America’s Gun Culture.

At halftime of an NFL game, Bob Costas incurred the wrath of gun nuts by raising the issue of this nation’s out of control gun culture. His comments followed a tragic murder/suicide committed by an NFL player. And he recently expanded on those comments during a guest appearance on The Daily Show.

Although Costas was much more eloquent in addressing the issue than I am, I will try my best to summarize it here.

Unlike those who blame gun violence on the availability of specific types of firearms, on the lack of gun registration, on mental illness, on movies and on video games, Costas points to a culture that glorifies guns; a culture of paranoia that causes ordinary citizens to carry guns; a culture that too quickly resorts to gunfire in order to settle disputes.

So how did we get here? How did we get from Mayberry RFD to Newtown?

Our gun culture is even older than our nation. We stole the land from Native Americans with the gun. We won our independence with guns. We conquered the continent with guns. And we’ve used guns to impose our will on the rest of the world.

Of course, our gun culture has evolved. In years past, every farmer and rancher had guns. But they were merely tools for hunting or for shooting predators that preyed on their livestock. Men…especially those who returned from World War II and Korea…viewed guns as tools only for hunting. They never considered using them to shoot another American.

Since movies tend to chronicle our culture, it’s easy to see how the role of guns has changed. In old-time movies the guns were primarily six-shooters, heroes were slow to anger and they only shot in self-defense. More important, the early movie and television plots used violence to teach lessons in ethics and morality. There was no gratuitous violence merely to whet the reptilian appetites of rebellious boys and frustrated, angry men.

But the movies of recent years feature ever larger and more lethal weapons. Violent scenes have become more bloody and more senseless. Our most popular video games focus on warfare and crime. Decades of war in which soldiers have been ordered to shoot first and ask questions later have impacted our psyche. So have poverty and social injustice.

Hip-hop music screams of violence and anger. Angry old white men carry firearms to fulfill their self-image of modern-day cowboy, Rambo or Dirty Harry. “Preppers” egged on by right wing radio hosts and politicians stockpile large caches of weapons and ammo so they’ll be ready to fight our government or their neighbors following what they consider an inevitable government coup or natural disaster.

Even churches foment paranoia by quoting the Book of Revelations and warning members of the “end times.” 

If we’re serious about ending mass shootings and reducing gun violence, we must accept that it won’t happen overnight. Gun registration, limits on ammunition clips and bans of military-style weapons will help. But these measures are only a start. Real change will only come from changing our entire culture.