America’s Abusive Marriage to Gun Culture

The American people are victims of domestic violence. We are the abused spouse of U.S. Gun Culture.

Definitions of Abuse

“Domestic abuse occurs whenever one person in an intimate relationship or marriage tries to dominate and control the other person. Domestic violence and abuse are used for one purpose and one purpose only:  to gain and maintain total control” (helpguide.org).

“An abuser doesn’t ‘play fair.’ Abusers use fear, guilt, shame, and intimidation to wear you down and keep you under his or her thumb. Your abuser may also threaten you, hurt you, or hurt those around you” (helpguide.org).

The relationship with an abuser is always one-sided. The abuser is obsessed with his or her personal needs, and is therefore neglectful of others’ needs and dismissive of their rights, dignity, and worth.

“The first step to breaking free is recognizing that your situation is abusive. Once you acknowledge the reality of the abusive situation, you can get the help you need” (helpguide.org).

America’s Abusive Marriage

The American people continually plead, “We are hurting. We are worried. This isn’t working. We don’t feel safe. Our children aren’t safe. We can’t continue like this. We need a different approach.”

Yet instead of engaging in a solutions-oriented conversation, Gun Culture responds like the typical abusive partner. Blame shifting. Disrespecting boundaries. Gaslighting – the psychological manipulation of a person toward questioning their own sanity.

Traits of an Abusive Person

  • They accuse or blame you of things you know aren’t true.
  • They try to make you feel as though they are always right, and you are wrong.
  • They make excuses for their behavior, try to blame others, and have difficulty apologizing.
  • The repeatedly cross your boundaries.
  • The repeatedly ignore your requests.
  • They are emotionally distant or emotionally unavailable most of the time. They don’t show empathy or compassion.
  • They play the victim and try to deflect blame to you rather than taking personal responsibility.

Political Examples

  • They accuse or blame you of things you know aren’t true.

Hillary Clinton wants “to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment.” Trump, 2016 campaign

Instead, the majority of Americans and gun safety advocates are in favor of bipartisan measures that support the 2nd Amendment, such as background check improvements, mental health restrictions, strengthening gun dealer licensing, alert laws, and state-controlled concealed carry.

  • They try to make you feel as though they are always right, and you are wrong.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn’t a guns situation.” Trump’s response to a reporter’s gun legislation question after the Sutherland Springs mass shooting, October 2017

  • They make excuses for their behavior and try to blame others.

“To all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs . . . You can’t regulate evil.” Matt Bevin, the Governor of Kentucky

  • The repeatedly cross your boundaries.

“The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to an end… You have a true friend and champion in the White House.” Trump, Addressing the National Rifle Association, April 2017

  • The repeatedly ignore your requests.

After the tragedy in Las Vegas, neither Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, nor Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, responded to a call from Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, for the establishment of a bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence, which would “study and report back common-sense legislation to help end the crisis” (Cassidy, 2017, newyorker.com).

  • They are emotionally distant or emotionally unavailable most of the time. They don’t show empathy or compassion.

“My warmest sympathies and condolences to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!” Trump via Twitter, October 2017

  • They play the victim and try to deflect blame to you rather than taking personal responsibility.

“No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.” Trump, May 2017

In Contrast:  Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships are free from power plays. Both partners recognize that they sometimes have different feelings, needs, and interests. They come together to communicate clearly and honestly about concerns, and each person listens to and acknowledges the other. Partners respond with empathy to the other’s feelings, regardless of whether they agree. Healthy relationships show emotional reciprocity, conversational bi-directionality, mutual and considerate problem solving, compromise, respect for one another’s voice, and listening to understand instead of merely trying to “win” a point or an argument.

Masculine/Feminine Balance:  A True Partnership

One of the conditions that has primed the American people for this violent, destructive marriage is our culture’s Masculine/Feminine imbalance. Although we tend to associate male and female with biological bodies, both Masculine and Feminine traits actually exist in each person. Our collective consciousness upholds symbols of what it means to be male or female. Maleness has long represented assertiveness, aggression, strength, destruction, logic, intellect, society, infrastructure, politics, law, order, and civilization. Conversely, internalized messages about feminine traits, aptitudes and roles imagine that females embody receptivity, emotion, compassion, nurturing, intuition, sensitivity, caregiving, creativity, nature, and wilderness (Gawain and King, 2011, innerself.com).

“As a result, men imbalanced toward over-masculinity would repress and deny their intuition, emotional feelings, sensitivity, and nurturing.” On the other hand, an imbalanced woman could be prone toward repressed assertiveness, limiting action and personal choice, dependency, dismissing personal intellect, and “considering themselves unable to function effectively and strongly in the world” (innerself.com).

In particular, ecofeminism offers a helpful perspective toward living more balanced lives in healthier, safer communities, its implications encompassing environmental sustainability, racism, sexism, social ecology, religious ecology, child welfare, and anti-nuclear advocacy.

Yet unfortunately, because of the value hierarchy and false dualities described by ecofeminists, our society attaches more autonomy, power, and privilege to masculinity and therefore men, whereas viewing femininity, women, and nature as rightfully conquered, owned, and subordinated by men and civilization.

As individuals, we can only thrive when the masculine and feminine are balanced in our lives. To be whole, a man needs to be strong AND sympathetic. A mature woman embraces nurturing AND personal wisdom and strength.

Furthermore, if ours were a healthy, whole, balanced society, it would value national strength and freedom, establishing a strong, competent defense while ALSO caring for the sick, poor, and those seeking refuge. Military powers would never wield force for profit, and a safe and enriching education for all children would be prioritized. In all things we would insist on the equal worth and dignity of all people.

Gender Imbalance

One of the ironic tragedies of gender imbalance both in intimate partnerships and in socially-sanctioned supremacy ideologies is that domination crushes everyone’s quality of life. For example, in a poignant examination of U.S. race dynamics, Christian theologian Mike McHargue insists that, “Racism destroys Black bodies, but it also destroys White souls.”

Interpersonally, only in equal partnership can we find freedom, joy, trust, respect, emotional relief, support, and true intimacy. Similarly, on a social scale, we need safe, stable, healthy lives and communities in order to have the baseline from which to collectively tend to our inevitable challenges – childhood crises, disease, natural disaster, climate change, agriculture and food supply, quality education, reliable infrastructure. Instead, Gun Culture – a symptom of White male supremacy’s fear and entitlement, racism and sexism – makes everyone ill, everyone weak, everyone unsafe. This violent marriage prevents the entire nation from thriving.

Limiting Access to Maintain Control

One of the most disturbing problems about our relationship with Gun Culture is that the abuse has escalated to where he is no longer even letting us out of the house. Jealous and possessive, obsessed with control, the abusive partner often seeks to isolate his victim from communicating with others, thus limiting her knowledge and support to keep her weak and powerless.

On the political scale, House Republicans have recently and repeatedly blocked the creation of a bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence which would allow the development of research-based public safety policies. Similarly, it was illegal for American slaves to read or be taught to read. Both are examples of those in power limiting access to knowledge in order to maintain status quo systems of domination.

These deliberate, carefully orchestrated restrictions are historically-recurring patterns designed to prevent access to information, resources, relationships, and opportunities to ultimately restrict the oppressed from achieving safety, independence, equality, or representation. Therefore, throughout human history, legislation to limit the language, education, family, and economic rights of subjugated people has been systemically upheld and enforced by dominant sociopolitical groups.

Oppression and abuse in the home and at large are fundamentally the same, following similar patterns and techniques. Indeed, the abusive partner mirrors the worst of society’s hyper-masculine privileges and depravity, while the oppressive society plays out on the grand stage the role of the domineering, abusive spouse.

Yet a major obstacle to America’s ability to separate from and discontinue the violent relationship is that “the victim of the abuse quite often doesn’t see the mistreatment as abusive. They deny and minimize in order to deal with the stress” (Davenport, liveboldandbloom.com).

Exactly. Too many Americans unquestioningly concede questions of decency, morality, and human rights to current political structures and traditional legislation.

Enabling a Bully

An enabler is a person who makes something possible, specifically one who allows and encourages negative or destructive behavior in another. Although the enabler’s supportive role is usually not a conscious one, an enabler’s choices or withheld actions allow abuse to continue. Many well-meaning gun rights proponents unknowingly uphold this role. Enabling behaviors include:

  • Dismissing the seriousness of a problem.
  • Excusing the perpetrator’s behaviors.
  • Justifying the abuser’s choices.
  • Denying the truth.
  • Minimizing the impact the abuser is having on people around him.
  • Learned helplessness that admits a problem, but avoiding/denying own responsibility for or ability to insist on changes.
  • Denying self-worth. Denying that self or others have enough value to deserve a peaceful, abuse-free life engaged in only mutually-respectful relationships.
  • Selective observation
  • Compulsively escaping into unrelated or meaningless distractions in order to avoid uncomfortable feelings and difficult changes.

Leaving an abusive marriage is not disloyal to the institution of marriage any more than asserting against violence and insisting on common sense gun legislation disrespects American rights or the 2nd Amendment. If anything, aside from establishing personal safety and peace, both are a commitment to healthy individuals, relationships, families, and communities. Setting boundaries with destructive people and forces is sane, loving, and morally obligational.

Parallels between Responses to Gun Violence and Domestic Violence

There is another chilling problem with Gun Culture’s pattern of scoffing at the pleas and minimizing the concerns of gun safety advocates. Not only does it reveal itself as being as singularly preoccupied with their own rights-and-needs as the narcissistic spouse is, but turning a blind eye and a deaf ear also perfectly fits the way our culture responds to victims of domestic violence.

Questioning the validity of the female experience is an old, common, insidious symptom of misogyny. Note here that when the feminine is discounted, suppressed, or subjugated, it isn’t only or all men who do it, nor is it only women who experience it. Rather,  groups or values who have been determined to have lower status – women, people of color, children, the environment, men who don’t conform to a hyper-masculine identity, women who don’t conform to hyper-femininity – are systematically discounted and demeaned. As a result, “countless women are told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever,” lately more popularly and succinctly known as mansplaining. “The out-and-out confrontational confidence of the ignorant is, in my experience, gendered” (Solnit, The Problem with Men Explaining Things2012).

Violence is one way to silence people, to deny their
voice and their credibility, to assert your right to
control over their right to exist.

~ Rebecca Solnit

 

Implications

Gun Culture is a large system of patterns – a deeply embedded culture of toxic masculinity, an organized institution of hugely funded special interests, the depravity of a multi-billion dollar firearms industry. I am not suggesting that most gun rights proponents or apologists are themselves abusive people.

Regardless, enough is enough. The marriage started off well. Our once handsome, flattering spouse promised protection, responsibility, tradition, moral purity, family values. A certain and predictable future. Gun Culture Apologists, it isn’t your fault that things have gotten out of control, and that he now regularly beats you and has raped and murdered some of your children.

The problem is, Apologists, you are now complicit in the abuse. You started off as a type of victim, too, but you are lately becoming the mother who lashes out when your son complains of his bruises and contusions. “Ungrateful, disloyal brat! Look at all your father does for us. He puts food on the table! He protects us! He deserves our support. He is stressed! You have no idea what a difficult life he has had… He means well.”  You have become the mother who walks in from work, sees your boyfriend sexually abusing your daughter through the bedroom doorway, makes direct eye contact with her, then walks away, pretending to have seen nothing. You are now the parent who just slapped your teenager across the face and called her a liar and a slut when she finally, courageously disclosed months of sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted family member.

This metaphor is not perfect. NO ONE asks for or deserves violence or abuse. Regarding actual domestic violence, I am not victim blaming. (Domestic violence victims face horribly complicated challenges to keeping themselves and family members safe.) However, in America’s marriage to Gun Culture, supporting this possibly-once-noble relationship has become a deeply destructive manner of enabling that can no longer be excused. Today, we simply have too much information about the large-scale destructive capacity of modern weapons technologies and reliable international methods of improving public safety while supporting gun ownership rights to continue refusing needed changes.

Enough is Enough

I will not dismiss our country’s brand of gun violence as a cosmic evil that we are helpless against. The U.S. Constitution never promised unregulated gun rights. If it had, I would still stand against them. Do you know who didn’t participate in the framing of the Constitution? Women. Mothers. Slaves. Grandmothers. Do you know who is grossly absent from U.S. legislative processes today? Women. Mothers. People of color. Grandmothers. Mental health professionals. Medical experts. Social workers. K-12 teachers. Early childhood experts. Psychologists. Theologians. Historians. Our policymaking bodies are not nearly diverse nor multidisciplinary enough to claim the legitimacy of their conclusions in such grave matters.

As mothers, we create and support new life within us, then give our entire bodies and souls to nurture our children’s full, long lives. Gun Culture’s insistence on individual, unregulated right to military weaponry that silences our voices and keeps our communities in distress and indiscriminately destroys lives and ends children’s bodies is a disgusting, abusive lie – a twisted, warped, ugly manipulation of reality. Apologists, neither Gun Culture nor your dysfunctional enabling of it have any right to any of our children, young or old.

For those who find yourselves defending rigid, no-holds-barred gun rights stances in light of this new era of mass assault, I ask you to do some work of the mind and heart to understand international gun safety measures, America’s historical undercurrent of White male supremacy, the tenets of healthy interpersonal and community relationships, and your own likely unexamined patterns of defending authoritarian leadership styles.

And to those who, in the wake of each new massacre, try to silence safety advocates as opportunistic:  The morning that a wife presents in public bleeding and bruised, her husband’s death threats still ringing in her ears, is exactly the appropriate time to demand change and get her to safety.

No act could be less political.

 

 

References

Author Unknown. (2015). Ecofeminism: A Global Crisis. YouTube

Cassidy. (2017). Las Vegas, Gun Violence, and the Failing American State. newyorker.com

Davenport. 30 Signs Of Emotional Abuse. liveboldandbloom.com

Gawain and King. (2011). Wholeness in Relationships: Expressing Both Masculine And Feminine Energies. innerself.com

McHargue. (2016). Episode 34: Black and White – Racism in America. The Liturgists Podcast. theliturgists.com

Smith and Segal. (2017). Domestic Violence and Abuse: Recognizing the Signs of an Abusive Relationship and Getting Help. helpguide.org

Solnit. (2012). The Problem with Men Explaining Things. motherjones.com

 

Recommendations

Brown. The Power of Vulnerability. TEDxHouston. ted.com

Brown. (2015). The Courage to Be Vulnerable. OnBeing with Krista Tippett. onbeing.org

Brown. (2012). Listening to Shame. TED Talk. ted.com

Harding, (2011). Civility, History and Hope. onbeing.org