In a recent on-line discussion down here about the causes of the shocking mass shooting in Newtown, CT, USA, I suggested that gun ownership stats in Western countries indicated that a prevailing culture of violence (which includes real, virtual and imagined violence) was more contributary to the incidence of gun related crime and shooting massacres than gun ownership per se (and I don't hold a torch for gun ownership, btw; just trying to make some sense of the debate). This, I ventured, might explain why these incidents happen more in the USA than anywhere else - there has always been a violent undertone to American culture that Americans tend to rationalise away but that non-Americans find perplexing. Then today I read a reflection on the topic by Alex Massie, a Scottish journalist who spent many years in America as a foreign correspondent, which appeared in the UK Spectator, which follows a similar line of thought. Here's an extract:
"These horrors happen in other countries too – Germany, Finland, even Britain – but they unquestionably happen more frequently in the United States than elsewhere. And they do so even when you control for the number of households which contain a gun (which is not quite the same measurement as guns per capita). So why? What is it about America that makes it different? Any attempt to answer that question is necessarily speculative. Moreover, like most great American problems (and virtues) any mono-causal explanation should be considered suspect. But if it is the culture, stupid, what is it that makes American culture so different, so extreme, so exceptional? I think, like many American stories, the cocktail of history and myth plays a part in helping to explain this. Because, in ways that are not true of really any other western country, the United States was built by guns right from the beginning. The American experience really was different."
Read the whole thing here.
I remember an Australian seminary lecturer who spent a decade or more teaching in the US telling me how frustrating it was to talk to Americans (even fellow confessionally Lutheran Americans!) about their gun culture and how quickly these discussions became heated. Other Australian colleague pastors who have American friends or contacts have reported the same thing recently. The "cultural exceptionalism" of America on guns that Massie talks about explains why that is, I think. Criticism of the US gun culture is perceived by very many Americans as an attack on what it means to be American. American friends and readers, please understand that by suggesting that you need to have a discussion about your gun culture we are not being anti-American; our concern stems from affinity, not antipathy.
Please pray for the grieving families and friends of the Newtown victims.