Gun Control will Not Cure a Society that Produces Monstrous Behavior

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Historian Gerald Horne and host Paul Jay agree – while strong gun control is necessary, it’s not enough to keep schools and communities safe; we must change the unequal and decaying society that produces so much psychosis

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. In a previous interview with Dr. Gerald Horne, we discussed how guns, and God, and country are all part of the religious faith of the far right in the United States. The idea that guns and the individual right to defend oneself is more an act of faith than an act of logic, when one actually works through the arguments of how one actually achieves public safety, but there’s a reason why, or some reasons why, I think, that a lot of ordinary people can believe in such a faith, because part of that faith is a recognition of the decay of values in the society, the chaos in society, the violence in society. A lot of that is attributed — by such people who believe in these things — to the Democratic Party, and the intellectual elites, as they see them, the elites in the Democratic Party. I frankly think there’s something to that argument.

Now joining me to discuss that again is Dr. Gerald Horne. Dr. Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moore Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His latest book is <i>The Counterrevolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.</i> Thanks for joining me again, Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: When one looks at what’s happened to a large extent in popular culture, certainly what’s happened in terms of the growing inequality gap in terms of economics, ordinary working people who had some sense of stability from an economy that used to be far more reliable, and with that ideological and institutional beliefs that seemed far more reliable, and a lot of that seems up in the air now. People feel very threatened, both economically and in terms of their core beliefs. They feel like this society doesn’t believe in much of anything anymore.

That leads, I think, leads people with some legitimacy to think that a lot of the leadership of the Democratic Party and their promises are such hypocrisy, and that some of this violence needs to be laid on their doorstep. When the charge for gun control is led by that leadership of the Democratic Party, it feels hypocritical, because they’re not dealing with some of the conditions that lead to so much mental illness, so much psychosis in this society. The numbers of these mass shootings are certainly increasing. This feeling that society’s spinning out of control, and that the Democratic Party leadership has a lot to do with that, and of course that gets exaggerated, because it’s not like when the Republicans are in power it’s better, but this all gets manipulated a lot. Anyway, what are your thoughts, Dr. Horne?

GERALD HORNE: I would say that there are profound sociological reasons for what is occurring with regard to mass shootings. First of all, consider the fact that overwhelmingly and disproportionately those who pull the trigger are men. We should not take that for granted. We should instead seek to analyze why that might be the case, and it does not take an expert in sociology to quickly arrive at the conclusion that many men in this country have been unsettled by the changing role of gender in this country, by the enhanced role and authority of women, by the rise of feminism. There hasn’t been an adequate ventilation and discussion of this particular question, and as a result, it has left many men without any kind of understanding of what’s going on in the society in which they’re operating, leading men, as the saying goes, many men at least, to cling with bitterness to their guns.

Secondly, with regard to foreign policy, I find it quite striking that a central aspect of U.S. foreign policy in recent decades has not only been war, that is to say settling political and sociological problems from the barrel of a gun, be it Libya, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, but also helping to fuel a certain kind of religious zealotry, particularly in pre-1979 Afghanistan, and not least in pre-2011 Libya, and then of course that particular phenomenon comes home to roost with the killing in Texas engineered by Nidal Hasan, the killing at the Pulse nightclub, for example. That general idea of settling political and sociological problems through the barrel of a gun should not be thought of as just an exemplar of religious zealots such as Nidal Hasan in Texas. It’s part of the U.S. culture, as noted in our previous segment, going back to European settlement in the 1600s.

PAUL JAY: Look at Hollywood movies and television shows, at the number of movies and shows that glorify the most outlandish amounts of killing and slaughtering. That’s not new. We’ve had decades of that kind of culture developing. Again, I go to ordinary working people that buy into this kind of God, gun, and country ideology. It’s a legitimate concern when they look at what the kind of stuff that Hollywood produces, the level of violence of it, but I also think one of the points that the NRA woman made had a kernel of truth to it. I mean in the town hall CNN organized. According to her, there were 39 points where the young man that did the shooting was in connection with the state or social agencies in some ways, whether it was the police force or some kind of social agencies, and they kept diagnosing him as having mental illness. They saw some of his very threatening posts on social media.

DANA LOESCH: We have to start, number one, following up on red flags. 39 times in the past year, it was law enforcement or it was social services that went to this individual’s home.

PAUL JAY: The irony of her statement is, she supports — and the NRA and that right –precisely supports the kind of politics that cuts back on social services, that cuts back on mental healthcare, that cuts back on public health interventions. The lack of interventions in the schools, which is partly a resource question and partly a lack of agenda, but the number of severely depressed, disturbed kids that simply go through school … Now, most of them don’t shoot anybody, but often they shoot themselves. Suicide rates are also skyrocketing. It’s not just about mass shootings.

Why is there such an opiate epidemic? This society is sick. The people who only focus on gun control, and here again I would point to the leadership of the Democratic Party and much of the liberal class that think gun control is the answer, without dealing with the issue of the rot in the society that is so screwing up people’s heads that massive drug addiction, deep depression, high suicide rates … We talk about that healthy society, and yes, of course, let’s also talk about gun control, but not to talk about the rest, that is hypocrisy.

GERALD HORNE: First of all, with regard to Hollywood, it’s well known, point A, that that particular industry, in the film and television, has a more than normalized complement of executives at the top who tend to be campaign donors to the Democratic Party. Point B, as your comment suggested, the cultural products that they produce tend to glorify violence. Then point C is that the ratings agencies are much more willing to censor, if you like, scenes of sexuality as opposed to scenes of violence, and let ‘er rip when it comes to scenes of violence.

Then there’s the question of mental health, which is quite tricky, because on the one hand, it would be a mistake, as the Republicans are tending to do, to lay this tragedy at the doorstep of mental illness. As suggested, there are many people who have mental problems who do not necessarily pick up an AR-15, and march into a public school, and mow people down. At the same time, the Republicans are pleading inconsistent accounts, as the lawyers like to say, because on the one hand they’re trying to point the finger of accusation at mental health. On the other hand, they’re defunding government programs that address mental health. Obviously, they can’t have it both ways. They are pleading inconsistent accounts, and certainly they need to be held to account for their inconsistent hypocrisy.

PAUL JAY: This thing that this NRA woman says at the town hall, where she over and over again called this young man, the shooter, a monster, “He’s a monster.”

DANA LOESCH: I don’t believe that this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm. This monster carrying bullets to school, carrying bullets to school …

PAUL JAY: No, he’s another child of ours. He’s one of our kids. He wasn’t born a monster. If what he did was monstrous, not if, what he did was monstrous — but how does he become that kind of monster? She doesn’t want to deal with that whatsoever. She wants to demonize him. It’s virtually back to this good and evil argument. Somehow he’s an evil seed, and the good — God, guns, country — we need to go get these monsters. Of course, to do that, we need our guns.

GERALD HORNE: I think what you’re saying is another problem, as well, which is that it’s well known that in this country, when there are prickly and tricky political and sociological problems, there is a tendency not to analyze the society, the soil from which these problems grow, but to denounce individual proxies. You see that in particular with regard to what happens in the black community, for example. That is to say, rather than denouncing white supremacy, or the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, ongoing racism, etc., there is a laser-like focus on the imagined frailties and debilities, for example, of single black mothers.

You see that as not necessarily isolated with regard to the black community. You see this also with regard to this question of mass shootings. Rather than do a historical analysis of European settlement, and colonialism, and dispossession of Native Americans, which would then lead to an indictment of society, it’s much easier to affix individual blame on a particular teenager, as is happening in Florida as we speak.

PAUL JAY: Just to pick up on something you said, in terms of the history of this ideology of the right to have a gun, and how connected it is with the God, and country, and so on, it wasn’t all that long ago it was considered a right by a lot of Southerners, white Southerners, they have a right to lynch black people.

GERALD HORNE: Sure. Once again, there is a reluctance to dig too deeply with regard to the nettlesome problems of this society. You see this, as you have suggested a moment or two ago, with regard to some of the liberals on Capitol Hill. That is to say, when there is a kind of tragedy that has just unfolded in Florida, the mantra is, “That’s not who we are.” That is to say, “This is not a problem of these United States of America and the kind of society that has developed over the decades and centuries ago.” If you take that particular point of view, that leaves you with an individual analysis of looking at the real and imagined problems of individuals, which fundamentally does not get you anywhere, because it does not lead to profound and sweeping changes of society, which is so desperately needed in this country.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, it leads to more shootings in schools. Thanks very much for joining us, Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.