This is the third in a series about violence in contemporary American culture.
Q: What are contemporary elements of violence in the American way of life?
A: In an article on globalresearch.com, retired professor and author John Kozy speaks about American violence, emphasizing Americans not only take part in violence, they enjoy violent entertainment. Baseball, once considered America’s national pastime, has been replaced by football, a violent game that can cause permanent brain damage.
Prohibition lasted 14 years and, in that time, helped establish organized crime. The Reagan administration declared war on drugs with the very famous motto: “Just say no.” The long efforts to quell the illegal drug market also failed, as did prohibition. The market has flourished illegally, has resulted in many deaths, has squandered tons of money, and has fostered the rise of the international drug cartel. Alcohol, drugs, and now guns, are the focus. The current attention on gun control speaks to the historical and continuous American notion that prohibiting something dangerous is the answer to solving the problem. Guns do not cause violence, but they do facilitate killing because they are easily accessible, quick to engage and fairly easy to dispose of.
Prior to the European colonization of America, there were more than 12 million Native Americans in North America. Four centuries later, there were 237,000 Native Americans. Following the Civil War, Americans forged their way to the Pacific Ocean. The Winchester rifle and the Colt revolver are known as “The guns that won the West.” Guns led the way from one coast to the other.
Prolific author Simon J. Bronner is a distinguished university professor at Pennsylvania State University in Harrisburg. He believes the cultural violence theme is full of contradictions, paradoxes and puzzlement. From 1996 to 2010, there was a proliferation of violence by youth. Statistics on juvenile crime showed a decline in drug use, assaults and violence. At the same time, opinion polls revealed a perception that violence in youth was increasing and juveniles were more dangerous and feared than ever.
These 1990s’ reports of juvenile crime showed shooters were usually boys, trying to find a “place for themselves” in what they thought was a socially hostile environs. Struggles for boys became focused on maleness as wells as adolescence. In spite of decreases in juvenile crime on the street, violence in movies was increasing, with plots involving random aggressive acts or mentally afflicted slashers.
Following Columbine, attitudes toward youth as a precocious social menace arose. American youth was too independent, maturing too quickly, becoming too powerful culturally and socially, outside parental control, and wild. The behavior of boys was increasingly observed as rough and hypersexualized. Teens became obsessed with death.
Historian David B. Davis in 1966 characterized the modern American culture as having “a peculiar fascination with homicidal violence.” A pattern that can be traced through literary frontier chronicles is that of the lone man who is a violent hero figure going against authority, usually with the aid of a gun.
Psychologist Ray Williams published his thoughts on gun control and violence in a 2012 article in psychologytoday.com. He summarized statistics provided by Harry Bradford and Howard Steven Friedman regarding the gun industry in America.
• In 2011, the firearms industry in America was a $31 billion business.
• Approximately 45 million Americans own handguns.
• In the 23 wealthiest nations in the world, 87 percent of the children killed were American.
• In the 23 wealthiest nations, 80 percent of gun deaths were American.
• The United States ranks first in guns owned per 100 people, 88.8 per 100.
• Eleven of the worst 20 mass shootings in advanced countries in the last 50 years were in the United States. (Now 12 since Orlando.)
• Of 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in order from first to fifth, the highest homicide rates are in Mexico, Chile, Estonia, the United States and Turkey.
Legal scholars Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins compared crime rates in selected countries and came to the following conclusion: “What is striking about the quality of legal violence in the United States is that it is a third-world phenomenon occurring in a first-world nation.” Many researchers have been examining guns as related to gun violence. Economist Richard Florida researched social indicators related to gun deaths. The one factor that was correlated with fewer gun-related deaths was states that had stricter gun control laws.
In 1996 in Australia, a mass shooting of 35 people prompted the prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire, long-range guns. The agreement included a buyback of 650,000 guns, tighter rules for licensing and safe storage for guns still in public use. The law did not end gun ownership in Australia. The law reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, the types most likely to be used in mass shootings.
In the 18 years before the mass shooting law changed, there were 13 mass shootings. There were no mass shootings in the 14 years after the changed law went into effect. The murder rate from firearms dropped more than 40 percent, according to research from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. The suicide rate from firearms decreased by more than half.
The United States ranks first in the sale of military arms to other countries, according to the Congressional Research Service. The United States spends 41 percent of all expenditures on the military. China spends 8.2 percent, and Russia 4.1 percent. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, regarding the incarceration rate per 100,000 people, the United States is first at 730, Canada is 114 and Sweden is 70.
• Next week’s article will focus on how the media as a source of violence affects children.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.