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Worth reading. MA.

Fred Decker
Guest Columnist

A year ago, Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives staged a sit-in demanding a vote on federal gun-safety bills following the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The National Rifle Association’s lobbying was largely blamed for no vote happening. But looking deeper, the Second Amendment with the unique American individualism wrapped around it underlies all. It is America’s fundamental gun problem.
As Michael Waldman at the Brennan Center for Justice suggests in Politico Magazine (2014), the NRA’s construing of the Second Amendment as an unconditional “right” to own and carry guns (a “right” beyond actual constitutional law in Supreme Court rulings) is why it thrives and has clout.
Without clout derived from Second Amendment hyperbole, we might not have, for instance, “stand your ground” laws in more than 20 states starting with Florida in 2005, laws that professors Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra report in the Journal of Human Resources (2013) do not deter crime and are associated with more killing.

Fred Decker is a sociologist in Bowie, Md., with a background in health and social policy research. He earned his doctorate from Florida State University.
Pockets of America were waiting for the NRA’s Second Amendment fertilizer.

For many gun advocates, the gun is an important aspect of one’s identity and self-worth, a symbol of power and prowess in their cultural groups. Dan Kahan at Yale University with co-investigators studied gun-safety perceptions and wrote in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (2007) how those most likely “to see guns as safest of all” were “the persons who need guns the most in order to occupy social roles and display individual virtues within their cultural communities.”
Or, as the essayist Alec Wilkinson writes more starkly on The New Yorker’s website (2012), although “the [gun] issue is treated as a right and a matter of democracy” underlying all is “that a gun is the most powerful device there is to accessorize the ego.”
A gun owner carrying his semiautomatic long rifle into a family department store, like Target, in a state permitting such if asked why will likely say because it is his “right.” He is unlikely to reveal the self-gratification gained from demonstrating the prowess and power of his identity, gained from using the gun “to accessorize the ego.” The Second Amendment here is convenient clothing to cover deeper unspoken needs, needs that go beyond the understandable pleasures and functions of typical hunting, for instance.
Australia is often mentioned as an example of nationwide gun-safety legislation reducing gun violence. Following the 1996 massacre of 35 people in Port Arthur, Australia, the government swiftly passed substantial gun-safety legislation. And as Professors Simon Chapman, Philip Alpers and Michael Jones wrote in JAMA’s June 2016 issue, “[F]rom 1979-1996 (before gun law reforms), 13 fatal mass shootings occurred in Australia, whereas from 1997 through May 2016 (after gun-law reforms), no fatal mass shootings occurred.”

But Australia also has nothing akin to the Second Amendment.
Anthropologist Abigail Kohn studied gun owners in the U.S. and Australia who were engaged in sport shooting. She describes in the Journal of Firearms and Public Policy (2004) how “it is immediately apparent when speaking to American shooters that they find it impossible to separate their gun ownership, even their interest in sport shooting, from a particular moral discourse around self, home, family, and national identity.”
And thus, “American shooters are hostile to gun control because just as guns represent freedom, independence — the best of American core values — gun control represents trampling on those core values.”
In contrast, the Australians “view guns as inseparable from shooting sports.” And “perhaps most importantly, Australian shooters believe that attending to gun laws, respecting the concept of gun laws, is a crucial part of being a good shooter; this is the essence of civic duty that Australian shooters conflate with being a good Australian.” While the Australian shooters thought some gun-safety policies were “useless and stupid,” they thought that overall gun-safety measures were “a legitimate means by which the government can control the potential violence that guns can do.”
Unlike Australia (itself an individualist-oriented country), America has the Second Amendment. And that amendment has fostered a unique individualism around the gun, an individualism perpetrating more harm than safety.
Maybe someday the Second Amendment will no longer reign as a prop serving other purposes and, thus, substantive federal gun-safety legislation happens. But as Professor Charles Collier wrote in Dissent Magazine: “Unlimited gun violence is, for the foreseeable future, our [America’s] fate and our doom (and, in a sense, our punishment for [Second Amendment] rights-based hubris).”
The Second Amendment, today, is a song of many distorted verses. A song of a uniquely American tragedy.
Fred Decker is a sociologist in Bowie, Md., with a background in health and social policy research. He earned his doctorate from Florida State University.
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