The American Nightmare

The American Nightmare

Ed Tasca

A new and highly-praised diagnostic tool, called the Psychopath Checklist, has been established and supported by a large proportion of practicing psychiatrists. According to the findings arrived at as a result of the research associated with this new tool, it has been estimated – conservatively – that there are approximately 2.5 million psychopaths roaming the streets of the U.S.A.

Now that may not surprise anyone. Some may say, “That’s all?” But the truth is that according to the diagnosis, these people have no conscience, are capable of rationalizing away any crime, never (that’s a firm never) experience any remorse and are totally self-absorbed with the idea that whatever they can achieve for themselves, by whatever means, is perfectly okay. This is where the problem begins. And to rebuke the glib argument that “It is not guns that kill people, it is people who kill people,” I refer the insights of a good friend, who wrote in his blog:

“…a gun has a certain omnipotent feel to it. It so happened that somebody in China went berserk and entered a school with a knife. Several people were wounded before the attacker was subdued, but nobody was killed… the two events provide a contrast of dangers. A knife is a more intimate experience, while a gun is cold and distant….”

Now, add to that the fact that there are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. I won’t entangle the statistics here, although I could proffer that this means all 2.5 million psychopaths either have a gun or have access to a gun.

But I’m not going to rest on that simplicity.

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. No civilian population is more powerfully armed. So you might speculate, well, if the Russians found a way to put our armed forces and all our local and state law enforcement personnel to sleep for a period of 30 days, it would be possible for America to defend itself from an armed invasion. Just on the basis of sheer volume of ordnance.

Not so fast. Here’s the thing: most Americans do not own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. Also, according to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has actually declined over the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun. In 2010 that figure had dropped to one in five. One reason that gun ownership has declined nationwide might be that high-school shooting clubs and rifle ranges at summer camps are no longer common entertainments and are banned in some states. Gun promotion among the young has actually fallen off. So there is some hope.

But the NRA continues to
make every effort to promote gun use and even train young people on the use of firearms (a situation you can either abhor or approve).

So if gun ownership is dropping and young people may be losing interest, one may wish to make the assumption that the drop-off in gun possession is occurring among normal people who see the personal dangers and feel that can take care of themselves without the need for firearms, or among those who believe gun proliferation only leads to greater gun use. And I believe that would be a logical conclusion to draw.

So who does that leave as potential hold-outs? Hunters and sportsman I’m guessing make up a good percentage. But I don’t think anyone can argue that equal to that group would have to be a group that includes our 2.5 million psychopaths, and possibly even a larger number, which might include sociopaths and those with anti-social personality disorder – all types who have the potential for mindless violence. While all psychopaths are not necessarily killers, by definition, it appears that they can be.

Although rates of gun ownership are falling, the power of the gun lobbies is not, and the seductiveness of gun ownership continues to thrive, even though gun violence has decreased along with the decline in gun ownership. Since 1980, forty-four states have passed laws that allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons outside their homes for personal protection. (Five additional states had these laws before 1980. Illinois, interestingly, where recent gun violence has become an outrage among young gang members, has avoided such legislation.)

In Florida now, there is also something called the Stand Your Ground law, an extension of the so-called castle doctrine, exonerating from prosecution citizens who use deadly force when confronted by any perceived assailant. These laws expand that protection outside the home to any place that an individual “has a right to be.” Twenty-four states have passed similar laws.

Equally intimidating, a 1994 federal ban on the possession, transfer, or manufacture of semiautomatic assault weapons was allowed to expire in 2004 under the Bush administration. This means that the assault weapons often used in these massacres of innocents, which we believed to be illegal, aren’t. In fact, they proliferate at an alarming rate.

Television, movies, crackpot video games all highlight the power of personal gun use as a means to solve every and all problems, be they personal, political, ethnic or even just social. If you feel in any way, you need to defend yourself or avenge a wrong, grab your snub-nose 9mm and take out the offender or potential offender. That’s a common message impressed on the young.

The Second Amendment was a mistake, an utterance I’m sure will be perceived as heretical by many. The amendment was intended to help establish militias, standing armies of citizens, which might give a new nation the capacity to defend itself. It was not intended as a federal “Easy-Pass” citizens might use to carry and discharge weapons at will upon one another.

America has done quite well defending itself from foreign enemies over the past two hundred years. It didn’t need a constitutional statute to secure that right. The Second Amendment was a reaction to British soldiers having the imperial power to come into American homes and confiscate weapons during the pre-war period of political opposition to British tax policies. It made sense then, with great outside military might looming over a relatively unprepared  community of colonies. It was not meant to be an incentive for individual Americans to arm themselves to the teeth, and take violent measures under the presumption of self-defense to shoot others, no questions asked. The old West slogan: “Shoot first, ask questions later,” has become a cri de coeur among what appears to be mostly white, older Americans, fearful for their safety.

Yes, the media makes us all feel a bit rattled over street and incidental violence in our various communities. It’s what they do. It’s what they feel the American public wants to know about. It’s what propels ratings. It’s all about the business of “hot stories.” What happened in Connecticut is a brutal media story that will haunt and sadden all of us. Regrettably, for some viewers and readers, it will also play out as an excitement, wrapped in the warped justification for some to consider and possibly take similar actions.

Maniacal mass shootings are now a fixture of American life. Even those opposed to laissez faire gun controls can understand the perverted rationale for carrying a gun, concealed or otherwise. But if the logic here is followed to the extreme, this would mean arming every man, woman and child in America in order for us to feel safe. Wild West welcome signs would return: Leave your firearms at the door. And of course, this would include Chuck E. Cheese’s and Video game arcades.

Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders carried out with firearms, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. — Research by Mother Jones. (With thanks to the Associated Press,, and Citizens Crime Commission of NYC.)

Does it occur to anyone, given all we’ve seen about how guns turn up when least expected, that it might be because of the availability of what has in America now become not a weapon, offensive or defensive, but a common household tool, such as a drill or a vacuum cleaner or an iPhone.

I have always felt that it’s the pragmatic perception of firearms as tools that no one ever talks about, whether you are pro or con. The perception is, “I need a gun. They work. They deter. They end problems without the need for wit or consideration of any kind.” A corollary to this perception is that our own hard-working police and law enforcement agencies aren’t really going to protect me, so what I’m hearing everywhere is that I’m going to have to do it myself. The movies I’ve seen recently confirm that if you have a gun, nobody’s going to mess with you. “There doesn’t seem to be any substitute for personal firearm protection. I don’t want to be the one who didn’t get this right, and was caught without the right tool at the right time.”

America has a gun-toting legacy. It also has a system that encourages personal initiatives. Add to that the egocentric idea that Americans have the independent-minded right to look after themselves in whatever way they deem necessary. And you have a social conceit that remains singular in the world of free nations.

To turn this around will require American leadership in a league occupied by only one man with the sensibility and the brains in our history: Abe Lincoln. If there was ever an American Dream, I’m sorry to say, I believe this horror will continue to be the American Nightmare.

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One response to “The American Nightmare”

  1. Newtown Shootings Inspire Columns, Blogs | National Society of Newspaper Columnists

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