The socio-cultural challenge in the gun-control debate

Obama Shooting Skeets

It has been a while since last post, but what draws me back to comment is the the current gun control debate in the US. This is another example of that unprecedented cultural divide that dis-unites the US today and which I wrote about in a previous post.

Similar to abortion and gay rights, gun-control is an emotional flashpoint in US politics, enormously distracting to actual policy making such as fiscal reform or economic incentives. These issues represent huge socio-cultural divisions that need to be taken under consideration when planning  policies for the future.

So it was with some interest that I saw the White House announcement today which accompanied a photo of Obama shooting clay pigeons at Camp David

Whilst proposing a series of changes including mandatory background checks and a ban on assault rifles, Obama also advises gun-control advocates to listen more; to understand the traditions, so tied up with American identity and history, that explain the US  “love of guns”. He advises steering the debate within the framework of people for whom the hunting tradition is strong and finding common ground with those who support the second amendment but agree with its proposed changes. In an interview with New Republic Obama said;

“Part of being able to move this forward is understanding the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas. And if you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were ten, and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family’s traditions, you can see why you’d be pretty protective of that.”

In sociological terms, emotional attachments to ideas and opinions are what determine their endurance. When the emotional attachment fades, so too does the once fast-held belief. If the gun-control debate is to remain civil, the emotional attachment to guns needs to be explored and examined as much as the rational arguments for changing the current laws. Cultural changes happen slowly, but the beginning of change is usually after a tipping point, when enough individuals stand up to say “No More” and find courage to challenge the status quo. That point was the massacre in Newtown, and the realization that something in the US needs to change.