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Wednesday, 07 October 2015 15:26

America’s ‘culture of me’ has got to change

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op frIf we are ever going to have any hope of stemming the bloody tide of mass shootings — which happens in our country with such depressing regularity that we might pause for a day to shake our heads before moving on with the awful knowledge that absolutely nothing will be done about it — then we must first agree with the all-powerful gun lobby that no single piece of gun legislation is going to make much of a difference in stopping the bloodshed. 

They are right — we do not need one piece of gun legislation. Or two. Or three. We need to change the entire gun culture, and not just the gun culture, but the “culture of me.”

So what is this “culture of me”? It is a culture in which citizens exalt their own rights and privileges above all other concerns, even the public good, even the lives of school children. It is a culture of complete hypocrisy, one in which a person can, on the one hand, admit that teachers are underpaid, while on the other hand fail to support even one pro-education referendum if it raises their taxes by one thin dime. We say we want quality education, but when it comes right down to it, we are not willing to pay for it. In fact, we are more likely to blame the teachers if schools in our area are not performing up to standards, rather than looking at the lack of funding as a probable cause.

As far as the mass killings are concerned, I have been hearing quite a bit of noise from the “culture of me” that the real issue is not guns, but poor funding for mental health in this country. Glad someone finally noticed. This has been a national crisis for some time, as some $4.3 billion in funding for mental health spending was cut from states’ budgets between the years 2009 to 2012. 

Why? Because such spending reeks of “big government,” which is anathema to the “culture of me.” So what is big government? Loosely defined, it is spending on anything or anyone other than me and the things that affect me. Citizens of the “culture of me” do not support spending on education unless their own children are in school, and perhaps not then. They do not support spending on mental health — or for that matter, any kind of health care — unless and until the crisis comes knocking one day on their own door. And perhaps not then.

So why this sudden change in stance on mental health? Because they sense that the tide may finally be turning on the gun control issue, and supporting the restoration of some funding for mental health certainly beats any possibility of even the most basic and sensible gun legislation. That is why you are hearing all of this talk of this latest shooting in Oregon as another symptom of the country’s problem with mental health and not a symptom of our out of control gun culture.

Friends, when you hear people propose that what this country needs is MORE guns, when they posit America as Dodge City with fantasies of people having shootouts on the streets (or in schools, or in theaters, and so on) as a potential remedy, you know that the inmates have taken over the asylum.

I do not doubt that, on some level, they believe what they are saying, as the illusion of power and control is part of the gun fetish, just as the idea that having a gun in your home makes you safer, when every reliable study not funded by the National Rifle Association demonstrates that a gun in the home is much more likely to be used to kill or injure someone in the home rather than an intruder. The “culture of me” teaches us that WE will be the exception, that WE would have the wherewithal and the skill to shoot a would be mass killer, that WE would have the nerve and the aim to shoot an intruder and the good sense to somehow hide our guns from our children while also making them quickly accessible in the event of a break-in.

Look, I actually support a reasonable approach to private gun ownership, but the idea that it should be unfettered, that there should be no restrictions whatsoever on the buying and possession of any weapon or any volume of weapons of one’s choosing is not just ludicrous, but among the very worst symptoms of the “culture of me.” 

Indeed, this bizarre misinterpretation of the Second Amendment is a fairly recent phenomenon. For more than a century, the courts interpreted the Second Amendment to emphasize the first clause regarding “a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state,” and not as an individual right. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative justice appointed by President Richard Nixon, characterized the reinterpretation of the Second Amendment as ‘one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud’, on the American public.”

Of course, here in the “culture of me,” the Second Amendment is not vaguely written, anachronistic, or completely open-to-interpretation. It is a sacred promise handed down on a stone tablet by the Founding Fathers that Americans can have all the weapons they want.

No, one piece of legislation isn’t going to do it, but we can no longer accept that as an excuse not to do anything at all. We have to try, and to keep trying. We must refuse to bow down to the political power of the gun lobby and the delusions of those in its sway. It will take time and effort to make a significant change, to change the “culture of me” to the “culture of we.” But we need to do it, and we need to get started right now.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. His more recent book of essays, The Way We Say Goodbye, is available in regional bookstores and online. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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