It is not the guns that are a problem, it is the culture that has to change

2012-06-01 09.31.51When we look back, it is now unfathomable that women were not allowed to vote, that slavery was condoned in the United States Constitution and that smoking was allowed on airplanes. Yet all of this was once an accepted norm and even fiercely defended and a subject of great debates and heated discussions.

At one time, apartheid in South Africa was seen and a terrible thing by the world and great effort was made to get the South African white minority Government to see how ridiculous their thinking was and demand they change their attitude. I took my wife to South Africa in 2003 and endeavoured to explain what it was like living in South Africa under that regime. Even as I and others we met talked about it, I could see her struggling to comprehend that we were not exaggerating the situation whilst at the same time we were all struggling to not over-do it because it sounded almost unreal to believe that it once happened.

America has a ‘Gun-Culture’. What does that mean? It means its culture is one that accepts guns as being part of life in the same way that it accepts fast food and gas-guzzling cars. It knows the dangers in the same way it knows the dangers of unhealthy fast food, but is prepared to take the risk. It has an affinity to guns in the same way it has an affinity to oil and hardly ever thinks about it except on rare occasions when it goes wrong, like a shooting in a school or an oil slick at sea and on the beaches.

If we look back at significant changes in cultures, they have never really happened overnight and they have never really happened by laws on their own. Look at smoking, women’s rights, climate change, racism, gay people, slavery, health and safety in the workplace, and many more practices that were all once common place and accepted in society but are now not accepted. The culture changed despite a lot of strong feelings, bitter disputes and arguments and, most of all, through common people deciding that enough was enough and starting to push back. Once the push-back started, over time it behaviour began to dissipate and that is when laws helped cement the new order. In other words, the laws came behind the movement that resisted the old ‘norm’, and led to the shift in culture.

I will hazard a guess that in years to come the children in United States who are currently under ten will look back in amazement that automatic weapons were bought by the general public, that people were allowed to own guns with no checks and no training and no means to ensure their guns were kept in safe places. They will shake their heads in disbelief and lower their heads in shame that it took so long and cost so many lives to realize the stupidity of the current situation. That will happen when the gun-culture has changed and it is socially unacceptable to own certain weapons, to be able to have weapons without the necessary standards or training. By the way….I also believe that hunting will still be a sport for many years past that change in culture.

Currently, most of the world looks at United States as crazy to allow what is happening. To them it is illogical that such a culture exists in a modern world and from a modern nation. However, I point out that those living in South Africa under apartheid could not see (or would not allow themselves to see) themselves from the world outside their boarders. They doggedly believed that no-one understood them and their point of view or their circumstances. Those within the country (although a majority) tolerated the situation until finally they could no longer sit back passively and see that culture affect their lives. So to in America. The majority of the population think it is crazy that a modern western nation allows people to have fully automatic weapons and can buy weapons with no checks and no training, etc. But the culture will only change when that majority finally say “enough of this foolishness” and push back. They will demand that it becomes socially unacceptable to have the current situation…and then the laws will be able to enforce the new culture.

What about the NRA? The NRA has long since been a lie. It is not an Association any more. It is an Institution for Gun Manufactures. There is a big difference between an Association and an Institution. They will continue to justify their stance and fight back against change. However, they are starting to sound like the voices against women’s right to vote, or against the freedom of slaves, or dare I say the minority Government of South Africa in it’s dying days.

So what resources do this majority of ‘Joe’ public have to push back? Look at the Inauguration ceremony and see the volume of people that were there to support a change, compared to those that were gun supporters. That is a very small start but it is a start.

The Arab Spring (a ridiculous name) is an example of how people can unite to push for change. We are seeing it happen before our eyes in Arab nations, China, Israel, and even in western countries like United Kingdom where the public took to the streets to protest petrol prices and boycotted petrol stations for 24 hours. Slowly people are becoming disenchanted with the culture and taking action in a variety of ways. Sadly, some of the actions are over-reactions and undermine their position, and that is sad.

As a friend said to me yesterday, we need some visuals to stir people’s emotions. Look at some of the visuals about the dangers of smoking. Pictures of a healthy lung versus a diseased lung made a strong statement and helped shift that culture. The one Mother from Newtown that had her child put in an open casket understood the impact on Politicians and ths public of seeing a child that had been hit by eleven bullets and no longer had a jaw or left arm and hand. A brave woman indeed.

When insurance companies will not insure a person and the family that does not have the necessary training to keep and use a gun, or banks will not give loans to people that own semi-automatic weapons, or these people’s insurances will be null and void if they are found to have not conformed to these measures….that sort of pressure will make a lot of difference. In the same way as you cannot drive a car without the necessary training and you can’t get insurance without a licence and some form of checks, so it will become with gun owners.

I hear people say, “It is not the guns that are a problem, it is the people that use them that are a problem”. That is not exactly true. The guns themselves are not the problem…..but the gun-culture is the problem.

The culture has to change and the laws have to be there to cement the change in culture….only then will SUSTAINABLE change happen. It is a long road but many have had to walk it only to have their children and their children’s children look back in shame at how long they took and at how they could have been so foolish and inhumane for so long.

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