stahler-guns

For full disclosure, I must be clear I support much tighter and more stringent gun control. For example, I believe background checks should be mandatory, and you don’t need an AK-47 to shoot a duck, much less a deer, so those kinds of weapons simply should not be sold.

Nevertheless, my father bought me my first shotgun when I was in sixth grade and from then on I was an avid small game hunter. I hunted with my dad, with friends, with a high school teacher, with my much beloved graduate school mentor and dissertation director. I even hunted alone. In fields throughout Iowa, in the ponds and sloughs in northwest Iowa and on the Mississippi River. When I was in high school many of the student cars parked in front of the school had a shotgun in the back seat. We’d been hunting before school. The police provided gun safety and target practice sessions. The Issac Walton League also provided gun safety lessons. As did my father. The cardinal rule of all those lessons was simple and straight-forward: Never point a gun at any human being. Never. And we didn’t. Ever.

While many folks in Iowa and all over the United States still derive deep pleasure from sport hunting, a great deal has changed since the halcyon days of my youth. Mass shootings occur with frightening regularity, and we seem unable to do anything about it. Of late I’ve begun to believe there is something in our modern American culture that hinders our ability to solve this horrible puzzle.

Our culture seems to have taken a road that glorifies violence. Television and computer-video games provide an endless source of violence. Consider that we now have games people “play” by pointing guns at each other and shooting a variety of projectiles at other human beings. We live in a culture where on the one hand we consider it a game to shoot one another, and yet on the other hand we are appalled at the actual shooting of people with real bullets.

If violence has become a quotidian part of our lives to the extent it has inserted itself into our cultural DNA, how can we be surprised if it manifests itself through terrifying explosions of violence. And how can we stop it?

I don’t know. A closer monitoring of all those “games” and who “plays” them would help. More severe background checks for the purchase of guns would help. Banning the sale of automatic weapons would provide some help. But powerful economic and political forces mitigate against any such changes as do our freedoms of expression. And, in any case, if we really have developed a culture of violence, then any solution will require not only that our politicians pass laws but that we strive to move our culture away from the glorification of things violent. I wonder if we are able to do that, or if we care enough to try.

James Lubker was dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at the University of Northern Iowa from 1995 to 2005 and then interim provost and executive president until retiring in 2009.

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