On American Violence: Is It Guns, Terrorism Or Our Culture?

America. Opening a history book about the United States will take you on a journey through violence. Period paintings, drawings, and certainly texts of many varieties from the mid to late 1700’s all speak to the core belief that the colonists had in using firearms and violence to get themselves out from under the control of the British Crown.

And they did. The visceral effect of the Declaration of Independence on the people and the codifying force of the subsequent Constitution on this new republic had an affect on people who had no desire to be oppressed, unfairly taxed, abused or maligned.

In fact, the Constitution was amended to reflect the deeply held belief that guns belonged in the hands of every person – to be ready to repel invaders, keep the peace and protect themselves from anything that might try to intrude upon the basic freedoms that these visionaries embedded in to these lawful constructs.

Could it be that our fascination with guns is so deeply rooted in our psyche as Americans, because of the anti-colonial and refugee mindset of our founding fathers; through today, where (as the Constitution implies), we must always be at the ready to defend ourselves, and our nation?

For the aforementioned reasons, but also as history has unfolded, to help us protect our national interests, or impose them on others for our own gain? The Civil War. The Mexican – American War. The expansion of western settlement through the slaughter, forced relocation and internment of Native Americans. Those events are from our earliest history, and depict our collective dependence on firearms to both maintain our thirst for freedom, and to simultaneously fuel our growing thirst for territory and power.

The ‘carry forward’ from this long and storied history is that our reliance upon guns is now permanently rooted into our culture. Throughout the world, the US has always had a reputation for being unnecessarily violent, particularly where guns are concerned. But are these perceptions grounded in reality, or is this belief based solely on cultural differences?

It is literally inarguable that a firearm by itself is not the causation of our more recent mass shooting epidemic. ‘Guns don’t kill people – people kill people’. Much like a knife, stick, brick or rock by itself is not usually responsible for the death of a person, guns by themselves are incapable of killing or causing grievous bodily harm.

Someone must take that implement or weapon and pull the trigger. The access to weapons for those who would endeavor to harm others is at the core of the argument of so called ‘gun control’ efforts. That however requires deeper exploration.

There are studies, statistics and opinions all over the map, but suffice to say, there is no clear benefit to gun bans, or stricter gun control measures in modern society, as is plainly visible in these statistics. So what gives? Why the argument that banning guns, or enacting even tougher gun control measures like a ban on certain magazine capacities, or styles of weapons would have any significant impact on curbing mass shootings?

Waiting lists and months long processes to obtain even the most basic of services, such as initial and even secondary evaluations to facilitate accurate diagnosis and treatment; leaves a great many people falling through the very large cracks.

The truth is – it wouldn’t. Those bent on destruction or murder will get guns by other means than legally purchasing them. There is in fact sufficient evidence to demonstrate that many of the violent gun related crimes that have us persistently discussing ‘gun control’ are in fact committed with stolen guns.

To even suggest a ban on guns would facilitate an instrument by which the government would then be compelled to confiscate them. Outside of the obvious constitutional implications, that in and of itself would undoubtedly lead to legal challenges, mass protests, and perhaps even armed insurrection (or as some would say ‘a revolution’).

The fact is that the 2nd Amendment was constructed by the “Founding Fathers” as an instrument to facilitate not only the protection and defense of one’s self against attack or tyranny, but also to enable the Country as a whole to protect itself from potential invaders.

Photo Credit: Valerie Everett/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Photo Credit: Valerie Everett/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

According to historical documents examined by the author (and widely available in the public domain), the Constitution -and specifically the 2nd Amendment; was articulated in this way to give “We The People” the ability to ward off an overreaching government with designs on the degradation or eradication of basic civil liberties. We are who and what we are as a Nation because of the wisdom of these documents and founding principles.

I would go so far as to speculate that any would be foreign invaders would have to take in to account the might of not only our military prowess, but also the plain fact that Americans are armed to the teeth as they draw up their battle plans. It’s also worthy mentioning that the Supreme Court has routinely upheld the right of the individual to ‘keep and bear arms’.

Are guns really the problem here?

While our understanding of the human mind, and the ability to more effectively treat mental health issues has vastly expanded in the last 30 years, the trend in access to effective mental health treatment, particularly where the poor, homeless and our military veterans are concerned has left huge gaps in the effective delivery of those services. There aren’t enough qualified practitioners to treat the vast numbers of people who require access to those services.

Waiting lists and months long processes to obtain even the most basic of services, such as initial and even secondary evaluations to facilitate accurate diagnosis and treatment; leaves a great many people falling through the very large cracks.

Struggling to navigate the already arduous landscape that is their daily life. And yet, while over 60% of those who have carried out “mass shootings” since 1970 have had significant mental health diagnoses and presentation, there is also no clear means by which to associate mental health with mass shootings.

Why? Because those with pronounced mental health issues are already supposed to be incapable of purchasing firearms legally. It’s the law. Yet these killers still obtained access to weapons and killed a great many people.

‘Mass shootings’ has become a household term, but why? Why at this point in time? Perhaps these are symptoms of a society that has fallen into a moral slump. A society that’s obsessed with instant gratification via fast food, lightning fast information, electronic pacification and communications tools. Are these things responsible for an overall decay in the fabric of the principles upon which our great nation was built? Do we suffer from a fog of what reality is and was up until this latest technological revolution began?

But looking at the numbers from these sources alone – of 330 terrorist attacks in the United States, since our founding – only 34 are attributed to Islamic terrorism.

The disconnection between our ability to effectively interact with each other, particularly for those who are disenfranchised, maligned, bullied, teased or are otherwise already mentally unstable – could very well be fueling this epidemic. Life has become so virtual – so cold and distant from our humanity, in comparison to the childhood of Gen X’ers for example.

There is no clear answer or solution to the ‘gun problem’. Accordingly, the solution to mass shootings is not nearly so clear as the likes of the New York Times or New York Daily News would surmise in their recent opinion pieces. We don’t have a gun problem, we have a people problem.

This brings us to the topic of terrorism. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” See also Title 22 of the United States Code. Based on those definitions, it is hard to imagine that 102 terrorist acts have been committed on US soil since 9/11. 9/11 itself was three separate acts, at three locations – the Twin Towers (or World Trade Center), the Pentagon, and the plane crash in Somerset County, PA.

225 terror attacks took place, again using this definition, prior to 9/11. While some may be familiar, like the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, I’d never heard of bombings at the LA Times Building, Morgan Bank in NYC, or Chicago’s Haymarket square – which cumulatively killed 71 and injured 380 people. These attacks occurred between 1886 and 1920.

Digging further down in to these numbers, I wanted to examine how many of these attacks were related to “Islamic terrorism”. Those two words are played over and over again on TV, radio, and seen in print and social media all day, every day. The inference is that if we don’t call a possible radical Islamist, or jihad related attack “Islamic terrorism”, then we’re somehow lacking in patriotism, or un-American.

But looking at the numbers from these sources alone – of 330 terrorist attacks in the United States, since our founding – only 34 are attributed to Islamic terrorism.

About 10%, this is true both before, and after 9/11. There are other numbers on this, but drawing off this data set, there is a bigger picture here, both as it relates to our terrorism problem, but also the political maneuvering going in to convincing us who we should fear.

Okay, so what can you do? Care about each other. Pay attention to each other. If you see that someone is in distress – say something. If you see the warning signs of a person who is unraveling before your eyes – do something about it, vs. ignoring the raw humanity of the person is crisis in front of you. The American Psychological Association published a list of things the any of us can do to help prevent violence from occurring. In fact, there are violence prevention experts in many major cities that teach companies, schools and organizations how to empower their HR, security and even ‘rank and file’ personnel to help interdict and prevent violence in those environments. (Felix Nater of Nater Associates comes to mind).

Basic takeaways? Guns aren’t going away. Violence is human nature. Terrorism is violence and weapons combined. The whole ‘if you see something, say something’ campaign really works. There’s a list I saw recently that scared the hell out of me. A list of terror plots that have been disrupted, since 9/11. Again, many of these weren’t familiar to me.

What if someone had called and reported the unstable behavior of any of a number of the mass shooters in our recent times? Could these atrocities have been avoided? I’d suggest that the answer to that question is yes.

Scrutiny, law enforcement investigation and even something as simple as accessing advanced mental health or counseling services could have served to prevent at least some of this violence. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.

Cover Photo: Peretz Partensky/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

What Do You Think?

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About the Author
Tony Myhre is a physical security and emergency management consultant hailing from the Seattle area. An admitted news junkie, his interests are homeland security and the foster care system. When not writing for Rise News, you can find him opining on Twitter @trmyhre.

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