According to data compiled by the United Nations, as reported by the Washington Post, the United States has four times as many gun-related homicides per capita as Turkey and Switzerland, which are tied for third, with Chile in second, and the United States ranked number one as the highest per-capita rate of gun related murders included in this study. This means the United States murder rate is approximately 20 times the rate of any other country reviewed by the United Nations and translates to Americans being twenty times more likely to be killed by a gun than in any other developed country in the world. The data, taken directly from the listing of nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, includes all Western countries, in addition to, Turkey, Israel, Chile, Japan, and Korea while excluding Mexico, which has triple the United States rate, in large part due to the continuing drug war taking place in that Country. Additionally, Honduras, considered by many to be the “murder capital of the world,” has five times the murder rate stemming from guns. However, for being considered a rich and developed country, the United States is an extremely violent place.
Apparently though, it takes a tragic incident such as what took place last week, in Newtown, Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, for our country to engage in the essential dialogue needed, in order to develop solutions to the ever growing gun problem in our Nation. Even then, conservatives cry foul at anyone making any attempt to engage in a national discussion. We hear things such as “Now isn’t the time,” or, “Show some sensitivity to those who have lost loved ones,” or, “How dare you politicize such a tragic event,” with the list of excuses never ending. But, If not now: When? What will it take for this country, specifically those in the conservative movement to not only admit, but realize that our country has a major problem? Furthermore, when will conservatives cease with the hyperbolic accusations that progressives are wanting to take guns completely off the streets; doing away with “their” second amendment “rights”? Apparently, these conservatives neglect to understand that there are many progressive gun-owners who also believe in their second amendment right to bear arms.
Still though, conservatives in this country are quick to blame a host of factors, some bordering on the insane, such as the one proffered by a well known “Christian psychologist,” when he states that “last week’s tragedy is the direct result of our nation’s moral decline and God’s subsequent judgment,” to the more rational explanations provided by others. Some of these explanations include the effects of media, video games, and movies containing violence, and their contribution to the gun problem. To be clear: These rational explanations have some level of merit. For example, the current research literature in psychology estimates that by age eighteen an average American has witnessed nearly 200,000 acts of violence on television, including 16,000 murders. And the problem, of course, is not limited to television: video games, musical lyrics, and the Internet are also becoming increasingly more violent. Therefore, it appears natural to wonder whether there exists a correlation between the effects of these variables and the increase of gun violence. That is, does media violence contribute to real-world violence? If so, how should we as a nation, as parents, as responsible citizens respond to it?
The research findings are surprisingly clear here: Hundreds of studies have been done on the effects of media violence, and virtually all have found a link with increased aggressive behavior. So clear is this emerging consensus that in 2000 the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry issued a rare joint report warning that “the anti-social effects of media violence are ‘measurable and long lasting’ and that prolonged viewing of media violence ‘can’ lead to emotional desensitization in real life. How exactly, one might ask, does media violence contribute to real-world violence? Researchers point to four primary effects:
First, people with heavy exposure to media violence “tend” to be more fearful, pessimistic, and suspicious. Seeing increasing amounts of violence and corruption in the media, they assume (often wrongly) that society itself must be getting more dangerous and corrupt. Second, media violence can cause reduced sensitivity to real-life violence, a loss of empathy or “compassion fatigue” in which violence and the suffering it can cause no longer evoke a strong emotional response. Brought up on a steady diet of nobody-gets-hurt electronic violence, real-life violence increasingly comes to be seen as “no big deal.” Third, media violence can produce an appetite for more violence. Like the junkie who needs ever more potent doses to get himself high, violence can become an appetite that feeds on itself. Nearly 40 years ago, many Americans were shocked by the bloody shootouts in the film, Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Sadly, today that movie might not even receive a PG-13 rating.
Finally, research supports the notion that media violence tends to increase aggressive behavior. In one leading study, Al Austin and Leonard Eron tracked 835 third graders in Hudson, New York from 1960 to 1993, finding that those who had been heavy consumers of TV violence as children were consistently more aggressive from childhood to middle age. They logged more arrests and convictions, were more aggressive in their homes, and had more aggressive children. These findings have been replicated in numerous studies. But to stop brainstorming for additional solutions to the gun violence in our nation, seems to be nothing but irresponsible at best, and immoral at worst.
All of this to say that the solution to our gun problem will not be resolved easily due to the many factors contributing to it. However, to not include the role guns themselves play in this drama, along with the ease of accessibility in procuring them, coupled with the “supposed” need for specific types of ammunition, seems quite naive to me as an individual who spends nearly all of my time in the field of social psychology. Entwined in this is the second amendment right reality! People DO have a right to “bear arms,” as outlined in our Constitution, but what seems to be lost in translation is the notion of “rights” and the role responsibility plays when having these rights. That is, citizens in our great land have rights afforded to each of us, as afforded in the United States Constitution, however, when those rights affect the rest of society, as evidenced by the several incidents of mass shootings in this country, then it is time for us to reconsider exactly how those “rights” flesh out when innocent people are losing their lives. Perhaps, it was this very issue the President was referencing, when he told those in Newtown last week, “that society has failed you.”
Yet, it is at this very intersection, that the conservative legislators in this land, coupled with the NRA have failed us as citizens. Their consistent mantra of blaming everything else, but guns, their accessibility, and the types of ammunition needed to protect oneself, is an outright failure. In addition, despite the nation wanting to embark in dialogue immediately following last week’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, the conservative legislators and NRA remained silent. Instead of accepting invitations to national television appearances, such as David Gregory’s Meet the Press last week, not one pro-gun legislator agreed to appear, hiding under the guise of “honoring those we have lost while paying our respects.” Where is it written though, that it is inappropriate to discuss gun law reform only after a specific waiting period? Nowhere! Adding insult to injury, is their “mandate” for the Nation and media to wait a specific period of time, before engaging in dialogue, while not imposing uniform waiting periods to those wishing to purchase guns, coupled with lax standards on the type of weapons one owns, seems as though it is their ideology that has its priorities out of whack!
And then there was the infamous Press Conference held by the NRA yesterday, prefaced by hints that their lobbying organization was going to provide “meaningful contributions to the dialogue,” only to have the organization’s leader, Wayne LaPierre, insult those of us who watched, as he blamed the politicians, the media, movies, and video games without even mentioning the role his organization’s product plays to the national crisis. Of course, Mr. LaPierre did precisely what he is paid to do: He argued stringently for “more guns,” as he promoted an agenda of having armed security guards at every school, neglecting to understand that as he uttered those very words, a shooter in Pennsylvania, added three more to the total of those killed in gun violence incidents.
Gunman Jeffrey Lee Michael, 44, killed an individual at a church, a residence, and then hit another driver finalizing his evil deed by shooting the driver. Of course, three State Troopers were dispatched to the scene, resulting with injuries. So much for Mr. LaPierre’s theory and supposed solution to our pervasive problem when he states: “The only thing to stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with the gun.” And what about his notion of having an armed guard at every school? Oh, wait! We did have an armed security guard at Columbine. Why was that tragedy not averted? Let me be clear: What Mr. LaPierre accomplished yesterday, was nothing short of providing a “sales pitch” to our Country advocating gun ownership, and the need to infringe on every citizen’s first amendment right sans the censoring of video games, movies, and media, while protecting his member’s rights to bear arms. How paltry! And where was the GOP through all of this? Once again, they were nowhere to be found! Which leads me to my final point in this article:
Have you ever noticed how the GOP appears to not want to engage in dialogue about the social ills of our Country. They don’t want to learn how many people in our society are poor, homeless, or dying of AIDS, and they especially would rather not be told about the high incidence of crime. Perhaps this is due to the dreary figures seemingly pointing to problems that seem beyond their control. However, violent crimes involving guns, should command our attention, because any individual with a sense of morality or responsibility, realizes that to dialogue about such a major problem, very well could lead to an effective solution. Mr. LaPierre asks: “Since when did gun become such a bad word?” Great question, Mr. LaPierre! Since 1982 in the United States there have been at least 62 mass murder incidents involving guns. Not counting the incident which occurred while you were giving your “sales pitch” to the Country, 151 people lost their lives in 2012 as a direct result of gun violence. Last week in Newtown, Connecticut, I can give you 26 reasons why we all need to take a closer look at the current gun culture, including access to guns, and the type of ammunition one can procure. That is, we need to take a critical look at the entire picture Mr. LaPierre, including the contribution your organization provides to this dilemma. Twenty-Six people, Mr. LaPierre, with 20 of those people being no older than six or seven years old! If not now: WHEN?