December 17, 2012 – NEW YORK –  After the massacre of 28 people at a Connecticut school– 20 of them children – Americans are bitterly asking themselves what has gone wrong in their country. School and work place shootings have become almost as common as sports events.  What can be done to halt this plague?

Not very much, at first glance.   Americans love firearms: there are some 150 million in circulation.  Half of all Americans own weapons.   Welcome to Dodge City.  In Puritanical America, it’s ok to show people being sawed in half and skinned alive on TV but illegal to show the nude human body.

Attacks on schools are not just an American problem: they have occurred in Europe, Canada, Pakistan, and, last week, China.

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution, enacted in 1791,  guarantees: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”    This basic right was reaffirmed by Supreme Court decisions in 2008 and 2010.

The right to bear arms was designed to enable citizen’s militias and to protect individuals against “tyranny.”  The United States had just battled Britain for its independence and feared the rise of a home-grown monarchy.

America was not alone in arming its citizens.  In Switzerland, the country of my youth, citizen soldiers keep their automatic weapons at home.  As far as I know, there has been only one case in half a century of a Swiss running amok and using his military rifle against civilians.

Switzerland illustrates the claim by gun advocates that “guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”  Some members of America’s mighty National Rifle Association, the leading advocate of gun ownership for hunting and self-defense, claim that the majority of gun killings are suicides, not assaults.

But the United States is not tranquil Switzerland.  Nor is it the highly civilized Western Europe, where gun ownership is strictly limited.  In many senses, the US remains the Wild West, a nation that is still rough and unfinished.

However, crime rates in the United States have dropped sharply over the past 20 years.  The reason is uncertain and hotly debated.  Gun advocates insist it is because citizens can carry arms and protect themselves.  Some statistics indeed show drops in robbery and assaults in states where carrying weapons is legal.

While there are two sides to these arguments, no doubt exists that military-style semi-automatic and fully automatic arms – like AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles –  have no place in a modern society.   They only belong on battlefields.

Nor do such deadly weapons have any place in hunting, where single shot, high-powered rifles with scopes are more than enough to massacre helpless animals.  It was noteworthy that Newtown, where the shooting occurred, banned hunting for the weekend.  People suddenly felt a little of the terror that hunted animals experience.

America’s real problem is its pervasive culture of violence and  the glorification of killing.   Ultra-violent video games and comic books, grisly horror films, gory war movies, and endless police drama filled with gunplay infuse society.  Add heavy, pro-war drumbeating and patriotic guff from the media and politicians.

Military TV stations (I watch them, too) promote a pornography of violence.  America’s wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen have turned war and the killing of civilians into sanitized video games were “the bad guys” are effortlessly liquidated – or, to use a newly favored euphemism, “taken out.”   Ever since 9/11, America has become profoundly militarized and addicted to macho propaganda about “special ops,” Navy Seals, and CIA black ops.

The principal consumers of all this violent pornography and the cult of killing are confused teenage boys and young men who are at a turbulent age when potent hormones addle the brain, and whose  place in this world has not yet been found.

Young men cannot be banned, but weapons and ammunition can – provided enough Americans become outraged.   President Obama vowed this weekend “these tragedies must end.”  But will he expend the huge amount of political capital need to fight America’s powerful gun lobby and hunting industry, and its pistol-packing citizens for whom guns have become the latest fashion accessory?



copyright  Eric S. Margolis 2012











This post is in: USA

19 Responses to “DODGE CITY USA”

  1. I see the NRA has just made the proposal that armed security be deployed in all schools in the US

    It works. Bring all the Blackwater types home and put them into the schools. It would make the rest of the world safer.

  2. Children young as 10 and almost every adult in the tribal areas of Asia (including Pakistan, before the Afpak war spectre) carries an automatic weapon, which is part of the culture. Never has any civilian randomly shot up dozens of innocent civilians. This also holds true for the US, as nobody from 40 years ago could believe such incomprehensible acts. The common denominator each and every time, seems to be the glorification of violence in a culture that promotes individualism too heavily.

  3. john dreiling says:

    And about those wonderful peaceful Europeans: One word: Riots.
    Riots for being taxed for benefits they receive (Greece).
    Riots for having to retire at 62 instead of 60 (France).
    Riots for the fun of it (England).
    Mass hooliganism is a valid form of social comment is Europe.

  4. john dreiling says:

    Why do these bizarro mass murders happen in America? They happen because everybody eats up the drama as if it were the ultimate reality show. Suddenly, some loser is a National Bad Ass Idol. The American TV media and the American people, who are desperate for real life meaning and real life drama, are what actually fuel these mass murderer events.
    Forgotten by everyone is that every week more than 100 people die tragically in cars accidents, and thousands of people die tragically of disease, and hundreds of women are raped. If the American people were exposed to any 27 of the tragic deaths or rapes with the intensity and the emotional angst and the in depth coverage of people who know the victims, then those drams would seem real to people and the reletive drama of these occasional publicity seeking mass murderers would be much less. My point here is that the American people are being played by the media and the murderers. And those who would take our freedoms are quite ready to use any national consciousness “tragedy” as an excuse to expand their powers once again. Think PATRIOY ACT or Bailouts.

    As for the right to carry fire arms deterring mass murderers, check this out. Some young man in an Oregon mall stopped a mass murderer on Dec 17. Only two people besides the gunman dies in this case and the hero didn’t even have tof ire his weapon; the murderer shot himself when he saw the pistol pointed at him.

    And finally, Eric, Dodge City in the 1870’s was significantly safer than New York City. Less murders, less violence and less police state presence. And yes, most of the men cared firearms, thought the weapons were used on rattlesnakes and coyotes and the like rather than to settle human disputes.

  5. Owning a gun in 1791 meant that you had a single-shot weapon that had to be loaded through the muzzle. Unless you had paid a lot of money to a good gunsmith for an expensive gun, chances were it would not be very effective and you might even have injured yourself instead of any target. I’d be willing to agree to letting civilians own as many of those weapons as they wanted.

    I don’t believe for a minute that any gun ownership advocate really believes he or she is ever going to join a citizens’ militia to fend off a tyrannical government, and even if they did what chance would an armed citizens’ militia stand against the current state of US military might? They’d be bombed, nuked, gassed right back to the 18th century ( i.e. treated even worse that what Assad is doing) if they ever dared take up arms against the ruling US powers. That argument is laughable. And it is the only honest interpretation of the Second Amendment, but the powerful gun lobby has managed to control the discussion around the right to bear arms as being in itself indisputable for any reason no matter how flimsy and unjustifiable.

    Unless Obama seriously and quickly steps up to promote some form of gun limitation or control, how exactly is he going to deliver on his statement that “these tragedies must end” – or was that all just for television?

    • This is a tagline from one of the engineering forums I frequent…
      “A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”
      -George Washington, President of the United States—-

      Based on this comment, I would suggest that the people should have the same weaponry as the government…

  6. The Best example of a well regulated society is Japan. They have the strongest gun control in the world, and while they too produce some of the most violent films produce they have had only two gun deaths last year and the police are worried over the fact that the entire country experienced 2500 violent crimes in the entire country. (assaults, rapes, and murders) Up 5%.

    • Totally different type of people… has nothing to do with gun ownership… the Swiss as the other side of the coin…
      Look at the problem with the Japanese reactor ‘meltdown’… they behaved totally different than those people affected by Katrina… totally different folks…

  7. George Rizk says:

    Sorry guys it is not crazy people that kill, it is the culture of making crazy people.

    100% of Switzerland is armed, but no mass killing in schools, or theaters? Do we produce more crazy people per capita than Switzerland? We spend more money on education, and health care than Switzerland, yet we have lousy educated, cultured, or health children in comparison. We need an honest discussion, and self examination of our inefficient way of doing things. Before we criticize Europe, maybe we need to copy some of its more successful program, including glorification of violence in sport, and entertainment.

    • Perhaps the US spends more… but does it get the same bang per buck per person ?

      With the addition of private insurance companys taking their cut, big pharma charging more for medicine, independant labs, etc… more money changes hands because costs are higher.

      of course that is part of the pro corporate ” culture ” that seems to be taking all of us to our doom
      The Connecticut massacre and America’s estrangement from reality
      In the wake of the Connecticut school massacre, gun control is just one of many issues requiring attention in the US.

  8. George Rizk says:

    Well, basically almost 90% of all entertainment forms in America are focused on pure VIOLENCE. Movies, TV, cartoon, books, computer games, sport…..

    I use to play basket ball as a kid outside of the U.S.; now, as grown up, my neighbor asked me to join a few other guys to play basket ball in his driveway. Guess what, it was like a whole different game of pure physical power rather than technical dribbling, passing, and shooting the ball.

    I don’t own a gun, and don’t care about weapons, but, I understand the constitution to want the citizens to own arms to protect themselves against a tyrannical government, not necessary against criminals! So, if a group of citizens object to oppressive government, how are these guys going to fight against helicopter gunships, tanks, and bombs. There is no chance in hell that our citizens are going to win a fight against our heavily armed government. Hence, this right to have arms or even well regulated militia will never going to counter the oppressive government.

    When the ATF went after a bunch of red necks, or religious nut in Texas, there were no contest. David Koresh may have hoarded many guns, but that was not superior to tanks, and black helicopter gunships!

    So, again, we must be honest about our culture of violence first. Reduce the violence for entertainment. Yes, we may have to regulate Hollywood before regulating guns. Once we built a peace loving society, then, we may start to control guns. Switzerland is very heavily armed nation, but it is also a peace loving nation. Switzerland does not go around invading other countries, and is prepared to defend itself against invaders! I hope we can open an honest discussion of the violent culture of America. It is not the guns, it is the CULTURE.

  9. It’s the Hypocrisy, man.

    If any good can come out of this tragedy, it’s that we WAKE UP to the fact we’re all complicit in the same crime. Does anyone get any idea, yet, what it must feel like to live in a “cursed” nation, a fabricated enemy under economic and political hegemonic sanctions such as Gaza (who, by the way have recently humiliated Israel? Or Syria, where the insurgents got their butts spanked again this week with the aid of Russian/Iranian intelligence…), Libya, Iraq, (DU missile contamination), millions of dead children because of an insatiable imperialist war monger. Did we get the kind of world we asked for? Well, curses are like chickens; they always come home to roost.

    When it’s all said and done, it consumes much less time and effort to change our own attitude than to change someone else’s.

  10. It seems, that too many Americans equate gun violence with virility and sexual prowess, as if a gun barrel is a phallus for them. The misinterpretation of the second amendment has caused a lot of grief and cost many lives over the centuries. Guns do not kill, but the ready and easy access to them does.
    Unless and until laws are instituted to reverse the trend, it will only get worse. Worst of all is the example the people in the highest positions set for the rest to follow. How sad.

  11. notpaidtocomment says:

    I appreciate the article but I don’t think half of all Americans own guns. This survey says about 20%. Or am I missing something?

  12. Another aspect to these stories involve the healthcare debate.

    Mental Health issues, depression, drug and alcohol abuse all play a role in the violence found in American society… and are a big part of the difference in statistics between the US and Europe in this regard.

    In some cases people cannot afford help, and the system turns the victim / perpetrator loose on society. In others people have help available, but the issue has such a stigma attachment that many are afraid and/or ashamed to seek help.

    In addition with the state of US politics and economic conditions, a feeling of helplessness, situations spinning out of control. This loss of hope multiples the conditions listed above.

    Full on private healthcare won’t solve these issues, and the current government system is sadly lacking.

    If some of the money dedicated to the ” War on Terror ” or the ” War on Drugs ” was reallocated to deals with mental health issues, it would be money better spent… but less sexy for the politicians who want their face in the news.

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