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It's not only about spree shootings. It's about street crime, domestic violence, suicide, and accidents. Every gun out there is a point on a graph that increases the mathematical odds of something unfortunate happening. There are simply too many guns in circulation for our own good. Compare our stats to the rest of the civilized world, it is glaringly obvious. I fail to see how people can not recognize guns as the public health hazard that they are.

What disappoints me about the liberal left is how we manage to muster all kinds of righteous fury over guns or "assault weapons" in the wake of Sandy Hook, while we manage to entirely avoid the deeper, real issues that are laid bare by our problems with violence.

Debating about "assault weapons" only allows us to avoid the REAL questions: Why are Americans so paranoid? Why are we so stressed out? We are we so alienated from one another? Why do we have such an awful, violence-loving streak of sadism in our culture? What are the wider cultural effects of the psychological insecurity that comes from a country with no safety nets or guarantees? What happens when workplaces are designed to turn people against each other? What do these stresses do to our bodies, and to our children? Why are we so scared of crime that we imprison more people than any country in history with the close exception of Stalin's USSR? And when we imprison vast numbers of people from our inner cities, what are the impacts on juvenile crime and gun violence? Does our safety demand we arm ourselves to the teeth? So many relevant questions that desperately need to be talked about in our media.

To our shame, the political question we've chosen to address has nothing to do with the root causes of American paranoia and violence, or how to most effectively achieve public health gains using political resources. No, all we're really doing is having a reactionary, fear-based, NIMBY moral panic over which groups of people belong on which end of the barrel. Fact is, most Americans, including Democrats, are quite happy for Americans to be absurdly over-armed and for that to cost a few kids' lives, so long as it's not their neighbors who have the arsenal and it's not their kids in the firing line. Why? Because other people are scary, whether they're next door or on the other side of the planet.

We need to talk about fear.

Look, the NRA is a successful fundraising machine because of fear. They stoke the fantasies of their target audience to get them to donate. But it's not just them who do it. The Sierra club does it. All kinds of lobbying organizations do it. And it's not just lobbyists either. Private companies use fear to sell their products. Not only guns, but toothpaste and deodorant. The TV news uses fear to keep you tuned in.

This is nothing new. Many people have observed it. But can we please try and figure out why Americans seem so particularly vulnerable to it?

I believe, albeit without much scientific evidence, that Americans are more susceptible to fear as a motivating force than people in, say, Canada or Europe. And I believe that is due to an underlying insecurity in our material conditions. In our personal lives, many of us actually do have a lot to be afraid of. If we felt safer and more secure in a REAL way (not an abstract kind of way in which we feel safe from nebulous boogeymen) then we would be less likely to want to carry guns into libraries, or send robots to vaporize scary Muslims, or accept racial profiling, or forfeit our rights to privacy, or lie prostrate and obedient before Wall Street's demands, or look to the heavens for salvation. We'd be less likely to engage in this CONSTANT scapegoating of whole categories of people as being innately dangerous, like young black men, or immigrants, or gun owners, or Muslims, or Evangelicals, or pot smokers. And we'd be more able to address the things we really ought to be afraid of, like climate change or another huge economic collapse, if those things weren't contextually buried beneath all the BS abstract fears.

Much of this seems obvious and yet goes unaddressed. If you sat down and designed two societies, one in which people's economic security was more guaranteed, in which no one had to worry much about being homeless or going without health care or food, and another in which material security was a competitive free-for-all in which losing means a lifetime of destitution or even death, what would you predict to be the eventual differences between the two cultures? I think it's fairly predictable that the latter would be a culture with much more anxiety, more fear, more guns, harsher religion, more suspicious of outsiders, more xenophobic, more crime, more prisons, harsher penalties, and so forth.

So, I think the focus on the NRA and second amendment fundies and "assault weapons" largely misses the forest for the trees. And it makes me sad to see so much discussion going on and yet not see *anyone* in the media or elsewhere connecting the dots between our culture of paranoid violence and our increasingly predatory brand of capitalism.
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