Just prior to the holiday season is perhaps not the best moment to talk about gun control. But the recent shootings in Connecticut, with over 20 children killed, once more raises the question of why the United States cannot pass serious gun control laws. Since the murders in Colorado in 1999, there have been over 31 “incidents”. And the killings seem to be happening at a more rapid pace. In 2012 alone, Oregon, Minneapolis, Tulsa, Wisconsin, Colorado and Seattle have been the sites of shootings. Americans own 300 million weapons; 30,000 people are killed every year.
Why can’t the United States do something about this? Gun control was not a major issue during the recent campaign, but after each “incident” there are political promises to do something. President Obama, tearfully speaking to the American people after Newtown, promised to do something. What? We know the gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA,) is very powerful. But haven’t the American people had enough? There are metal detectors at the entrance to high schools in New York City. Even at the Newtown Elementary School there was a strict security system that the gunman was able to circumvent because he was the son of a teacher there.
The problem, I believe, is more profound. The most successful advertising campaign in the history of the United States is for Marlboro cigarettes. Astride his horse, the Marlboro Man is virile, in contact with nature, and separated from civilization and its constraints. (The ad with the Marlboro Man bringing a Christmas tree to a lighted cabin begs the question since we cannot see if anyone – wife and/or child - is in the cabin.) The U.S. has recently refused to sign an international treaty for the disabled because it was believed to be an infringement on its sovereignty despite the pleadings on the Senate floor by former Republican Senator Robert Dole from his wheelchair. American sovereignty, like the independence of the Marlboro Man, has priority over civilization and its regulations. For Americans, domestic law has priority over international law.
It is not the gun lobby that is to blame for the proliferation of weapons. Rather, it is the profound belief in the U.S. that each citizen is independent and sovereign and should be minimally constrained by laws. In the United States, the image of the heroic cowboy remains very powerful. The unrestrained individual is an American hero. In other countries, this attitude would be considered unlawful, and countries which refuse to sign international treaties such as the one for the disabled would be called rogue states.
A nation of cowboys is a rogue state. How many more shootings will there be in schools before something serious takes place? My former colleague at HEID Keith Krause has done an admirable job with the Small Arms Survey trying to regulate and limit the manufacture and sale of small arms and light weapons. But, as I have frequently told him, “You may be able to be effective internationally, but you cannot be effective where I worked in the South Bronx and Harlem”.
Enough is enough. Gun control should be a major priority for President Obama’s second term. Limits have been placed on smoking. The original Marlboro Man died of lung cancer. The American worship of the unrestrained cowboy has caused too many deaths domestically as well as internationally. Limits must be placed on the purchase of guns in the United States; the image of the rogue state with unrestrained cowboys may have worked for advertising at a moment in history. The actual consequences have been horrific.
December 16, 2012