- Aug 2, 2019
- Central Ma.
To get leverage over mass-shooters, start with stigmatizing infantile attitudes toward firearms.From today's WSJ.
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
"Interspersed among mass shootings in Texas and elsewhere, descriptions have emerged from prosecutors of the alleged Massachusetts National Guard intelligence leaker, Jack Teixeira. He is reported to have participated in a pestilential online gun culture, replete with tasteless japing about mass shootings.
When Democrats have drummed up the votes to disarm Americans or significantly impede their ability to buy guns, text me. But we live in a society where speech is also free, including freedom to organize campaigns against a pernicious strain in the mass-shooter phenomenon. I’m referring of the fetishization of guns that has left so much of the gun culture—once personified in Charlton Heston—in its dust. Representative in reality but increasingly less so in public perception are the majority of capable, responsible gun owners who keep guns for legitimate reasons, use them in disciplined fashion, handle them safely with respect for the people around them.
Who, among these responsible owners, really doubts, as Scientific American put it, that for part of America guns have gone from “utilitarian tools” for hunting and self-defense to a form of “psychological solace”? Not impossible to envision as a contribution to the mass-shooter problem would be a public campaign to laud responsible ownership and stigmatize the pathetic kind of gun role-playing that festers on the internet and in too much of the industry’s advertising.
Public campaigns have successfully stigmatized driving without seat belts and under the influence. They have stigmatized smoking. The culture has shown it can change fast—see the rise of gay marriage and disappearance of the racial and ethnic joke.
Law-abiding gun enthusiasts, dealers and law enforcement would support a well-targeted campaign that could stigmatize gun ownership as a form of compensation for personal inadequacy or totem of deranged identity politics. Reframe an exhibitionist identification with guns unmistakably as an admission of personal weakness, overcompensation, the need for therapy. Let Adam Lanza, the adolescent schlub behind the Newtown elementary-school massacre, be the poster boy.
Alas, akin to activists who lose interest in addressing mudslides if the solution doesn’t involve banning fossil fuels, the biggest obstacle may be the antigun activists. If guns didn’t exist, no shootings would occur but the easy correlations end there. Numbers of guns in the public’s possession may correlate with accidental shootings and firearm suicides, but gun homicides relate more to independent patterns of criminal activity (such as the rise and fall of the crack wars) while statement-style mass shootings seem mainly to correlate with themselves, as acts with a large copycat element.
Ruthlessly, don’t let a gun-awareness campaign become a vehicle for standard liberal tropes and narratives. Leave out the alleged connections to white supremacy, leave out the general disdain for rural Americans, people who didn’t go to college, Trump voters, gender traditionalists, religious believers.
Anything else would defeat the point and tragically miss an opportunity to do some good by drawing a line between responsible and irresponsible gun cultures. Do I have confidence in our governing elites? Could the Biden administration consummate this easy layup without succumbing to the partisan opportunists that Mr. Biden has surrendered so much of his agenda to?
Remember, the goal is not to express the general public’s sane horror at mass shootings. The goal is to stigmatize irresponsible attitudes and patterns of thinking about guns. This means holding up responsible gun ownership and responsible gun handling as virtues, qualities to be admired and emulated by aspiring gun fans. University of Arizona researcher Jennifer Carlson has done as much as anyone to plumb the beliefs of gun owners. Many are liberals, most turn out to be better-than-average citizens by many measures, and yet it’s impossible to ignore that for a subset guns have become a prop to compensate for deepening social and personal failures.
We come to a second point. People who attach themselves to guns as a form of psychological self-medication also tend to advertise themselves on social media, make threats, flaunt their pathologies. After many shootings, the red flags turn out to have been numerous.
Not only is gun fetishization a demonstrated risk factor, it’s a ripe bogey for law-enforcement algorithms aimed at interrupting mass shootings in the planning stages. I’ve made the point often enough: With sufficient will, safeguards could be built in. In any case, surveillance technology is pervading our society. It will be used for everything else except protecting us from terrorism-minded criminals unless we tackle the unavoidable necessity of constraining and adapting these technologies to a democratic society."