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Our guns and our fear

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Yet another multiple-victim shooting, this time just a couple of hours east of Rochester, in Herkimer and Mohawk. More deaths. More critical injuries, lockdowns, community trauma.

And yet there seems little hope that Congress will enact a sensible gun control law. And New York State's new law is under attack.

I admit that I don't understand the appeal of guns. I've never hunted, and I've never lived in a rural area where wildlife could be a threat. But New York's gun-control law doesn't restrict hunters. Neither does the legislation under consideration in Washington. Those laws deal with high-capacity magazines, assault-style weapons, record-keeping, gun registration.

The gun culture in the United States is so strong that proposals for reasonable controls get bullied off the stage because people think that they need guns to protect themselves from government. That they might be in a movie theater or a shopping mall when a deranged gunman opens fire. That they'd be able pull out their gun and fire faster than a gun-wielding burglar.

The "protection" appeal is so strong that gun enthusiasts are now urging that every teacher in every school be armed.

This is a uniquely American cultural issue – fed, unfortunately, by the news and entertainment media, which have glorified violence and created the sense that crime is far more prevalent than it is. People are senselessly afraid, and conservative bloggers and gun extremists have ramped up that fear. And we seem to find a perverse satisfaction in being afraid.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, says the New York Times' Gail Collins, worried recently about how, with gun controls, people could protect themselves "in an environment where the law and order has broken down, whether it's a hurricane, national disaster, earthquake, terrorist attack, cyberattack, where the dam's broken and chemicals have been released into the air and law enforcement is really not able to respond and people take advantage of that lawless environment."

You wonder how anybody in this country sleeps at night.

Studies of whether media violence causes real violence haven't proved that it does, directly – for most people. But more is involved than that.

The US has a gun culture, and, the Times' film critic A.O. Scott wrote recently, "it is absurd to pretend that gun culture is unrelated to popular culture, or that make-believe violence has nothing to do with its real-world correlative. Guns have symbolic as well as actual power, and the practical business of hunting, law enforcement, and self-defense has less purchase in our civic life than fantasies of righteous vengeance or brave resistance."

Violence-heavy media can begin to erode the barrier between fantasy and reality. If we are convinced – facts to the contrary, declining violence rates to the contrary – that our community is a dangerous place, we will act differently, individually and corporately. And we will fail to pass sensible laws that can protect us.

One ray of hope: Gun ownership has been dropping, according to a recent Times report – particularly among younger adults. It's been dropping even in the South and western mountain states.

Maybe we'll eventually age out of the gun culture. Unfortunately, a lot of people will be hurt before then.

Ten years in Iraq

We shouldn't let March 20 go by without reflecting on the tragic path that this country embarked on 10 years ago. The deaths and injuries, the human displacement, the chaos, the financial cost: we unleashed unspeakable trauma and disruption with our invasion of Iraq, and we will continue to pay the price for decades.

"Misguided" is nowhere near a strong enough term for our decision to launch that war. And it comes nowhere near the truth. Dick Cheney, the war's architect, did damage so severe to Iraq – and to this country – that it's hard to think of actions that deserve a higher place on an Infamy Hall of Fame list.

"The news and entertainment media have glorified violence and created the sense that crime is more prevalent than it is."

Gun control | mass shootings | gun violence | violence and the media | violence in the media | Herkimer shootings | Mohawk shootings | New York State gun control law

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