The Culture of Guns? What About the Culture of Narcissism?

by David Masciotra on December 22, 2012 · 31 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Culture, High & Low

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It is predictably American for Americans to obsess over an object used to perpetuate a crime, rather than examine the perpetrator and consider the people surrounding the perpetrator. The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut has understandably disturbed millions of people, and it has also encouraged the exercise of a fatal conceit – the presumption that it is within our power and under our authority to eradicate evil, end crime, and prevent murder. President Obama announced “these tragedies must end,” as if he were Zeus punctuating a decree with a lightning bolt from Mount Olympus, and countless liberal commentators have placed the blame for Adam Lanza’s killing spree squarely on the shoulders of the already unpopular National Rifle Association. “You have blood on your hands,” was the message that Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, and the liberal echo chamber they represent screamed at the political lobby, seemingly operating under the assumption that America is one law, one legislative act, one executive order away from guaranteeing the end of violent tragedy.

It is human nature to react to catastrophe and disaster with the imposition of the will to control. Atrocities make us feel helpless, and in order to regain autonomy, we feel and often act on the urge to “do something,” as Allison Benedikt, writing for Slate, commanded President Obama in an open letter. It is easier to control objects – even those that are deadly weapons – than people. So, the command, imperative, and insistence to “do something” comes down to gun control. Leaving aside that an assault weapons ban would have been ineffective in the case of Adam Lanza – he stole firearms that his mother legally purchased, all of which were also legal when the assault weapons ban existed. Also left aside is the question of whether or not the framers of the Constitution –had any idea that average citizens, including those with mental illnesses, would have access to semi-automatic rifles—a good question, especially when weighed against the public good. Ultimately, the media and liberal obsession with gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy reveals some unflattering truths about American culture.

Garbiel Marcel in Man Against Mass Society made a connection between the loss of the individual in the face of assault from a mass society of conformity, institutionalization, and socialization, and the increasing obsession with technique and technical solutions. Technique reduces the human, even as it appears to advance the human, or as Norman Mailer put it, “Technology gives us greater control, but less pleasure.” Decades after Marcel, Neil Postman called the United States of America a “technopoly” in his book of the same name. A “technopoly”, according to Postman, is a society in which “the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency, that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment.” Naturally, in a technopoly, the citizenry worships technology. All one needs to do is observe millenials drooling over their smart phones, watch countless television commercials for machines and toys, or revisit the deification of Steve Jobs to realize that we reached the sorry state of technopoly a long time ago, and it is unlikely we’ll ever leave.

As America becomes worshipful of the divinity of technology, it believes that every problem is solvable with technology. In the case of the mass shooting, the gun is the technological instrument, and if technology is always the solution to any problem, then in the rare cases that there is a problem involving technology, the instrument of technology must be the cause. A law regulating the purchase and use of that technology is the solution to the problem. Such a belief system makes life simple, and it avoids confronting the reality that evil is always with us and will always be with us. As William Blake would have it, it is the tiger prowling and stalking through the night. One of the errors of secularism is the naiveté that all problems are created by man, and therefore all problems are solvable by man. Marcel would no doubt point out, should he be resurrected to appear on a panel for MSNBC, that politics cannot offer salvation, and that technique cannot offer security. In the words of Pope Benedict, “Any politics that promises redemption, assumes too much.” As America’s political discourse has become more secular, it has become more excitable over State sponsored solutions, and gun control, in the wake of Newtown, has offered the opportunity for combining two seemingly separate, but related forms of idolatry – technopoly and governmental divinity. Alcoholics Anonymous often admonishes its members, “There is no chemical solution to a spiritual problem.” America would do well to remember that there is no technological solution to a human problem.

Discussion of human beings has been bizarrely absent from the fallout of Newtown. Instead, the media seems intent on starting with the gun and backtracking from there. So, ongoing indictments of the NRA dovetail into scorn, condemnation, and chortling of Southern “gun culture.” The terrifying rednecks, who also happen to be powerless, are out to get us again. In a revival of Obama’s “bitter people cling to guns and religion” and Thomas Frank’s “What the matter with Kansas?” condescension, the mainstream media and Democratic Party are calling on America to search the soul and rack the brain over the “culture of guns.” A culture that loves technique, worships technology, and prays to the expert must demonize anyone perceived as less educated, sophisticated, and advanced. The enemy, in this case, is the “superstitious” (religious), “bitter” (opposed to State sponsored solutions), “hillbilly” (white and uneducated), gun “nut.” Unfortunately, for purveyors of the gun-control-will-solve-all-our-problems-and-gun-culture-is-evil narrative, Adam Lanza and his family were and are nothing like the typical Southerner with a gun rack.

Adam Lanza was the product of a broken home. His parents divorced years ago, and his father, Peter, by all accounts, had no presence in Adam’s life for the last several years. He paid his ex-wife, Adam’s mother Nancy, $200,000 a year in alimony and child support, remarried, and said farewell – physically and apparently emotionally – to his family. Peter is the tax director at General Electric. Far from a hick backwater, Newtown is a town of highly educated professionals. Lanza’s surroundings were likely insignificant to him, however. By all reports he was mentally disturbed. He was diagnosed with Aspergers, but his problems seem to have gone far beyond the condition of his diagnosis. A friend of Nancy Lanza explains that Lanza’s mother once expressed worry that he was burning himself with a cigarette lighter. She took no immediate action. Friends of Nancy Lanza have also come forward to reveal that she took mini-vacations, leaving her mentally ill son alone and unmonitored for three or four days at a time. All of this was after she poisoned his mind with apocalyptic conspiracy theories, and explained why she was stockpiling food, water, and weapons as her way of preparing for the coming civilizational collapse. In the cruelest twist of events, she trained her son to shoot the same guns he used to kill her, twenty school children, and six teachers.

The blame for Adam Lanza’s murder of 27 people lies first and foremost with Adam Lanza. It seems fair and reasonable to consider extending part of that blame to Adam Lanza’s parents, both of whom were negligent and neglectful, and the mother especially, who was delusional and destructive. Blaming an entire culture – or a political interest group or violent movies or video games – seems silly and is another futile grasp for control in the face of the frightening. If thoughtful Americans would like to reflect on the tragedy in such a way that allows them to gain insight into their country, they should resist the shortsighted and simpleminded tendency to fixate on the gun and scrutinize “gun culture”, which had little or nothing to do with it, and critically consider the ever expanding and ever worsening culture of narcissism.

In The Culture of Narcissism, Christopher Lasch applies what psychologists diagnosed as a personal pathology to an entire culture in decay and disarray. The narcissist, Lasch explains, is driven by repressed rage and self-hatred, enjoys delusions of grandeur, and manipulates other people as tools for self-gratification. Evidence for cultural narcissism was visible when Lasch wrote the book in 1980, and is even more prevalent now. The historian identified “fascination with fame”, “fear of competition,” the “inability to suspend disbelief,” the “shallowness and transitory quality of personal relations,” and the “horror of death” as symptoms and signs of a growing national disorder. Lasch lambasted the political right for venerating the market and covering greed with a veil called ambition, and he was equally hard on the left for championing a progressivism that undermined and weakened the family, neighborhood, and church.

The Lanzas appear to have been a representative portrait of the culture of narcissism, painted by both the left and right hands that Lasch rightly slapped at the wrists. It is difficult to think of a better term than “narcissistic” to describe a father who abandons his mentally ill child, even if he supplies a six figure income to that child’s mother. What is there to say for a mother who prioritizes vacationing over the care and supervision of her unstable son?

American culture preaches a crass consumerism that encourages citizens to place the flimsiest of their whims over the needs of others. Murder – for thrill, glory, or whatever Lanza’s unknown motive – is the ultimate manifestation of narcissism. It is the literal destruction on another’s life in the hopes of enhancing one’s own.

The teachers at Sandy Hook heroically sacrificed their lives in an attempt to save the lives of their students. How do we – as Americans – praise the virtue of selflessness while tolerating and often contributing to a culture that celebrates selfishness? How do we lament the sadness of the tragedy, while continuing to aid and abet those who abandon their families, neglect their children, and ignore their communities? How do we mourn for the dead without recognizing the death caused by our own foreign policy? How do we take President Obama’s tears for American children seriously when he is overseeing a program of drone strikes and war that ends the lives of Afghan and Pakistani children? If we fail to acknowledge the innocence lost by our own hands are we genuinely mourning the death of children or are we engaged in media approved mourning? To engage in media approved mourning that targets only American families for sympathy is a symptom of nationalistic narcissism. We are prioritizing our interests over the lives of foreigners. And what are we to say for the hundreds of inner city children killed as innocent bystanders in the street gang warfare that ravages Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles? Are we going to take the Newtown massacre as an opportunity to intellectually, morally, and spiritually grow into citizens that cultivate communities of strength, love, and interdependence or are we going to continue to float along as islands, ignorant to the mentally ill in our own families and ignorant to the struggles of people in our own neighborhoods?

These are the questions America should fearlessly confront if it is serious about addressing and reducing violence. These are the questions that make up an inquiry and interrogation that is far too painful, challenging, and close for comfort. We better just talk about the gun.

David Masciotra is the author of Working On a Dream: The Progressive Political Vision of Bruce Springsteen (Continuum Books, 2010). He has also written for the Daily Beast, Relevant, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is a columnist with PopMatters. For more information visit www.davidmasciotra.com.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Robb Davis December 22, 2012 at 11:09 am

Thanks for bringing into this discussion the reality of “Technique” (and its handmaiden technology). Jacques Ellul was writing about “Technique” with a capital T at the same time as Marcel and said, later in his life, that a characteristic of Technique is that it cannot accept to be judged (il n’accepte pas qu’on le juge). In personalizing Technique he reminded us that it is a spiritual power. He also reminded us that our political discourse is also ruled by the same allegiance to technique in the form of propoganda. There has been plenty of that in the days since the shooting.

Ellul’s point is that it is difficult for us to fully analyze the effect of Technique on our lives–Technique being, above all, the search for the “one best way”. He also pointed out that Technique has become and end in itself and keeps us from talking about the true ends of human flourishing. I think this is an area (and this article helps) where blogs like FPR can help: to keep asking the question “what are the ends we seek, collectively?”

I believe some form of limiting access to certain kinds of guns can be part of a solution but only if we ask the same questions of guns we ask of any other technology: to what end do we want to use this thing?

BTW, I think the title of Marcel’s work is “Man Against Mass Society”

avatar David Masciotra December 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Robb,

Thank you very much for the comment. In regards to Technique and technology, it is also important to remember that Marshall McLuhan busted the self-aggrandizing Technique-obsessed and technologically worshipping cultures have that all of this stuff is neutral: The old trope – “it only matters how we use it.” Technology has a value in itself, and that value – whether positive or negative – is influential regardless of use. Postman points out in Technopoly that one of the dominant characteristics of a technopoly is also an over reliance on “experts” when deciding important matters. I think that relates to what you’re saying here.

You are right about Marcel. It is Man Against Mass Society. I’m sorry for the error. Thanks for correcting it.

David

avatar George Marshall December 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm

“The Lanzas appear to have been a representative portrait of the culture of narcissism…”

Not sure how you can conclude that from what little we know, but assume you are correct. Are we more narcissistic than Bosnia, Canada, Northern Ireland, France, Germany, Sweden, Austria, the Czech Republic, England, Bolivia and Japan? According to GunPolicy.org, those countries all had gun homicide rates per 100k of less than 1, while ours was about 3 per 100k. [Note, you can compare countries and I just picked these.] Guatemala, Colombia and Brazil have gun homicide rates 6 to over 10 times that of the US. The US leads in divorce rates, but England is ranked 4th [4.95 per 1k v 3.08 per 1k]. What is the difference between these countries that leads to the differences in homicide rates? Is it narcissistic to say you have an absolute right to own an assault weapon? I agree that the Lanzas would have passed the test to own an assault weapon. And, just regulating assault weapons would not do it either. I read there were 119 deaths of those 12 years old and younger in 2011 from gun-related homicides. 565 of those less than 18. I certainly agree that we should “take the Newtown massacre as an opportunity to intellectually, morally, and spiritually grow into citizens that cultivate communities of strength, love, and interdependence…” But, is it really because all those countries with lower gun deaths have already accomplished what you propose or is there some other reason they have lower homicide rates?

avatar John Médaille December 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm

The premise of this article is that since we cannot control everything, we should control nothing; since we are not omnipotent, we should agree to be impotent. Any attempt to exercise reasonable control would be akin to “Zeus punctuating a decree with a lightning bolt from Mount Olympus.” But this is nonsense at best, institutionalized despair at worst. It is true we cannot control everything, but we can control some things. To say that we have no power empowers those who already have great power and who wish to avoid controls from what power we have.

It is quite true that guns are never the problem by themselves, and certainly not the root problem. That would be depression, or mental illness, or a culture of violence, or hopelessness, or what have you. But guns make every other worse, magnifies them and leads to grotesque results. The problem is depression AND guns, mental illness AND guns, violence AND guns. The first terms require a variety of responses, but the second can be subject to reasonable controls without rather silly accusations of Promethean over-reach.

avatar Thaddeus December 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Look into Newtown more closely. The police caught at least two other suspects, as helicopter footage and a police scanner reveals, yet the media is silent about this. Also, what about these questions:

According to the official story, Adam Lanza was found with his older brother’s ID, and it was not stolen. However, older brother Ryan – whom officials say is very cooperative – claims not to have even seen his brother since 2010. Where would Adam get this ID? And why does such use not qualify as a theft? According to the official story, Adam Lanza was wearing a black outfit with a mask and bulletproof vest. Why would he want to hide his identity, and why would he wear a bulletproof vest if he planned to kill himself? The medical examiner asserts that all wounds were caused by a rifle or other long weapon, and police/FBI say that the school was littered with 223 (rifle) casings. However, Adam Lanza was found dead at the school with only handguns – a rifle was found in the trunk of his car. Then he could not have possibly been firing the rifle, and could not have committed the murders. Who did then? According to the official story, the killings was tightly confined to two classrooms. Then why were so many children told to close their eyes while leaving the building? Joanne Didonato, the principal’s secretary, called in sick on Friday – something she rarely does. So presumably, she must have been awfully ill. Yet she then felt well enough to give an interview. “Of all days,” she said, emphasizing the strange coincidence. Why were there such persistent reports that Mrs. Lanza was a kindergarten teacher, and that she died at the school when the new official story is that she was not connected to the school and was killed at home? What happened to the report that Adam Lanza’s girlfriend and another friend were missing in New Jersey? What happened to the woodsman in a black jacket and camo pants who was arrested and handcuffed outside the school? He actually shouted to parents, “It wasn’t me.” Who was he and what was he doing there? What happened to the dark van or SUV that the police surrounded in the parking lot or the maroon sedan with a blown-out back window they were on the lookout for? The official story is that Nancy Lanza was a gun collector, who obeyed the law. But since 20-year-olds are not permitted to buy guns or ammo or carry guns in Connecticut, why would she give her “autistic” son access to both guns and ammo? A child asserts that he/she heard someone say, “Put your hands up,” followed by the reply, “Don’t shoot.” This indicates that the police took a suspect into custody inside the school. But if that was Adam Lanza, how did he kill himself after that point? Another child asserts that he/she saw a man pinned down to the ground with handcuffs on. Again, this indicates that the police took a suspect into custody. If that was Adam Lanza, how did he then kill himself? Is it reasonable for a geeky 20-year-old to carry two pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition while wearing a bulletproof vest and a mask? Did the school have one or more security cameras? What do they show? Why did a police officer specifically mention on radio that “they’re coming at me through this wood” followed by a fellow officer saying, “This is it”? One officer at the school said, “We’ve got one suspect down.” Who was that? Down in this situation generally means in custody (on the ground and cuffed) not dead. Why is Adam Lanza reported to be a loner when a teenager said (oxymoronically), “[Lanza and his friends] always gathered alone in a corner in school”? Why are Ryan Lanza and his roommates still in custody, and why are the police pretending that it is for their own benefit? Is it a coincidence that Nancy Lanza’s brother is Kingston Police Officer James Champion, who lives next door to the former Lanza home?

avatar Jordan Smith December 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm

@John Medaille

I’m starting to think you’re one of the few voices of wisdom left on FPR. I don’t know what’s happened around here, but it ain’t good. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

avatar Charity Artiles December 22, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Nice article. You succinctly said what I have clumsily been trying to say for some time. I would only add to that the rejection of God from our society and His role of Father, protector and guide.
Merry Christmas to all.

avatar Webster Bull December 22, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Thank you for the best article I’ve read about Newtown.

avatar Sean December 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm

John M,

Perfectly stated comment. Yes, most folks know our society is sick. But I don’t believe people are really blaming the atrosity on the weapons. Common sense: If you are committed to an insane asylum while carrying a gun, the doctors will take your gun from you. They won’t let you keep the gun while you are treated and simply explain “the gun is not the problem”.

avatar David Masciotra December 23, 2012 at 1:31 am

Sean: Your “common sense” point about the asylum inmate with a gun is interesting, but has no relevance to the Lanza shooting. Lanza would not have been able to legally purchase a gun. He would have never passed a background check, and when he tried to purchase one, he failed, because of gun control measures already in place. He stole legally purchased firearms from his mother – all of which would have been legal when the assault weapons ban existed. No one is arguing for the removal of background checks to make it easier for the mentally ill to buy guns.

John: What do you propose we do? What is “reasonable control”? I would agree that there are certain areas where we can tighten gun laws. For example, the American government should aggressively pursue ending or fixing gun shows. The “gun show loophole,” as it is often called, is absolute insanity. It had nothing to do with this shooting, but it is still an issue of major concern. The sale of guns at trade shows should be subjected to the same standards and scrutiny of background check and regulation as at any licensed dealer.

What else? There is already a ban on automatic weapons. Should we extend the ban to semi-automatic weapons? That would include most handguns. If we ban certain types of guns, anyone committed to massacring innocent people will still be able to obtain other kinds of guns. Even if we limit legality to hunting rifles, a shooter could still kill many people, especially children. Do we repeal the second amendment of the constitution and prosecute the ownership of guns with the same zeal we punish the ownership of child pornography? There are already hundreds of millions of guns in circulation in the United States. So, if we are able to get beyond the constitution and if we are able to get beyond that the Supreme Court has twice ruled in opposition to attempts to ban guns, we would have to find ways of creating a system of prohibition that does not empower a black market and that does not punish responsible, law abiding citizens from protecting themselves. Well, the latter is impossible, and the former is nearly impossible. Prohibition nearly always creates a black market, and when there are already hundreds of millions of guns in circulation, people with the ability to make guns in their basements, and easily accessible markets that sell gun parts, a gun prohibition would result in the arming of criminals and disarming of everyone else. Mexico is struggling with this problem right now.

Despite the impression given by all the high profile public shootings in the recent years, the past two decades have seen a sharp and continuing decrease in violent crime. As far as school shootings go, the first happened in 1979. Gun laws were more lenient than they are today in the 1970s, yet there were fewer school shootings.

The hot spots for violent crime in America are in inner cities where street gangs are terrorizing neighborhoods in wars for money and territory. What is the scenario in which street gang members would find it impossible to buy guns? It seems legitimate to worry that if America imposed a ban on guns, it would empower gangs, just as the prohibition of narcotics empowers them.

So, then again, what do you propose that we do? We can make it easier to forcibly committ the mentally ill to hospitals, but are we willing to violate so many civil rights and human rights principles to do so? Adam Lanza did nothing publicly that would have indicated his violent state of mind. It is already illegal for anyone with a history of mental illness to buy a gun. Considering that Lanza stole guns from his mother, do we make it illegal for the family members and close friends of the mentally ill to buy guns?

Do we staff every school building with armed guards? That might be an effective preventative measure, but it would force our children to grow up in a police state, as Mark Mitchell has pointed out on FPR, and that says nothing of the financial harm it would do to school districts across the country.

Do we impose strict laws of censorship on movies and video games? I don’t like the idea of children enjoying the simulated slaughter of people for hours at a time, but I don’t think that censorship, which may very well violate the first amendment, is the answer.

We should look at tightening our gun laws, beginning with increased regulation of gun shows. We should also consider better and more effective ways to treat the mentally ill, but beyond that and beyond doing the heavy lifting of creating healthier and stronger communities, as much as we hate to admit it, there is little we can do to prevent another school shooting.

Given the complexities of these problems and the permanent presence of evil in our world, President Obama’s statement – “These tragedies must end” – seems hopelessly naive or very much like Promethean over-reach.

avatar Sean December 23, 2012 at 10:33 am

David,

My analogy to removing guns from an insane person was not intended to apply to Lanza specifically. I am suggesting that if our society has gone mad (and needs to be “committed” to a cure) as suggested by the author, then guns must be removed from it.

avatar John Médaille December 23, 2012 at 12:16 pm

So you agree that “there are certain areas where we can tighten gun laws.” Hence it is not Promethean over-reach, but a prudential debate. That fact that any law–or indeed human thing–will fall short of perfection is hardly an argument against perfect aspirations. I will never be perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect, but that didn’t prevent the Perfect One from giving the command of perfection.

Furthermore, your description of the debate is simply factually inaccurate; it has not focused solely on guns themselves, but has covered a wide swath of the culture. You create a nice and neat “us vs. them” narrative (as if we could be a breed apart from the “them”) and support it with a tendentious reading of Lasch and Marcel to make arguments I’m pretty sure they would not have made on this issue.

The good news is that this incident, for whatever reasons, has initiated a wide ranging discussion of precisely the issues that we on the Porch would wish to see take place; indeed, the reason for gathering on the Porch is precisely to have these kind of conversations, conversations that transcend some narrow ideology. By forcing it back into a “us vs Rachel Maddow” mode, we insure that it will be the same old conversation going the same place, namely nowhere. We have few enough friends as it is; if we don’t take the opportunities that arise we sure to have none.

avatar bubba December 23, 2012 at 12:29 pm

One of Neil Postman’s other contributions was the concept of media ecology, the idea that our culture grows in our media in the same way that other forms of life grow in a Petri dish full of medium. The prime directive of most of our media is growth – our money supply grows daily, the internet now has enough IP addresses for every organism on earth, and every thought, whim and impulse, regardless of intent, is magnified and broadcast to all. With media such as this, is it really a surprise that our culture is becoming a freakish, bloated monster?

avatar Sean December 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Amen to that, John M.

avatar David Masciotra December 23, 2012 at 1:22 pm

John,

The overwhelming majority of the mainstream media debate following the massacre has focused on gun control. I don’t know how anyone could argue otherwise.

I do agree that there are certain areas where we could tighten our gun laws, and I provided a specific example in my comment. I also asked you a series of direct questions related to the futility of more gun laws (with the exception of closing the gun control loophole) – none of which you answer.

I’ll ask again – what do you propose we do?

David

avatar Sean December 23, 2012 at 2:07 pm

David,

The practical aspects of gun control is an entirely different topic than addressed by the author, but I would start this discussion not by looking for a way to prevent shootings in schools. We are a long way from a solution, so it makes no sense to narrow our target so minutely . While all the practical problems you suggest are daunting, achieving effective gun control is going to be far easier than fixing the root problems of violence in our society. I certainly don’t have a solution to all the problems you raise, but I know what needs to be done. Sometimes you decide that there is no alternative and you go forward. When armed schools is on the table as a solution, or worse, a database of mentally ill people, as proposed by the NRA, taking one step at a time towards a solution seems to be the only solution.

avatar Phillip.D.Lee December 23, 2012 at 2:40 pm

John,

You missed the point of the article, entirely. Your premise appears to based in a sum zero analysis: “The premise of this article is that since we cannot control everything, we should control nothing; since we are not omnipotent, we should agree to be impotent.”

What David appears to be initially addressing here is the fallacy of Obama’s hubris, which to his following of mindless zombies, who liken every word he says to “Zeus punctuating a decree with a lightning bolt from Mount Olympus” is very relevant. I don’t think we need to sit here and pretend that Obama is not an arrogant, snot-nosed elitist. Obama’s faith in government and legislation is further indicative of his complete dissociation from the common public, which despite his claims, he has never been a part of. Obama was raised in the elitist culture, where issues are a discussion away from solving. The most difficult undertaking Obama ever endeavored was the building of his massive cult of personality, which wasn’t all that hard either.

“It is true we cannot control everything, but we can control some things.” What? You have enough years on this Earth to know that you cannot mandate or legislate good behavior. We cannot legislate the human heart.

More gun laws is not the answer, nor is a “database of all the mentally ill people” or “database of gun owners” etc. etc. etc. Criminals don’t follow laws and they certainly won’t submit to any government measures to keep track of them (criminals inherently avoid laws – this is common sense).

Blaming the instrumentality is an old, exhausted argument filled with nonsense and dumb analogies. Our right to possess arms is a unique aspect of our nation. Enumerated in the Second Amendment, our culture regarding the ownership of firearms is exclusively American. That having been said, comparing us to Japan (which everyone loves to proclaim, “JAPAN has ZERO guns and THEY have ZERO gun VIOLENCE and they KNOW what REAL GUN CONTROL MEASURES ARE!!!”), the U.K., and any other country falls into the category of a false comparison. It’s pure nonsense.

David’s article challenges everyone to take the difficult road. It is easy to throw your hands up and just proclaim that guns are the problem, mandate tighter gun laws, that government is the solution, and that Obama is here to help. When are we going to take a look at the real issues? When are we going to address Nancy Lanza’s failures? When are we going to talk about the impolite topics that really get to the heart of the matter?

avatar Balint Karosi December 23, 2012 at 11:33 pm

It is a cultural problem. We need to amend the second amendment and make gun regulations way tighter. There is no way we should tolerate over 10.000 people murdered by guns in this country. This instance was just the most outrageous of daily gun violence that remains undocumented by the American media. The NRA is the biggest security threat to all Americans. They have no other interest but to proliferate guns and LePierre is getting payed 1 million for just that.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiDYj-qbF04

avatar Anymouse December 25, 2012 at 2:21 pm

This could be added as another entry to “middle class are screwed up, news at 11″. It is quite probably that this tragedy would not have occurred in earlier social arrangements. Firearms are clearly only one of the issues in this incident.

avatar JimWilton December 28, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I second Mr. Medaille’s comments.

More than most other recent mass killings (and there have been far too many) the immediate cause of the Newtown massacre was a family with no prior criminal records that were exercising their NRA backed rights to own firearms.

In discussing reasonable gun control, we are not talking about eliminating evil from the world. We are talking about responsible steps to limit the damage caused by these tragedies. We may not be able to prevent all fires, but we can pass laws that regulate the containers that hold gasoline. We may not be able to prevent all murders, but we can regulate the efficiency and lethalness of guns that are maunfactured with the sole purpose of killing people and the ammunition used in these guns.

avatar RockLibertyWarrior December 28, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Alright I can’t believe how many gun control zombies there are on this comment board. I expected better out of front porchers. First off the CDC has determined gun control laws have no noticeable impact on levels of violence and crime. Its a big load of horse dung.http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5214a2.htm and then there was this study showing the same exact thing https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/publications/Abstract.aspx?id=209529 or this taken from the Wall Street journal of Europe documenting Switzerland’s open assault rifles policy versus the US restrictive approach http://www.theblessingsofliberty.com/articles/article11.html Seriously you think some person who wants a gun to use in a commission of a crime is going to follow gun laws? Really? You think some criminal is going to go “Awww geeze, well the law says I can’t have that gun to go rob a bank or go on a rampage so I might as well not get one”. Come on now. What about those of us who live in the country where police response times are really long? Are we expected to wait until the police arrive while a burglar takes all of our stuff, shoots our wife and rapes our daughter? I know its a old canard “If guns are extremely controlled or outlawed only criminals will have them”. That canard is true just talk to the Australians http://dailycaller.com/2011/01/19/america-dont-repeat-australias-gun-control-mistake/ As David pointed out it is just stupid to blame guns, shouldn’t you blame kitchen knives also when used in the commission of murdering somebody, shouldn’t they be regulated or banned? How about cars too? I take the Bill of Rights seriously from the first to the tenth they are things that can’t be ammended or taken away. I don’t care if the founders didn’t foresee automatic weapons and even if the evidence showed more guns made a more violent society I wouldn’t care. Its my right to protect myself and its every living being’s right to protect themselves from humans on down to the lowliest beast who fights back against a predator. I will not give up that right without a fight. No amount of emotional, knee jerk reaction will ever make me concede. This is something I believe strongly in and if it makes me a “a backwards, hillbilly, hayseed, nutcase” so be it. Its not guns as David has pointed out its spiritual malaise and evil which will never be eradicated from man as long as human kind is around. If you were successful in eradicating every single fire arm on the face of the earth evil people would still pick up clubs, knives and build bombs like the ones used in Oklahoma City on a Federal building to kill a massive amount of people. You don’t need guns to do that.

avatar JimWilton December 28, 2012 at 7:19 pm

It is not possible to have a debate between “gun control” and “no gun control”.

We already have gun control. We don’t, for example, permit private citizens to equip themselves with rocket launchers, automatic weapons, hand grenades, etc. The question is whether our existing gun control laws are adequate or can be improved.

For that discussion, it is helpful to be specific. For example, if the position is that regulation should focus on the person (gun owner) rather than the instrument (gun) it might be useful to discuss whether purchase of guns designed solely for killing people (hand guns, semi-automatic weapons, etc.) should require references from two friends of the person who can vouch for the person’s character. Or enhancing personal liability as a deterrent for persons who fail to keep guns locked and allow guns negligently or intentionally to be used by persons committing crimes. Or we could discuss the banning of certain forms of ammunition designed to inflict horrific injuries. Or prohibition of high volume (i.e. 30 shot) magazines. Or we could discuss regulations designed specifically to curtail crime and catch criminals. Should we tag explosives to permit tracing to a point of sale or require gun modifications to permit easy and accurate tracing of spent rounds to the gun that fired them?

I won’t even complain if you want to take the position that our existing gun control laws are too strict. Maybe mandatory lessons on gun safety in our schools would be a good thing.

What doesn’t help the discussion are personal attacks and loose speculation about the motives and intelligence of posters on this forum. I don’t think that I am a “gun control zombie” any more than I think that you are a “backwards, hillbilly, hayseed, nutcase”.

avatar John Crowley December 30, 2012 at 7:19 am

I’m not a follower of this site, so maybe my puzzlement at this bit of the above is due only to entering a conversation underway: “Also left aside is the question of whether or not the framers of the Constitution –had any idea that average citizens, including those with mental illnesses, would have access to semi-automatic rifles—a good question, especially when weighed against the public good.” What does that mean? That the 2nd Amendment is inapplicable to situations the framers couldn’t conceive? That the public good must be weighed against the supposed rights to bear private arms in the 2nd? — It seems to me that if benighted tech-blinded liberals are fixated on a tech fix here (banning guns) then the gun-rights advocates are too (having guns, the higher-tech the better, as a solution.) A ban on assault weapons that becomes part of the culture, a clear and simple way of tracking and licensing guns and bullets, a good database of gun owners, might not stave off many horrible events. But it would announce that we are not a people that see personal violence as a solution to personal (or personal disguised as public) problems and unhappiness. Your language is rude and intemperate (common enough) and it makes your argument simplistic and therefore incoherent in places. Straw men burn easily.

avatar Bob Lowery December 30, 2012 at 11:49 am

This is a long detour around the unavoidable fact that tightening restrictions on gun ownership would save lives. Whether guns or people are to blame for mass killings is not an either/or question, and it is disingenuous for an intelligent person to present the issue that way. Controlling the societal forces and personal demons that drive people to kill others is a complicated area where we should celebrate even incremental progress. But, in the meantime, we could limit the damage that these individuals can cause by making it harder for them to obtain weapons that can spray a room with bullets as fast as they can pull the trigger. In the end, it’s a pretty simple question on the balance between preserving personal liberties and protecting society as a whole. Is protecting the rights of individuals to own semi-automatic weapons for recreational purposes more important than protecting the lives of people targeted in mass shootings? Only a narcissist would answer yes.

avatar Fred Garvin December 31, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Notice that it’s religiously active societies that are more likely to have high crime rapes? Compare Finland with Nigeria, for example. And yet people preach “This is what happens when you get rid of God in our schools.”

avatar Tony Esolen January 2, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Astonishing — we have here an article on cultural breakdown, and the magical thinking of both left and right, that some nifty technical fix will solve that massive human problem. And what are we arguing about? Gun control. (By the way, Fred’s comment above is plain silly; we are in Nigeria talking about the near presence of Muslims, and Islam, wherever we find it, has bloody borders.) The obvious question is, “Why have we now become a people who cannot tolerate this freedom?” I’ve recently seen photos of high school girls at shooting ranges for their school gun clubs. They’re from the 1950′s. Why was that possible then? Why is it unthinkable now? What has changed? It isn’t the technology of the gun. That’s not so very different. It’s the human situation. A vice-ridden people cannot endure liberty; they have already turned it into license.

avatar Steve Billingsley January 2, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Tony Esolen – exactly….an article about blind faith in Technique begins a comment stream with arguing about making Technique work better…

There are some subjects that tend to make us lose our minds.

avatar Theodore Lincoln January 2, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Why does the gun debate always seem to rise to the surface in unfortunate situations like Newtown? If the President wanted to prevent senseless killings than he should look to overturn Roe v Wade. Some people say where was God? Well did you ever stop to think that the people that would have been there to prevent Newtown, Columbine, 911, and many other tragedies, never had the chance, because they were killed before they were ever born! The issue isn’t should we allow abortion, rather, if a person really cared about human life than he would do all in his power to end the senseless killings of all humans, including the unborn.

avatar Shane A. January 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Dr. Esolen,

I have a very high respect for you; I also recall you referencing Pope Benedict XVI when he stated that he could never get used to the sight of women with machine guns. I’m not sure why women with machine guns can be a sign of the disease of our souls, yet young girls with machine pistols can be offered as evidence of civic virtue.

Perhaps the evidence you offer of our recent past’s superiority is actually a token of our decline.

avatar Fred Garvin January 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Is the reason Calabria and Sicily are so much more dysfunctional than Lombardy or Tuscany the fact that they’re closer to Tunisia and Algeria, Mr. Esolen? Are there many Muslims in Guatemala that Mexico should be so much more corrupt and backwards than Minnesota or Montana? How about New Orleans-is it called “The Crescent City” because of all its mosques? Or is it a backwards and culturally inferior place for other reasons?
Why not promote birth control, including legal, safe and cheap abortion, to help reduce the numbers of children poor mothers have to give birth to? Why should they breed what they clearly cannot feed?

avatar Madalene January 16, 2013 at 10:30 pm

My son forwarded me your article as he and I had just been talking over several of the points you brought up.
One comment.
I am about 3/4 of the way through the book “Columbine” by Dave Cullen.
I would recommend it. What resonated with me was how long it took for the truth to fully come out. There were many mistruths spread early on following the shootings at Columbine.
Your comments regarding his parents may be spot on but they also may be hear /say or if you will, read/ write say. I think more time needs to pass for us to fully understand what when on within the Lanza family.

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