Guns in America, Part One

By Christopher DOMBRES (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

The Culture of Gun Violence

Due to the last mass shooting event, I’ve been asked by a number of people for my thoughts on the Gun debate in America.  This is a very important topic, and one that can’t adequately be discussed in a single post (which I try to limit to a single typed page), so I will have to do it in multiple parts.

Right now there are about 112 guns in the USA for every 100 people.  There are in fact, more guns than people.  It has probably always been this way.  People in America have always been armed to the teeth.  It started due to “issues” with the Native Americans.  It continued with the Revolution, and then into the expansion into the “Wild West”.  Guns also played a role in keeping slaves and trying to prevent their freedom (as in the Civil War).  So culturally, Americans have a long history of having guns, and, frankly, using them.  So guns are an integral part of America’s cultural history.

And when it comes to gun culture, history is just a small part.  Almost all of American culture is awash in guns and gun violence.  It is in our movies, constantly, for more than a hundred years.  Westerns, murder mysteries, crime dramas, action flicks, sci-fi, not to mention war movies, all depict plenty of people shooting plenty of other people.  Video games, whose popularity is now greater than that of Television, are primarily of the “First Person Shooter” variety.  Even our music has a lot to do with shooting people.

The reason I point this out is that I also lived in another country that had a huge number of semi automatic assault rifles in private residences.  This was Switzerland, where every male in the country had to take military training, and at the end he got sent home with an Assault Rifle and a couple of hundred rounds of ammunition.  But there is a big difference.  Mainly that in Switzerland, mass shootings are unheard of, while murders are extremely rare.  They have the same relative access to serious firepower, maybe even better access than the average American.  The only significant difference between the Swiss situation and the American one is CULTURE.  The main component of Swiss culture is “Follow the Rules”.  And not shooting people with your assault rifle is one of their rules.  So they don’t do it.  But this is NOT American culture.

There is another contributor to gun violence in America.  That is the notoriety it brings.  American culture also has a huge “popularity” factor to it.  It is not enough in American culture to be rich.  You need to be rich AND FAMOUS.  Being Famous is a BIG DEAL in American culture.  The Kardashians, the Real Housewives, and hosts of others are successful solely out of being Famous.  And a way to get known by everyone is to become INFAMOUS.  Unfortunately today, that means killing a bunch of innocent people.

So while the debate goes on about gun laws and other legal restrictions, I have to point out that there is a much more deep seated and fundamental problem when it comes to guns.  It’s our very culture.  And as I have pointed out in other posts and articles, the hardest thing to do is to change a culture.

What to Do

We have to realize that we have, unfortunately, glamorized the use of guns in our culture.  This is in fact the root cause of the problem of mass shootings.  We do need to tone this way down.  Culture doesn’t change because of passing a bunch of laws.  We have to start thinking about guns and gun use differently, and to have a reasonable dialog about it.

The cultural problem is only multiplied by making the shooters famous by plastering their name and picture all over the place.  We need to tone this down too.  We need to tone down the sensationalism surrounding these events, and treat anyone who would even contemplate doing such things with aversion and scorn.  We need to stop making the perpetrators famous.

If there was proper cultural pressure, America could handle the problem, unfortunately, it usually takes multiple significant catastrophes before a culture even begins to question itself.


The Unites States was built by immigration.  Almost everyone in the country is the descendant of an immigrant who came to the United States after it achieved independence.  For much of its history, the United States was open to immigrants.  There had been attempts to limit immigration in the past, but this is now a major political issue for the country today.

There is a major difference between the mass immigration in the past and the immigration taking place today.  In the past, let’s say from 1880-1920, a major period of historical immigration, if you came to America, you had to take care of yourself.  There were some ethnic based aide societies, but basically, your personal situation as an immigrant was up to you.  You had to quickly find work and find ways to integrate into society.  Many were unable to do this and returned home.  In fact, about a THIRD of the immigrants in this period returned to their country of origin.

Today, if you come to the United States, the government does a lot to help you out.  And it is costing the country a fortune to do this.  Many say that immigrants pay taxes and are contributing to the country.  This is true.  Estimates are that immigrants pay about $19 Billion in taxes a year.  But Federal and State governments pay a total of $115 Billion in aid and support for immigrants (figures from the “Federation for American Immigration Reform” website.  Note that I deducted the $20 Billion spent on Border and Customs enforcement that would have to be spent anyway).  The net result is that we pay just a bit under $100 Billion a year to support immigrants.  The United States is, and always has been, the land of opportunity.  We should continue to welcome those who want to come here, work hard, and get ahead.  The key word is “opportunity”.  It is NOT a guarantee that the country will take care of you, and your family, as long as you are here.

“Opportunity” also means that those that come must do their best to make changes to be best able to take advantage of them.  This means things like learning English, a willingness to work at whatever job is available, and getting education and skills to be even better positioned for future opportunities.  We do a BIG disservice to those we try to help by accommodating their foreign languages in schools and government.  If you don’t speak English in the United States, you will forever have extremely poor economic opportunities.

The language isn’t the only adjustment immigrants may need to make.  They also have to accept American culture.  This doesn’t mean changing the food they eat or the holidays they celebrate.  But it does mean accepting the critical cultural norms of freedoms of speech, thought, and religion, as well as avoiding criminality and corruption.

Immigrants who are willing to work for themselves want to join mainstream America should always be welcomed with open arms.  There is plenty of room, and we all collectively benefit from the increase in economic activity.  On the other hand, those who come here looking for a handout or who are unwilling to adopt to American freedoms, or, worse yet, are here with criminal intent, need to be sent back.

What to Do

Building a Wall isn’t going to fix America’s immigration problem.  It might be helpful in some high traffic areas for illegal crossings, but more than half of the illegal immigrants in the United States get here on visas that they then overstay.  Unfortunately, the only real way to identify and then deport illegal immigrants is to have national identity cards/papers.

Businesses and other employers of illegal immigrants should face SEVERE penalties.  Illegals who have entered multiple times should have stronger penalties than just another deportation.

We need to reduce services and government aid to immigrants, especially the illegal ones.  Services like hospital emergency rooms are expensive to everyone, and those with no proper claim to these should not be able to use them.  Welfare and housing assistance should be reserved for those who were actually invited in (such as legitimate war refugees vetted prior to entry).

On the other hand, we do need to have a viable immigration system.  We do want people to come here who want to work hard and build better lives for themselves and their children.  That’s exactly why our own ancestors came here.  We do need a system of work permits or a guest worker program.  Those that prove themselves would then be able to earn the right to stay.  Others with desirable skills, such as medical professionals, engineers and so on, should be able to apply to come.  And those who are criminals need to be punished and then removed.