As the gun debate once again rages across this once-great nation I saw a question pop up in social media that I thought deserved some attention: ‘What changed?’ The premise of the question is that guns have been in our society…literally longer than we’ve BEEN a society. One can go back through the years and NOT find mass shootings. If you represent a certain age group you know that people used to drive around with rifles in their gun racks and really, nobody cared. Students could have fights at school and nobody ever went out to their car or truck, grabbed a gun, and came back shooting. So? What changed? Here are two possible answers, both of which are correct, neither of which is intended to be all-inclusive.
One thing that changed, quite frankly, is the National Rifle Association. The NRA used to be a gun safety group. They sponsored clubs and taught safety and responsible firearm practices. Once upon a time, the NRA was on the side of the good guys. These days, though, the NRA has morphed from the gun safety club they started as into a lobbyist group for gun manufacturers. They’ve taken a “no compromise” position on the 2nd Amendment supported by an intentional misreading of it’s one sentence.
The other thing I point to that has changed is the media. Information flow in the United States used to be (mostly) limited to newspapers and evening news reports on the three networks. The people involved used to practice a thing called “Journalism.” The media would provide the facts; who, what, when, where, why, and how. People would come to their conclusions. Opinions were limited to the Editorial pages. On TV, if someone offered and opinion, they had to provide equal time for dissenting opinions. (Imagine if FOX “News” was required to provide free equal time for dissenting opinions…) It was MUCH more difficult for self-interested parties to inject disinformation into the discussion in support of profits.
With deregulation of broadcasting and the advent of the internet, though, all of that changed. We started to see various outlets feeding certain types of information to certain groups of people. We witnessed the rise of conservative media, then the conservative bubble. Eventually, a liberal media branch was born, as well, but it has never been so fully developed as the conservative media.
And the conservative media is ANGRY. They make their money stoking fear and anger. At the risk of being accused of over-simplifying the message, conservative media maintains certain subtexts: the government is bad and only bad. Business is good and only good. “They” (defined as nearly as I can tell as anybody not conservative enough) are coming to enslave the population. Conservative media hammers constantly on an “us-vs-them” mentality which they frame with existential overtones. Over time, the weakest thinkers in the crowd begin to act on their anger and fears…
I have to take a moment, here, to talk about that term, “weak thinkers.” I know it sounds like a slam but I don’t mean it that way. It has nothing to do with “stupid.” I actually mean people who were never taught to think properly or, perhaps as the result of some medical condition, for example, can no longer think as effectively as they once did. The Austin bomber is an excellent example. This white male conservative Christo-terrorist was raised in a super-conservative, super (pseudo) Christian household. He was home-schooled with a goal of keeping him from having contact with “outsiders” – non-believers. He participated in a group that taught shooting and the Bible. He was specifically, intentionally isolated from “the secular world” ostensibly for his own protection. (Truthfully, I’ve never been able to figure out why it doesn’t qualify as child abuse…)
Christian households are not teaching their children critical thinking. The moment one answers “The Lord works in mysterious ways” to an honest question, one has planted the seed that critical thinking has limited application. Conservative households specifically denounce critical thinking as some sort of conspiracy of the “intellectual elite.” Now toss in a bit of Alex Jones or Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. Essentially, that kid didn’t stand a chance. But by every account, he seemed intelligent enough. His problem was not stupidity, it was weak thinking. So…conservative media radicalizes weak thinkers – and a shooter (or bomber) is begotten.
I’ll tell you this: I’m going to go out on a limb, here, and predict that my conservative brethren will take issue with my positions, particularly regarding conservative media. But there’s a reason the shooters keep coming up white, male, conservative, and pseudo-Christian and I think these are honest responses to the question; ‘What changed?’