I was neither surprised nor even disappointed when comments on my Facebook page were shallow, insensitive, and simply ridiculous in response to my post against the gun-lust that defines the U.S.: Know guns, know violence; no guns, no violence.
The most ridiculous was the counter argument that if we had no guns people would still be violent with ball bats.
Not kidding. That was a rebuttal.
For the record, I am in full support for a complete exchange in the U.S. ― all gun owners swapping those weapons for bats.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, and I was disappointed, however, when I waded into the Las Vegas shooting with my college students. My university population is skewed socially and politically conservative as well as traditionally Christian. Although the college was once affiliated with the Southern Baptist church, that ended decades ago and the school was never a religious college.
I always die a little on the inside when I share the research base solidly refuting corporal punishment, prompting several students to respond angrily in favor of spanking: “I was spanked and I turned out fine,” the typical rebuttal as hollow as the bat argument above.
Three first year students were more than bothered and eager to challenge the concerns I raised in our first-year seminar about access to guns in the U.S. and the uniquely violent culture of our country when compared internationally.
Their arguments fell into three categories: adamant commitments to owning guns for self defense (with the undercurrent that home invasions are somehow an ever-present danger), a belief that the Second Amendment was in part designed to allow U.S. citizens to defend themselves against a rogue U.S. government (and that remains relevant in 2017), and the recognition that many in the U.S. cling to gun ownership as a symbol for individual freedom (one student noted that his family owns several guns but they never use them in any way).
One similarity to my students’ arguments and the push-back on Facebook has been the sense of fatalism—there simply is no way to end all gun violence or all violence so let’s not restrict our freedom, again represented by merely owning a gun.
In class, I found data on international comparisons showing that the U.S. is an extreme outlier for rates of gun violence, and I posed the idea that wouldn’t we all take the rates of next highest nation (a much lower rate) if that were possible through policy change.
And with that, I argued that we are all complicit in our violent nation, our gun-lust: This is America. This is who we are.
My students who defended gun rights immediately balked at the carnage of LasVegas is something the citizens of the U.S. have chosen.
Facebook ignorance has become nearly as commonplace as mass shootings in the U.S. But I have tried to remain hopeful about young people, that the future can hold a better us: “This place could be beautiful,/right? You could make this place beautiful.”
As my students demonstrate, young people have been engrained with irrational but compelling beliefs that are not supported by evidence; entrenched symbolism remains powerful in the U.S. well beyond the origins of those symbols.
The practical and very real importance of guns in the founding and expansion of the U.S. certainly contrasts significantly with today—but the symbolism (guns equal freedom) endures.
Symbolism and the resulting fatalism are the death of us as a people—unless somehow we are able to make facts matter. Otherwise, our future is as dim as our past and our present.