Violence as American as Apple Pie Why have America’s crazies adopted mass murder as one of their favorite forms of self-expression? Choose 2 of these questions. 1. What does Gwynne Dyer mean when he says that “violence is as American as apple pie”? 2. What is Dyer’s attitude toward the problem of mass killings in the United States? Where in the article is Dyer’s attitude best revealed? 3. Write a newspaper article of your own giving your theory as to why there are fewer shooting deaths in Canada than there are in the United States. Violence as American as Apple Pie GWYNNE DYER Why have America’s crazies adopted mass murder as one of their favorite forms of self-expression? IN ENGLAND, where mass killings are extremely rare, last year’s Hungerford massacre caused a further tightening of the already extremely strict gun-control laws. But in the United States, the recent multiple shooting in Winnetka, Illinois, would not even have got much national attention (only one dead, six wounded) if the killer had not been a woman and all but one of the victims children between six and nine years old. “We’ve been in business for 10 years, and we sell guns every day,” said John Morgan, who runs the Chicago-area gun shop where Laurie Dann bought three handguns in the past two years. “This is the only time anything close to this has happened.” Oh, well, that’s all right. One mass shooting per gun shop per decade isn’t all that bad. Nevertheless, some spoil-sports are bound to bring up the question of gun control in America again. As Robert Fletcher of the Illinois State Police cautiously declared: “Guns don’t kill people; crazy people with guns kill people. And crazy people have access to guns.” Indeed they do. So what should be done about it? Both sides of the gun-control argument, in the U.S. and elsewhere, contain some major misconceptions. First, guns kill people. Dann could not have done that damage with her bare hands, or with a kitchen knife. Second, crazy people are probably no more abundant in the U.S. than in other countries, or in America’s own past. But crazy people do not go in much for mass slayings elsewhere, nor was this a common pattern in the U.S. even 25 years ago. Third-and most disconcertingly-the availability of firearms cannot be the only explanation for a very high kill rate. In Switzerland, where the murder rate is not even a tenth of the American figure, there is one automatic weapon in private hands for every 10 citizens. Switzerland bases its defence on a militia containing all fit adult males, who can be mobilized in 48 hours. To speed the mobilization process, they are obliged to keep their weapons and ammunition at home-and although Dorothy Parker once described Switzerland as “beautiful but dumb,” it contains the usual quota of greedy, violent and crazy people. Yet on the whole, the Swiss do not shoot one another, either individually or in bunches, despite having available enough automatic weapons (illegal in most American states) to exterminate themselves many times over. The same goes for Israel, where submachine-guns and assault rifles are just another piece of furniture in many homes-especially in border areas. Israel, too, has crazies, gangsters and jealous spouses, but they don’t shoot other Israelis despite ample supplies of weaponry. So, there must be some additional, probably cultural, reason for the phenomenal amount of gunplay in the U.S. Why have America’s crazies adopted mass murder as one of their favorite forms of self-expression? It’s true that America’s losers, drifters and marginal people, who inevitably include a significant proportion of men and women just a hair-trigger away from violence, get less attention and support from the government and the community than comparable groups in almost any other developed country. But that has always been true of the U.S., and in the past it did not lead to mass killings very often. I blame the media: monkey see, monkey do. In a country where it is only slightly more difficult to buy a gun than frozen pizza, a few crazies were bound to go on shooting sprees eventually-and show all the other crazies just how much attention you could command from society if you came out shooting. Some of the most popular terrorist techniques (notably aircraft hijacking) took root by the very same process. Yet you cannot, or at least should not, censor the media. In practice, we leave them free to report, and try to prevent, hijackings by rigorous security controls at airports. The same principle applies to the control of mass murder. It applies equally to the larger number of killings and woundings that ordinary Americans inflict on one another by gunfire every year (250,000 dead and 1.5 million wounded by “Saturday Night Specials” alone in the past 20 years). Guns kill people-especially handguns, which have no other purpose-and making it difficult to obtain them would save a lot of lives. Gun control is especially necessary in America, because American cultural assumptions (and here is the key difference from the Swiss) are far more permissive about the individual’s right to resort to violence. These assumptions, no doubt, come in part from America’s frontier past. There may even be a genetic factor at play: those who had the initiative to leave their homes were often the most individualist and nonconformist members of the societies they left behind. At any rate, violence is as American as apple pie. A country whose people have these reflexes needs gun control far more than Switzerland does. However, precisely because it has these reflexes, it is the country least likely to get it. Gwynne Dyer is a London-based Canadian writer and foreign affairs analyst. Reprinted by permission of the author.
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