Can psychology shed any light on the insane intransigence of the GOP on gun regulation? The idea that there is nothing that can be done to diminish the slaughter of 30,000 Americans a year and however many injuries is LUDICROUS. The idea that politicians, citizens, and the NRA believe that we have to have an armed society to be safe and secure and polite is LUDICROUS. Reasonable people, and most of the politicians and NRA members are reasonable when addressed individually, believe that we can make guns safer. So, what gives? Why can’t we reduce gun-related violence in the United States of America? Are we condemned to being the United Fucking States of Fucking Stupid until they pry our collective cold dead fingers off of our collective cold dead guns?
The first concept to examine to explain all of this is known as situationalism. Situationalism is the study of the effects of the environment on behaviors and mental processes. There are several significant elements in the environment.
- People: the individuals who populate our internal and external worlds
- The people who are physically present in the immediate environment. There presence is known to us.
- The people who occupy our heads and through their running commentary on our actions, influences our behaviors and mental processes. These people include our parents or other primary care givers, mentors, therapists, teachers, and other people of significant influence in our lives.
- The people we have never known but somehow influence us anyway. Like the dictator or king whose picture is required by law to hang in every business of the miserable country they torture with their rule or our heroes or religious leaders and icons. Think of the picture of Jesus or the statue of Ganesha or the Buddha altar that you can find in people’s homes of various religious persuasions.
- The social setting is the socially defined interaction we are having ranging from the mundane, sitting in a restaurant, to the peculiar being confronted by the hallucinating homeless schizophrenic on the street. We have rules that govern how we behave in those situations whether we are conscious of them or not.
- The physical setting like the weather, cleanliness, smells, and other such aspects of the immediate environment we happen to be in.
- Cultural expectations whether these are broad cultural imperatives or the social roles and expectations of our subcultures.
Your Favorite Drunk Uncle
Next Thanksgiving and you’re sitting next to your favorite drunk uncle and the latest mass shooting has just occurred and we’re all praying and thinking and hearting the victims, families, friends, and communities, you can look into those bleary, watery, blood-shot eyes and ask him about gun reform legislation and as he rants about the Second Amendment and your mother glares and your father looks worried, you can realize that he is reacting to the situation more than he is to his drunken heart. He is playing a role that he perceives himself to have provided by his membership in a subculture of gun humping ammometrosexuals. The slurring echoes of Wayne LaPierre, Clint Eastwood, Fred Nuisance err ah, Ted Nugent, and other such assholes are telling him how to behave and react. They are all telling him that you are going to take his guns away which he conflates with the taking his fifth of Jim Beam and so he resists and argues about liberal logic.
You should also realize that you are not getting any where when you are engaging all of those voices in his head. It’s not like you could ever get anywhere with someone as drunk as your favorite drunk uncle, though.
The Blood Drenched Timeline of Gun Madness in America
The esteemed Vox Media, which is single-handedly reinventing media declares that America’s gun culture started back at the beginning of the nation in How America Built Itself on Guns, then couldn’t Let Go. Guns were important to the individual when life posed real and present dangers that no one could help you with. Along about 1830 or so, though, the eastern part of the country started to settle down and develop more effective police forces. The frontier still had pissed off Native Americans, pissed off Mexicans, pissed off ex-slaves, crazed privileged white people, and pissed off wildlife that the invasive species of white people needed guns to protect themselves with. Gun technology improved rapidly but our view of guns didn’t. In short, our culture began to invest in a belief in guns as emblematic and part and parcel of the American psyche.
After the Civil War the army and navy became larger and more permanent. The weapons became more efficient and lethal. By the end of the 19th century all major American cities had police forces. And by the beginning of the 20th century most Americans were living in cities. This all meant that the need for guns was diminishing. In true United Fucking States of Fucking Stupid exceptionalism capitalist fashion, gun manufacturers began to market guns as necessary for your manhood and to defend your family from nameless fears that only rattled around in the empty chamber of their purchasers’ heads and perhaps lurked under their beds, in their closets, and around the shadows cast on their windows.
Just like Hallmark invented St. Valentine’s Day to sell more greeting cards, Colt and Smith and Wessen and any other gun manufacturer that may have gone out of business or been absorbed into some godless conglomeration of gun manufacturing and death marketing, invented the modern view of guns. They began advertising guns as being needed to protect your family from beastly people and beastly animals never mind that neither was really necessary. They began to romanticize in a very homoerotic way the cowboy and frontier law person. They spearheaded a drive to distort and pervert our history so that guns played an outsized role in our manifest destiny to settle the West.
In 1980 Geert Hoefstede — shut up it’s Dutch — published his book, Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values, and introduced us to the idea of cultural dimensions of power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism, and masculinity. We want to focus on individualism since the United Fucking States of Fucking Stupid rely heavily on that image of the rugged individual able to be the maverick and swim against common wisdom and common sense to overcome the namby pamby warmed over pap that’s against the only obvious solution and, of course, to punch, kick, and shoot their way to VICTORY! Just like we did in WW2!
Individualism is the degree that a culture’s or society’s members are interdependent. Of course, them Bundy boys don’t depend on no one or no thing exceptin of course the US government, which they hate and despise and declare illegal, but depend on for the grazin’ rights to public lands for their cattle and not putting them in jail for two years after the Bundy standoff for and didn’t just kill ’em all. You know our famed independence because Trump and the Koch bros got their without any help from anyone much less the government. Kiss Elizabeth Warren’s ass, why don’t ya!
Now, we can see how individualism and situationalism come together to contribute to the insane intransigence concerning protecting the public from gun violence.
The Radicalization of the NRA
In our timeline of gun madness in the United Fucking States of Fucking Stupid we come to the radicalization of the NRA. In 1977 the radical gun humping ammometrosexuals revolted and installed Harlon Carter to take them from that nice grandfatherly hobby group that taught people gun safety and how to shoot to the radical callous sadistic madmen who only care about guns guns GUNS!
We can win it on a simple concept: no compromise. No gun legislation.
— Harlon Carter
Once this happened, all of our ammometrosexuals had a home! They could be understood. Instead of hiding in the toilet jacking off to the Sears and Roebuck Catalog gun section and Field and Stream, they could go to the local NRA meeting and enjoy a good circle jerk listening to gunrotic lectures by good old Harlon Carter himself. No longer did they have to hide their shame. They could spread their destructive lust for guns and protection and American stupid across our great land leaving shattered families, murderous toddlers, and mass shootings in their wake. The government would tremble at their might!
Social Identity Theory
Social identiy theory focuses on the social roots of how we define ourselves through the groups we belong to, and the groups we don’t belong to. By sheer coincidence and a propos de rien, unless there is a cool conspiracy theory about it and then by all means post it in the comments, Henri Tajfel — shut up he’s a Pole who immigrated to Britain — published one of the seminal works bringing the theory together in 1979! It is almost too much to bear! First the NRA radicalizes in 1977, then Tajfel publishes social identity theory in 1979, and then Hofstede publishes his culture dimensions in 1980! Coincidence? I think so.
Tajfel proposed that self-esteem and pride came from the groups that we belonged to. Membership in a group gave us an identity. It told us and the world something important about us. Groups gave us peers and associates and friends, like-minded individuals who would understand us. These groups were called in-groups. As the esteem of the in-group went, so went the individual’s self-esteem. To help improve the individual’s self-esteem, and the in-group’s esteem, the in-group identified an out-group and trash talked them to no end just so they could stand on the out-group’s shoulders and feel oh so superior.
Trash talking the out-group quickly leads to stereotypes, discrimination, and prejudice. If left unchecked it leads to racism, oppression, and dehumanization! In other words, we don’t need no sniveling crybabies boo-hooing over some 20 first graders gunned down in their school! We want guns guns GUNS! It’s too soon to talk about gun regulations! We shouldn’t politicize a tragedy like forty-nine young men and women gunned down in a dance club! They denigrate and demonize anyone who is not in the in-group as a dirty gun grabbing tyrannical liberal who only wants to control the whole wide world through the UN and do away with the sovereign citizens of our great nation because we fear our own freedoms, don’t understand our own Bill of Rights, and think democracy is about compromise! Fucking stupid liberals. What do they know? Democracy comes at the end of a barrel!
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Because now the in-group of the ammometrosexuals are committing groupthink. Groupthink is the form of social influence in which individual group members suppress their dissent in order to promote group cohesion and allow the group to make deeply flawed decisions. Irving Janis — shut up it’s his last name and it’s NOT a girl’s name! — defined the term in 1972 as group pressure to conform leading to a decline in the group’s “mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment.” Sound like anyone we know?
Refusing to accept any limitations on one of the rights defined in the Bill of Rights in the name of public safety is not the stance of someone dealing with reality. Standing by and only offering prayers and thoughts after five, six, seven, ten, twenty, fifty people are gunned down on a daily basis is a tremendous lapse in moral judgment. Not being able to conceive of a system that could prevent terrorists from buying guns is a sign of terrible mental inefficiency.
This is how we got here. We have a terrible nexus of rugged frontier imagery of needing guns to protect us from bad guys and beasts, the values and qualities of an individualist society, the social identity of gun ownership, the in-group of the defenders of the Second Amendment, and the groupthink of the NRA and other gun humping ammometrosexual groups.
Call to Action and the Phone
But that isn’t the whole story. Because there is one more piece to this blood soaked Freudian tragedy that we are writing here in the United Fucking States of Fucking Stupid. And that is the political pressure that the ammometrosexuals can bring to bear on members of Congress. This pressure has very little to do with money (Liberals say Congress Can’t Pass Gun Control because it’s bought by the NRA. They are Wrong) and everything to do with phone calls and voting. Anytime there is a gun reform law proposed, the NRA can mobilize its three million members to call their Congressional representative so that each office gets a 10, 20, 100 to 1 ratio of calls opposing gun reform. It is a tried and true formula in Republican politics that you advance your career by being anti-gun reform.
Literally, only a good person with a phone can stop an ammometerosexual with a phone. The only way we will be able to counter the ammometrosexuals is by harnessing the passion of the Bernie or Bust folks and directing it at Congress. It isn’t enough to create a one-to-one ratio of calls for and against gun reform legislation. It has to be 10 or 20 to 1 for gun reform legislation. And without that central feature of gun ownership and that image of a rugged individualist protecting hearth and home with his gun, it is damn hard to do. The social psychology is stacked against us. But, knowing this, we can dig deeper and steel ourselves for the good fight to save lives.