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The Newtown massacre has opened up a new area of discussion in the gun violence debate, but a crucial piece has been left out.

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

The massacre in Newtown has once again opened up the discussion of firearms in America.  We are getting the usual dumbassery about how this is a punishment from God or the fault of video games (which apparently are unavailable outside of the US) and the usual preemptive whining about how this is not the time to talk about firearm legislation because it would politicize the issue.  This is the same spirit in which we refrained from discussing terrorism after 9/11 for fear of politicizing that issue.

It appears that the gun nuts are feeling a little defensive though.  Unlike with previous gun massacres, this one has been accompanied by a real push on the role of our abysmal mental health care system.  It's actually a great point: we've basically outsourced mental health care to our prisons, with predictably disastrous results.  We need to do a much better job of investing in mental health care, removing the shame that surrounds it, and making sure it is available to anyone who needs it.

That doesn't mean it's an either/or situation though.  We can both improve mental health care and implement sensible policies to reduce gun violence.  One obstacle to the latter is a certain air of resignation and fatalism ("I'm fresh out of ideas. Anybody?") which - surprise! - is a stone's throw from demands for a comprehensive legislative strategy for implementation.  Because that is the only way to discuss any issue, and it also explains the absence of war, abortion, finance, inequality and gender policies from our national dialogue.

One of the emerging ideas is to treat gun violence as a public health issue much like we have with tobacco.  Highlight the grisly costs of our gun worship, educate the public on the most hazardous aspects of the issue, and do everything we can to get people to think about it.

These suggestions are missing an absolutely crucial component, though: stigma.  The public health campaign against smoking pushed information on the hazards of smoking into the public arena, but it also pushed back against the activity itself.  Advertising for it was increasingly restricted, the glamorization of it by Hollywood was denounced, the areas where it was permitted narrowed, and in general the unmistakable message was: this is bad; don't do it.

That's what we need to do with firearms, because our gun culture has glamorized them for far too long.  Any discussion of guns as a cultural marker usually begins as though we were still a late 18th century agrarian land recently liberated from a royal tyrant.  That is not the world we live in, to put it mildly.  The vast arsenals and enormous firepower of assault weapons bears no resemblance to the "to arms, men! Redcoats at the town square!" imagery of a musket-carrying citizen soldier often invoked when gun legislation is contemplated.

To say that these mass killings are unrepresentative of the gun owning public is as persuasive as the "few bad apples" argument after Abu Ghraib.  In both cases they are produced by a systemic failure that goes all the way up the line.  They are not freak aberrations, but the inevitable results of a terribly broken system.

It's time to stop defending the violent gun culture or hedging arguments.  It's possible that there is some magical country where all the guns are kept safe, are never purchased illegally, and are always used for recreational purposes or self defense.  We do not live in that country.  We live in a country where 31,347 people were killed by guns in 2009 (the last year official numbers are available), where our thinking about firearms is based on mythology and not reality, and where the gun lobby and spineless officials block even the mildest reforms.

If we really are going to try to change all that with a public health campaign, stigmatizing gun ownership needs to be a part of it.  And guess what?  No political roadmap is needed.  It can be done for handguns in urban areas and for semiautomatic weapons outside them.  It's something anyone can do, anywhere.  Those who defend the status quo have blood on their hands, and we should say so plainly when the issue comes up.  (For those concerned about telling people mean things see here.)

In some alternate reality maybe there's an America where gun policy does not come at such an unconscionably murderous price.  That's not America circa 2012, though.  When faced with the enormous damage of tobacco use, anti-smoking advocates didn't mince words.  They didn't say, hey - a little smoking is probably fine; you probably won't get lung cancer if you just have a couple a day.  Faced with a public health catastrophe, they took an unambiguous stance.  It's time we did the same.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ah yes, like stigmatizing legal abortion. I see. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackSheep1

    Yes, let's stigmatize the exercise of a Constitutional right instead of setting boundaries for its exercise analogous to those the Supreme Court has defined for First Amendment speech.

    Then we can verbally abuse people -- ooo, excuse me, I meant "tell people mean things" the very same way the right wing abuses women who want access to safe, legal abortions, LGBT people who believe they are entitled to equal protection, them damn crimnuls who have Miranda rights, and all those blah people whining about GOP infringement of their voting rights.

    Yes, that will be better! Better and BETTER!

    YES WE DID -- AGAIN. FOUR MORE YEARS.

    by raincrow on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 06:59:50 PM PST

    •  In case you hadn't noticed there are no boundaries (0+ / 0-)

      Any attempt to set them are blocked.  The current state of gun mania doesn't allow for anything like setting boundaries.

      I think it's telling that you don't believe people should speak out on issues they find morally abhorrent.  I guess it's just free speech for speech you like.

      •  Hmm... you may need a reading comprehension (0+ / 0-)

        touch-up. I said nothing about limiting speech. I didsay you're encouraging the same type of abusive speech most of us on DK object to when right-wingers use it against people who support choice and full civil rights for LGBT people, people who oppose the GOP's recent efforts to suppress the vote, etc.

        But just to make sure you understand my point, I'll rephrase: To the degree you find it reprehensible that people stand outside abortion clinics yelling "BABY KILLERS!!!" at the girls and women who want abortions, to the degree you find Westboro Baptist Church's picket signs loathsome, to that same degree you're a total fucking hypocrite.

        I hope that's clear enough.

        And yes, surfing the toobs can be hard, but if one spends a few seconds at it, one can find an extensive body of federal and state laws restricting the kinds of firearms and ammunition that can be manufactured, imported, sold, possessed, transported, used, etc.

        There may not be ENOUGH of these laws to adequately serve our nation -- in fact, that's what almost the entire gun control argument is about -- but it's ridiculous to say there are "no boundaries" and that "any attempt to set them are blocked." How can you seriously hope to affect the course of gun legislation if you are ignorant of the laws already out there, if you have such an overinflated view of your opposition's strength? Is your idea of contributing really just to "tell people mean things"?? RLY???????

        YES WE DID -- AGAIN. FOUR MORE YEARS.

        by raincrow on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 12:43:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Not stigmatizing gun *ownership*: stigmatize (0+ / 0-)

    carelessness with guns. That would be reasonable and practicable.  I expect that even people here are too intimidated by the RKBA group to support emphasizing gun safety - which the NRA used to be concerned with, before they started screaming that any restriction on guns would cause the sky to fall and hit you onna head and push you over a slippery slope - but public opinion has to be shifted before any legislation or even regulation can be expected from political types.

    •  Stigmatizing is all about shifting public opinion (0+ / 0-)

      Right now the "responsible gun owners" are bundled with the extremists. The NRA calls the shots, and any sort of hedging on gun issues just gives them more room.  There might have once been an America where that was not the case, but it isn't America in 2012.

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