American Violence

Why do kids get shot in schools in the U.S.? The vast presence of guns is one possible contributing factor. So is the violence in U.S. movies, music, books, magazines, and video games. The extreme inequality in wealth in the U.S., poor child raising, high divorce, and low quality schools are other possible culprits. It’s also possible to suspect an American genetic tendency toward violence, but I don’t believe we know enough to address that possibility.

Guns are defended as necessary to protect the innocent: “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” I’ve recently admired another bumpersticker: “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will shoot their kids accidentally.” No amount of good intentions and wise gun ownership can stop people from buying or stealing guns for bad reasons, or from using guns in fits of rage, or from misusing guns accidentally – not as long as there are so many guns around. Other countries have learned this lesson after one incident. Why can’t we learn it after 69 of them? Or if we can learn it, whgy can’t we restrain political bribery enough to have our wishes legislated?

A culture full of violent images is defended as harmless and unrelated because Japan supposedly has similar images without having the actual violence, and because many Americans are not violent despite going often to the movies. What does this tell us? It tells us that a very different culture and certain Americans are able to take in violet ideas and not act on them. It does not tell us anything certain about violent Americans, citizens of a country torn by many injustices and resentments unlike anything in Japan. And why should being able to celebrate violent imagery without acting on it be our goal, anyway? Why should we be content with a culture that we must defend by labeling inconsequential? Why not imagine a culture that does some good? If we were as disgusted by violence as I would like us to be, we would find film and music lyric depictions of it offensive in their own right.

Is it admirable to cheer at Hollywood depictions of hideous cruelty as long as one doesn’t act on them (except perhaps by supporting police and prison brutality and state executions, not to mention the bombing of foriegners)? I don’t think so. Is it possible that being able to applaud, say, “Resevoir Dogs” does not make one at least slightly more open to violence? I find that very hard to believe. A kid who shoots up a schoolroom is likely to have talked about his plan with others, others who did not object, did not condemn, did not take measures to prevent the killing, others who encouraged, admired, or nervously laughed, others who would never commit such an act themselves but who enjoy violent entertainment and know very little about nonviolenceas a way of life or a form of protest. (To learn a little something about it, visit

It does not seem likely that we will anytime soon begin giving poor neighborhoods good schools or paying low-wage workers decently. The divorce rate could drop, but so will the number of parents who stay home with their kids or who are able to make a living in a mere forty hours a week. If we are going to stop the violence, we must work to ban guns and to teach nonviolence, and we’d better do it soon.

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