In the Old West, the law said “Don’t take your guns to town.” What’s more important in America: facts or good stories?

History is no longer written. It’s shouted and broadcast. Why go out in public when you can see “reality” in the comfort of your living room?

A shooting on a program? No problem. It’s “only” a flesh wound and the victim is joking with friends right after the commercial break. Or else the good guys are talking about how the dead guy got what he deserved. What about that other reality? The one where a person is writhing, groaning and puking on the floor? Have today’s entertainment fashions sanitized violence to the point where cause and effect have been disconnected? For many people, the reality of an edited, accelerated broadcast life is the only reality they understand. When a protagonist can solve the issue du jour in a one-hour show that includes 12-16 minutes of commercials, a main plot and two or three subplots, daily living can seem awfully boring.

IMG_0910If we believe movies and television, we’d think that weapons were endemic to the old west. The reality? Tombstone, Deadwood, Dodge and nearly all of the other places popularized in the American mythos had strong gun control laws. Duels at high noon were rare. Adam Winkler’s book, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America tells of 1873 Wichita posters telling people to Leave your Revolvers at Police Headquarters. And Get a Check. One of Dodge City’s first laws was a gun control law.

Why do a significant number of Americans toss a tantrum when someone tries to prescribe limits on their use of weapons? For the most part, these are the same people who won’t let their kids play with carving knives. Are they afraid? Of what? Are they insecure, needing to show off the phallic symbol that’s socially acceptable in some parts of America?

Sitting in the safety of their homes, they absorb the fear-mongering “entertainment” that solves nearly all problems with sanitized violence in a simplistic black and white manner. Those who are so proud of their “open carry” weapons are simply showing how receptive they are to media manipulation and the politics of fear. If you want to carry a loaded weapon and be a big man, why not join the military so you can do it around people who might shoot back?

Kids – and those who are chronologically older but emotionally still childlike – can see bar fights on TV, where a sugar glass or breakaway chair hit on the head leaves its victim coming back for more. Or in person, where lost teeth, eyes and serious scars are much more common. I’ve seen both.

America is a young country populated by people with an inexperienced, non-curious, youthfully ignorant worldview. Even before today’s digital age it was easier just to buy a replacement product or move to a new place than to repair the old or deal with a changing environment. An advertising-driven sense of out-with-the-old overwhelms a sense of history and a knowledge of context. Today this youthful invulnerability is poured into a blender with the “entertainment” of sanitized violence, a vocal gun culture and a fear-infused view of the world. What do we get? A teenage myopic tone-deaf world view.

The result?

When America meets a new challenge it reacts to symptoms, rarely looking for or dealing with causes. The result? We keep doing the same things the same way and hoping for a different outcome.

When we encounter something new, do we react with fear or respond with curiosity?

8 Comments on “In the Old West, the law said “Don’t take your guns to town.” What’s more important in America: facts or good stories?

  1. I see a big difference in views on guns between city dwellers (wanting tight control) & more rural areas (hunting). People I know who have guns all say it is for personal protection for them & their families. None of these people live in high crime areas, so I don’t quite get the need for one.

    • I wonder how much of the “need a gun for self-protection” attitude is the result of our media-driven fear-based society – and how many of these people not only have the proper safety and marksmanship training, but the emotional maturity that it would take to use a weapon in challenging circumstances.

      • They all are trained & legally own. (Big business qualifying for gun licenses).

  2. “If you want to carry a loaded weapon and be a big man, why not join the military so you can do it around people who might shoot back?” – I am having this made into a large roadside sign.

    • Great!
      Guess we do live in the “best damnation” – of course the first part reminded me of Mae West. I assume he wasn’t happy to see whoever was there.

  3. Nearly 1 in 10 Americans have severe anger issues and access to guns

    By Christopher Ingraham April 8 Washington Post

    Roughly 22 million Americans — 8.9 percent of the adult population– have impulsive anger issues and easy access to guns. 3.7 million of these angry gun owners routinely carry their guns in public. And very few of them are subject to current mental health-based gun ownership restrictions.
    Those are the key findings of a new study by researchers from Harvard, Columbia and Duke University. “Anger,” in this study, doesn’t simply mean garden-variety aggravation. It means explosive, uncontrollable rage, as measured by responses to the National Comorbidity Survey Replication in the early 2000s. It is “impulsive, out of control, destructive, harmful,” lead author Jeffrey Swanson of Duke University said in an interview. “You and I might shout. These individuals break and smash things and get into physical fights, punch someone in the nose.”
    Angry people with guns are typically young or middle-aged men, according to Swanson’s research. They’re likely to be married, and to live in suburban areas. In a recent op-ed, Swanson and a co-author point to Craig Stephen Hicks, a North Carolina man who “had frightened neighbors with his rages and had a cache of fourteen firearms” and who shot three Muslim students earlier this year, as a quintessential example of an enraged gun owner.
    “To have gun violence you need two things: a gun and a dangerous person,” Swanson says. “We can’t broadly limit legal access to guns, so we have to focus on the dangerous people.” Taken at face value this isn’t a controversial claim. After all, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, as gun rights advocates are fond of saying.
    But in practice we haven’t done a great job of identifying these dangerous people. After high-profile national tragedies like Sandy Hook or Aurora, the conversation quickly turns to limiting gun access for the seriously mentally ill — people with schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder, for instance. This is palatable to gun rights advocates because it suggests that controlling the mentally ill, rather than controlling firearms, is the solution to gun violence.
    But serious mental illness is only associated with a fraction of all violent crime in America. Swanson says the best available research shows that if you were to wave a magic wand and cure all serious mental illness in the United States, you’d only decrease violent crime by about 4 or 5 percent. Keeping guns out of the hands of these folks is a common-sense first step, but it won’t take a serious bite out of our gun crime problem.
    To do that, we need to have a better sense of which kinds of people make for the most high-risk gun owners. And that’s where the new research by Swanson and his colleagues come in. In addition to the startling findings about the share of the overall population with both gun access and serious anger issues, the researchers also found that people with lots of guns — six or more — are more likely to carry their guns in public and to have a history of anger issues. And people with more than 11 were significantly more likely to say that they lose their temper and get into fights than members of any other gun ownership group.
    It’s important to note here — and the chart above illustrates this — that gun owners as a whole aren’t any more likely to suffer anger issues than non-gun owners. And the vast majority of these people never have, and never will commit a gun crime. So you can’t simply ask someone if they have anger issues and take their guns away if they say “yes.” But there are other things policymakers can do to limit gun access among the most high-risk members of this population.
    Federal law already limits gun access for individuals convicted of a felony, and for people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions. Swanson and his colleagues suggest taking that one step further and placing additional misdemeanors on the restriction list: assault, brandishing a weapon or making open threats, and especially DUI, given the well-documented nexus between problematic alcohol use and gun violence. Other research has shown that people with a single prior misdemeanor conviction are “nearly 5 times as likely as those with no prior criminal history to be charged with new offenses involving firearms or violence.”
    Again, the argument goes like this: if people, not guns, kill people, then it only makes sense to limit gun access among the most dangerous people. Swanson’s research suggests it’s time to move the conversation past the low-hanging fruit of serious mental illness, and start asking which other types of behavior might reasonably disqualify a person from owning a gun.

  4. I remember having a conversation with a client years ago about guns. I said I didn’t own one, and he couldn’t believe it. With his surprised look, you might have thought I just told him I didn’t have in-door plumbing or something. He thought having a gun was essential to survival.