U.S. gun culture diagnosed as a social disease

Recently, a delegation from Tucson composed of some of the survivors of the mass shooting of January 2011, in which Rep. Gabby Giffords was gravely injured, met with the U.S. attorney general, urging him to take action and letting him know they expect President Obama to present a specific plan to reduce the horrific gun violence plaguing the nation.

In the wake of the two mass shootings this summer, some American physicians consider this country’s gun violence a social disease. Mass murders of citizens by other citizens occur here with a frequency seen in no other nation in the world.

The mass murders in Colorado and the racist mass homicides in Wisconsin are illustrative of a type of tragedy for which the U.S. holds a near monopoly. The background facts speak for themselves.

First, the U.S. is awash in firearms. There are roughly 300 million guns in American households (per capita a gun for every citizen – this is the highest concentration in the world).

Second, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has a hugely powerful lobby that has been able to stop nearly any national debate on the issue.

Third, the U.S. has a history of hideous, omnipresent racism that has spawned a proliferation of hate groups among some white Americans — citizens who have a very deluded, paranoid sense of victimization.

Fourth, massive inequality and poverty, long present in communities of color, has started to impoverish the ranks of hitherto comparatively prosperous Euro-Americans.

Fifth, there are 58 million Americans with significant mental problems (1 in 5).

Sixth, there has been a severe decline in mental health facilities (for this we can thank President Reagan: as California governor he systematically closed mental hospitals, and later as president he cut aid for federally funded community mental health programs).

Seventh, we have an arms industry, opting for profit over humanity, that makes billions each year on the sale of arms to hate-filled racists, the mentally ill and the general public.


With massive numbers of guns available in this country to the mentally ill, the race haters, the drug deranged, the people haters, and with huge inequalities, a lot of innocent citizens will be shot on a regular basis.

The result of a perfect storm of the above factors is an endless string of mass murders each year of innocent men, women and children. Staggeringly, research indicates that 20 mass shootings occur each year. The public only hears about the most egregious. Aside from mass killings, approximately 86 Americans die each day by gunfire. This adds up to 30,000 a year, with 100,000 wounded – much more than are killed in America’s endless wars each year. The country is at war with itself. The figures are appalling.

The U. S. has, by one explanation, an ongoing gun culture because it is a nation founded on the genocide of one race – Native Americans – and the enslavement of another – African Americans. Guns were needed to slaughter one people and to subjugate another. Hence, the tradition of gun possession became embedded in the American psyche.

But we also need to look at the recent history of the arms business in the nation. At the end of World War II the Allies had a huge surplus of still very usable guns. There was no ready market anywhere for these firearms but in the U.S., as no other large and wealthy nation would have them within their borders. Even more weapons became available in the 1950s, when NATO forces changed to uniform cartridges and relinquished a stockpile of outmoded rifles. These also flooded the U.S., were imported very cheaply, often at less than $1 apiece, and could be sold at a huge profit, but still inexpensive for a purchaser – the rifle that killed President Kennedy cost $12.78. Massive imports of weapons took place at a time when the country was in the midst of serious political crises, which often incited violence. All this was with massive advertising by the NRA on the joys of gun ownership. A typical ad of the era read, “MORE FUN … with YOUR GUNS … the Year Around!”

However, also needed is an answer to the phenomenon of the young white male misanthrope who hates and kills. Is it just untreated mental illness? If so, why is it affecting mostly young white males? Or are these crimes also largely drug induced? More analysis is needed on this tragic phenomenon, particularly from the perspective of the Marxist theory of alienation, whereby some citizens become estranged from their own humanity.

In the meantime, to protect ourselves we need a “National Commission on Hate Crimes and Mental Health;” the tightening of gun laws; a huge reduction of public access to guns; banning of sales of the most lethal guns, assault weapons, etc.; national restoration of the mental health system; and a banning of huge ammo clips — for just a start.

Photo: At a march and vigil against gun violence in New York’s a Harlem neighborhood on Jan. 8, the first anniversary of the Tucson, Arizona shootings that killed six and injured 12. Kathy Willens/AP



Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.