crime in our culture. There is an infinite amount of documented hate crimes that can be traced to the root of social inequality; or instead, the feeling of resentment directed at social inequality and systemic privilege.

Have we lost all sense of morality as a society? Has the U.S. lost touch with its value system? Popular culture may be the true culprit behind our violent tendencies. American culture has evolved to become centered on violence and intrigue, because as we know it, these topics are top of the market. For instance, television programs such as NCIS, Major Crimes, or even Dexter, have gained major popularity in the entertainment industry because these shows exhibit major “selling points” in the market. All of these shows include storylines of the most heinous crimes that are committed in our society. These shows take advantage of the greatest tragedies of our lives, and consequently, we can suppose they actually inspire more crime to occur.

So, maybe the real person to blame isn’t a person but a collective culture. When we take a step back and analyze the development of our own society and culture, we are the ones at fault. We have created a culture focused on violence and hate and social inequality. As aforementioned, we are and have always been a democratic-republic, a nation that encourages individualism and guarantees prosperity for those who put in work. However, that reality simply doesn’t exist for everybody, it did not exist then and it does not exist today.

All people are equal; this is a universal concept. But not all people are born into equal situations, and therefore, are not able to access like opportunities. This systemic inequality plays a large part in not only global crime, but also acts as a huge influencer of crime in general.

This problem is not a frivolous debate about whether guns kill people, or if they should be banned in the U.S. The root of the issue at hand, is our society. Once we accept this truth, we will be able to find solutions to finally reduce violence due to systemic hate and injustice, and therefore find solace for the countless lives lost due to violence.

“Violence: A Cultural Problem” was written by Nina Mahaleris, undergraduate student in journalism, communications and international affairs at the University of Maine and volunteer for the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine.

[1] Source:”2016.” Gun Violence Archive. Accessed August 10, 2016. http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/.

[2] “Mass Murders with Firearms: Incidents and Victims, 1999-2013.” July 30, 2015. Accessed August 10, 2016.

[3]Younge, Gary. “Bring the Dallas Murderers to Justice. And the Killers of Black People Too | Gary Younge.” The Guardian. 2016. Accessed August 10, 2016.

[4] “The U.S. Is Still No.1 at Selling Arms to the World.” Time. Accessed August 10, 2016. http://time.com/4161613/us-arms-sales-exports-weapons/.

[5] Ibid.

[6]“136 Mass Shootings in 164 Days.” CNN. Accessed August 10, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/13/health/mass-shootings-in-america-in-charts-and-graphs-trnd/.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Casselman, Ben. “Where Background Checks Work.” FiveThirtyEight. 2016. Accessed August 10, 2016. http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/background-checks/.

[9] Richardson, Wayne. “My daughter was killed by gun violence. Maine can do more, keep guns from dangerous people.” Bangor Daily News. Accessed August 10, 2016. https://bangordailynews.com/2016/08/08/opinion/contributors/my-daughter-was-killed-by-gun-violence-maine-can-do-more-keep-guns-from-dangerous-people/.

Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the Global effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth.