Cultural Mythology and Gun Control

Home Research Paper Cultural Mythology and Gun Control
Cultural Mythology and Gun Control

The USA is one of the most developed countries of the world respecting the rights and freedoms of each citizen. However, the state has a huge number of mass shootings, and such a negative paradox is called American phenomenon (Christensen). Although the common level of violent crimes is down, the mass shootings rate is steadily growing. Unfortunately, a significant part of these shootings took place in schools and school campuses. Many different facts affected the children’s psyche changing current societal norms among teenagers, in particular triggering the desire for fame and free access to weapons. Furthermore, the media only inflames shooters’ goal to become famous. The modern youth is less sympathetic and compassionate, and the adolescents have the great desire to enjoy popularity and recognition regardless of the positive or negative method of achieving it. The unstoppable desire for fame and popularity by any price, reduced empathy, growth of narcissism among the America’s youth, and the free ownership of weapons became an integral part of American culture, with the negative impact of mass media increasing the frequency of school mass shootings that changed the current societal norms among teenagers.

 Mass shootings are the current urgent problem in the United States of America. However, such issue is aggravated by the fact that these shootings often occur at the school campuses and schools. The “mass shooting” case is determined as the gun violence act against four and more humans selected indiscriminately (perpetrator is not included) who are killed. In addition, one more definition of mass shooting states that it can be an event including shooting even without death of individuals or any cooling-off period. These two definitions are denotations of the term “mass shooting” since they present its direct meaning. At the same time, this expression can have the secondary meaning that is connotation. According to Christensen, people all over the world often associate the term “mass shooting” with American phenomenon because “while U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, it sees about 31% of public mass shootings.” Thus, hearing about a mass shooting, people think about the USA problem even if it has occurred in the other corner of the planet.

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The words “gun” and “weapon” are firmly rooted in the American cultural mythology developing since the colonial period of American history. The link between American identity and guns is so strong that even if people do not mean weapons, they talk about other things using gun-related descriptions. For example, people shoot their aims; they talk about their strategic missteps using the words “misfires”, “short fires” meaning antagonistic remarks; the phrase “locked and loaded” is used when humans are ready to go (Lafrance). Even politicians and journalists apply gun vocabulary in their speeches and media conversations underlining guns power in the US experience. Lafrance draws readers’ attention to such media phrases as “Candidates ‘target’ their opponents, lawmakers ‘stick to their guns,’ advocacy groups ‘take aim’ at hostile legislation and reporters write about a White House ‘under fire.’”Moreover, American history “remembers” Western pioneers who used glamorized handguns as instruments, and it was one of many marketing ploys applied for a material enrichment. However, in the 19th century, the gun policy of the first settlers was stricter than the current policy of weapons in the USA. Their laws were directed against the free possession of weapons, and each person who came to the village had to be checked at the sheriff’s office (Lafrance). Hence, the Wild West laws were strict enough and significantly differenced from the American gun policy talking about the last 30 years. Thus, gun mythology and imagery are an integral part of American cultural identity that has been forming for many years in American population’s mind.

The history of school shootings and violence is characterized by constant changes and continuity. In terms of change, the number of school violence incidents has significantly grown during the last 20 years and had gotten a more altered and deadly form (Rosque 305). From the middle of the 1990s, there was an unprecedented number of school shootings, and weapons brought by students killed many fellow students and teachers. Additionally, the previous school violence incidents involving individual disputes are considerably different from the current school violence called “rampage”. Thus, Rosque suggests, “as a result of an increasing concentration of youth in schools, the type of school violence changed in the 20th century” (305). Furthermore, riots and protests organized by students who became more politically conscious occurred more often in addition to the isolated acts of extreme violence like school murders by Andrew Kehoe in 1927. (Rosque 305). However, during the 1980s – 1990s, this level decreased to nearly 70% (Rosque 305) until Columbine massacre in 1999 (Guy). It was the turning point caused the Columbine Effect.

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Nowadays, researchers pay people’s attention to the emergence of an American strange paradox. It consists in the fact that while overall violent-crime data are down, the rate of mass shootings “appears to be on the rise, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics” (Pappas). The FBI tried to narrow the determination in a 2014 report focusing on the situations with “active shooters”. They found that 160 incidents of active shootings took place between 2000 and 2013, and their number continues to rise. During the first seven years of this period, the level of mass shootings per year was nearly 6.4. Unfortunately, during the next seven years, it increased to 16.4 (Pappas). Thus, these 160 shootings caused 480 people’s deaths and 557 wounds without killers’ deaths. Contrarily, according to FBI, the rate of the overall number of violent crimes decreased for 14.5 percent from 2004 to 2013 (Pappas).

Scientists try to find the right approach to fight against mass shootings, in particular at schools and school campuses, and reduce their level to a minimum in order to overcome such issue as the American phenomenon. Considering the reasons of shooting events, researchers have four assumptions as for their emergence in the USA. The first assumption states that mental illness can cause violence with gun use; the second implies that gun crime can be predicted by psychiatric diagnosis, while the third states that loners with mental problems can do shootings, and the last is about gun control that would not prevent any mass shootings (Metzi et al. 240). Actually, each of these assumptions has its place, and mental health plays an important role in mass shootings emergence. However, mental illness related issues that rise after American mass shootings often reflect bigger cultural anxieties and stereotypes about such matters as politics, social class, and race, or ethnicity. These statements become unimportant when each mass shooting is responsible for all crimes with gun use in the USA. However, the young psychopathic shooters do not feel emotional connection to other people; they do not feel remorse or guilt. Moreover, they enjoy doing harm to other individuals. Thus, Andrew Golden liked to torture little animals, in particular kittens. Additionally, in 1998, he and Mitchell Johnson caused shooting at Westside Middle School and killed four girls and their teacher (Fox, & DeLateur 127). Another school shooter Eric Harris hated useless humans and described in detail their murders in his personal journals. Some of young killers like Dylan Klebold suffered from the feeling of loneliness and otherness. Some of such people hear voices; some of them do not understand what they are doing, and feel disconnected from the reality (Rosque 308). However, mental illnesses are not the only reason for mass shootings’ growth.

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School violence is one of the most urgent problems of the American society, but some researchers believe that gender issue relates to shootings emergence as well. Many students say that they are afraid to visit school because they are not sure to come back home. Moreover, the majority of teenagers know who takes gun to school, and 63% of their parents think that school shooting is very likely to take place in these communities (Kimmel & Mahler 1440). Thus, the scientists have to look for the additional reasons of school shootings, and Kimmer and Mahler state that “understanding school shootings must take gender seriously – specifically the constellation of adolescent masculinity, homophobia, and violence” (1440). Thus, interactions and relationships among children, local school, violence and gender cultures should be take into account for the school violence study. Interpreting various events using such approach, researchers can note a striking similarity between the different cases. Hence, most of the shooters suffered from specific harassment including gay bait used for “inadequate gender performance” (Kimmel & Mahler 1440). Moreover, these boys did not comply with the hegemonic masculinity norms. Finally, they can be ordinary persons who are overconformists to a masculinity normative construction but not psychopathological deviants. In addition, such construction of masculinity defines violence as a normal and legitimate response to a bygone humiliation. However, mass media impact and American desire for fame are the additional driving forces in mass school shootings.

Mass shooting in the Columbine High School was the reason of the emergence of the phenomenon called Columbine Effect. This massacre that occurred on 20 April 1999 made a sharp terrifying change in guns use at schools and mass violence as a whole. At that day, two teenagers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, killed thirteen people and wounded twenty-four ones. Furthermore, they planned this attack for many months. According to the studies, these two boys admired cruel video games and Gothic music that was very popular at that time.

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After the Columbine shooting, the level of mass shootings in the USA increased substantially. Only from 2012 until 2015, Americans witnessed 944 mass shootings; 300 of them occurred in 2015 (Guy). Thus, the Columbine High School massacre caused a significant increase of school mass shootings. The eighteen-year-old boys Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold became the heroes who are not afraid of anything. They brought to school three guns, four knives, and ninety-nine bombes, and killed their classmates and themselves. Moreover, many young people believed that these two adolescents were mistreated and bullied and saw them as perfect persons for worship and imitation. Guy states that 67% of mass shootings directly referred to Columbine case as all school shooters were male “involved imitations of the Columbine attacks.” For example, in 2013, in Oregon, Grant Acord, the seventeen-year-old boy, intended to do ‘a more successful version” of Harris and Klebold’s massacre and hid explosives cache in his bedroom (Guy). In 2014, Peter Thulin and Natalie Carpenter (19 and 18 years of age respectively) planned the same crime at Danbury High School. Later, David LaDue (a 17-year-old boy) planned to kill his family and classmates. In addition, in Florida, another boy of the same age called Jared Kano planned mass shooting at Freedom High School. All these planed shootings were to imitate the Columbine massacre. However, besides these crimes, American people were shocked by the real murders similar to Columbine one.

In 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, Adam Lanza, the male of 20 years old killed his mother and 28 humans including 20 pupils at Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to FBI reports, he was obsessed with Columbine massacre (Guy). The other school shooting happened on 1 October 2015, at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. A 26-year-old person opened fire, killed nine people, and wounded seven other. Additionally, Howard asks, “what should be done and how gun control plays a part. Umpqua has a no-weapons policy on campus.”  Thus, each shooter would like to imitate or even outmatch the Columbine massacre.

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Arizona State University has carried out the researches and come to the conclusion that mass killings and school shootings have a contagious effect. Moreover, scientists states that “an incident is contagious for an average of 13 days, and incites an average of at least 0.22 new incidents (p = 0.0001)” (Sherry et al.). In the USA, mass shootings with gun use take place approximately each two weeks in addition to school shootings that occur nearly once a month. Thus, such contagious nature is based on the desire to imitate the Columbine massacre and exceed each previous imitator. In addition, each mass shooting attracts attention of ordinary people making shooters famous.

The United States population is obsessed with the desire of fame more than any other people in the world are. Unfortunately, the youth or teenagers are more vulnerable to such influences according to their age and psyche peculiarities. They would like to be famous at any price. The situation is complicated due to the free firearm access, and each adolescent can get the gun for his crimes. Moreover, the attitude to guns has changed; instead of hunting and recreation, they are used for defense in public. However, the desire for fame destroys any moral values and human compassion. Pappas states, “A 2007 Pew Research survey of 18- to 25-year-olds found that about half said that getting famous was a top priority for their peers.” Furthermore, television shows promote and advertise fame as one of the most important values; pop music becomes more narcissistic and cocky, and the level of the American youth narcissism is reaching its highest point. The modern students have less empathy than teenagers of the 1970s, and the negative impact was made by various talk and reality shows and reality television that promote bad behavior as a way for the getting popularity. ‘Fame at any cost’ is the integral part of American mentality (Pappas). Most of shooters can get easy asses to any article or video about the Columbine massacre in the Internet and learn in detail each moment of the crime. Also, they can easily find out how to create a bomb. The cruel video games and movies destroy the line between reality and game world full of blood, corpses, and weapons. Thus, teenagers and young people are losing empathy and believe that death is a rather positive moment to reach the fame. Additionally, mass media draw people’s attention to the shooter and brightly describe each detail of the terrible events. Actually, such approach attracts more ordinary people resulting in the rating upgrade and revenues increase accordingly. Contrarily, media have to point to victims and their relatives’ pain, but not describe the killer.

Another way to share shooter’s crime and get popularity are posts on social media. For example, a killer in Virginia filmed one episode, posted his video on Facebook and Twitter “which auto-played on many streams as people shared the posts” (Tufeksi). Unfortunately, he is not the only person who tried to copy the Columbine massacre and become famous. The desire to repeat and surpass predecessors forces the shooters to prepare in advance. For example, Adam Lanza collected news clippings of last mass killings; the adolescent from Maryland was so obsessed with massacre in Columbia that has waited until the same time and only after that killed two persons in a shopping mall. Moreover, in 2014 in Santa Barbara, the gunman killed six people and “left behind a carefully prepared video screed (which many media outlets played or linked to)” (Tufekci). Thus, mass media reports help to create an effect of contagious “fueling” imagination of at-risk humans. One school shooting can cause the next one during a short period. Hence, nowadays shooters have a huge opportunity to show their infamies than ever. They film their terrible manifestoes and post their videos on social media sites.

In conclusion, during the last twenty years, the American youth are turning more and more to violence. From the colonial times, American culture and weapons were closely related, and each US citizen cannot image himself without a gun. Moreover, the modern language is full of gun-related words replacing the commonly accepted ones. Additionally, the free access to weapons only helps adolescents to make their crimes easier. Of course, most of the shooters had some mental problems; however, different other factors had a significant impact on their behavior. For example, the cruel video games and movies, music like Gothic, and some movements affected psyche of the two teenagers who made the Columbine massacre. At the same time, the American desire for fame and obsession with Columbine massacre lead to more mass shootings and pathological desires to surpass the previous killers. Unfortunately, mass media play its negative role in promoting violence and cruelty as the right way to get popularity and fame in the different reality shows and news. Although American youth, in particular teenagers whose personality is being formed, are easy to get influenced by any modern tendency being eager to become famous. The US government has to pay more attention to mass media products and more carefully look for the new ways to solve the problem of mass shootings.  

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