Gun culture runs deep in the U.S. and won't change soon

Whenever a high-profile shooting occurs, someone, in this instance journalist Piers Morgan, campaigns to tighten U.S. gun laws. But change doesn't come easy in a culture where the values of gun ownership run deep and cross so many demographic groups.

And it is not just white males from the South who keep the gun culture alive, polls show

Whenever a high-profile shooting occurs, someone campaigns to tighten U.S. gun laws. But change doesn't come easy in a culture where the values of gun ownership run deep and cross so many demographic groups. (San Francisco Chronicle/Michael Macor/Associated Press)

Former CNN host and current gun law crusader Piers Morgan wants to remind the public that "it wasn't a flag that killed nine black Americans in their Charleston church. It was a gun."

While applauding the decision to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina's State House, the British journalist suggests that controversy has distracted from the root cause of the deadly shooting.

He dusts off the familiar anti-gun arguments that pop up after any such mass killing, laying the blame on lax U.S. gun laws, the intransigent National Rifle Association and Republicans who refuse to impose any kind of restrictions on weapons.

Nothing novel there in those arguments, nor in the arsenal of counterpoints the gun rights advocates have been spouting — don't blame the gun, don't blame the gun laws, blame the shooter and society's inability to deal with those suffering from mental health issues.

But these endless debates, pro- and anti-gun, mostly centre on degrees of change in existing gun laws. Rarely are there suggestions or proposals to fundamentally overhaul the nature of gun ownership in the U.S.

President Barack Obama proposed all sorts of changes in 2013 following the Sandy Hook school shooting —  the reinstatement of a ban on assault-style rifles, a decrease in the size of ammo magazines, and an expansion of federal background checks on firearms buyers. But, as National Review writer Charles Cooke points out, none of those laws, had they been passed, would have made a fig of difference in the recent tragedy. For example, the suspect in Charleston shootings did not have an assault-style rifle but a .45-calibre Glock handgun.

So the next step, a gun control advocate might suggest, is to ban those guns too. But that just isn't going to happen any time soon. And why? 

The answer may have come from an unlikely source, former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, who on Fox News Sunday said this: "The only way to guarantee that we will dramatically reduce acts of violence involving guns is to basically remove guns from society, and until somebody gets enough "oomph" to repeal the Second Amendment, that's not going to happen. I don't think it's an answer."

It's not an answer because Americans, or at least a significant portion of the population, like or want guns — it's in their cultural DNA. Americans will always have guns. Laws may come and go, banning this weapon, or that, but there will always be some kind of gun in the U.S. 

While there has been some debate over whether gun ownership is declining in the U.S, it's still estimated that there are roughly 300 million guns in the country, which equates to nearly one gun per person. This suggests that any power ascribed to the NRA to quash gun laws is power that is really derived from the people. 

A 2014 Pew study looking into the demographics of gun ownership found that about a third of all Americans with children under 18 at home have a gun in their household.

And it's all types of Americans who have guns. Republican Americans and Democratic Americans, male Americans  and female Americans, blue state, red state  — a cross-section of Americans have guns.

Sure, guns are much more prevalent in some demographics (white, male, from the South, twice as many Republicans as Democrats, but a significant number of Independents.)

But Pew found that, regionally anyway, there wasn't much difference. "Southerners were just about as likely as those living in the Midwest or the West to have a gun at home (38 per cent 35 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively)," its study found. Men were more likely than women to be gun owners, but not by much (38 per cent vs. 31 per cent).

And even those who may not have guns, support gun rights. A Gallup poll last year found that nearly three-quarters of the Americans surveyed said there should not be a ban on the possession of handguns.

Count retired Arizona Democratic congresswoman Gabby Giffords in that group. Giffords survived being shot in the head outside a Tucson supermarket in 2011. Although a proponent for tougher gun laws, she still considers herself a proud gun owner, as does her husband astronaut Mark Kelly. (A recent CBS interview with her and Kelly showed the couple at a gun range, where Gifford, partially paralyzed in her right side because of the attack, was learning to shoot with her left hand.)

Gun culture in the U.S, may be rooted in the days of the early settlers, given some impetus by the American Revolution, and proliferated during and just after the Civil War. But political science professor at SUNY Cortland Robert Spitzer, who argues that gun use and ownership has been gradually declining since the 1960s, still says "guns and the gun culture are deeply engrained in portions of American life." 

"The gun culture has two parts — the hunting/sporting tradition, and the frontier/militia tradition," said Spitzer, author of Guns Across America. "The former is recreational, the latter is political and ideological. Both of these contribute to the modern attachment to guns"

And all that means is that guns, in the U.S., aren't going to disappear.


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