By Gloria J. Browne-Marshall
America is addicted to violence. It is a centuries old addiction. The addict is in denial. Like any true addict, this country makes empty promises about getting clean obsessing only on the next fix. Resistance to gun control marks the depth of America’s addiction to violence. Without intervention, there will be no recovery.
Twenty-six lives taken at the Sandy Hook Elementary School with a weapon meant for war. A weapon purchased legally, used for pleasure, which ended; the owner’s life while she slept. Yet, the NRA response is more guns, not less. They, like most Americans, are hooked on violence.
Violence is in America’s blood. America was a child of violence-addicted parents. She rose out of the ashes of Revolutionary War, having committed patricide. There has been relatively little peace since then. War of 1812. Civil War. World War I. World War II. Korean War. Vietnam War. Grenada. Iraq I, II. Afghanistan. And, there has been genocide practiced against Native Americans. Lynching of African-Americans. Threat of Atomic War. Cuban Missile Crisis. 100 years of race riots. Mob killings. Pearl Harbor. Iran hostages. Then, 9/11.
America’s violence addiction is complex. This long history of violence leads to its normalization. Addiction has become a way of life. Just like a functioning alcoholic, America functions well, most of the time, despite her violence addiction. However, the addiction is no longer manageable. It is interfering with business, family, and pleasure. Movie theaters, schools, parks, restaurants, offices, and malls are no longer safe. Sandy Hook, and the murders of 2012, revealed the addict in sharp relief.
However, this country is in denial. America believes it is powerful enough to control its addiction by shear will. An addiction is a compulsive need characterized by a high tolerance for the object of addiction and symptoms of withdrawal once the object of addiction is taken away. Drugs and alcohol, if used properly, are an effective tool. When they are abused they, like guns, can result in death.
Gun violence is killing this country. It is no longer a game or simple thrill. There is a desperate need to see violence in video games, movies, and television. Real-life murder cases are used for television entertainment. Fictional programs feature grisly murders and insane murderers. Serial killers now have fan clubs. Murder trials are modern soap operas. Like a crack addict, Americans crave and fear violence.
Violence-addicted Americans need a sobriety program. Under the AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, program, the first step is admitting to powerlessness over the addiction. Americans are powerless over their desire for violence. Violence is part of American culture, history, and custom. Guns are not going away completely. The Second Amendment gives the right to bear arms. The desire to kill can be controlled.
Americans fear violence and buy guns fueled by that fear. Guns, like drugs, provide a false sense of well-being. As heroin addicts receive methadone or another drug to wean them from addiction, America needs to focus on life instead of death. Like self-esteem, a sense of true security must come from within.
AA Step Two calls on an outside power. Federal gun control legislation is the outside power. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of more guns, Congress can create a safer America where the option is not a bigger gun with more rounds of ammunition. Legislation must include penalties for gun trafficking, a definitive ban on assault weapons, and limited the number of rounds.
Fear of other Americans is greater than fear of an outside invasion. In AA Step Four, the addict must take a fearless moral inventory. This country must assess its relationship with violence. Violence-addicts address conflict with more violence. Whether stockpiled for Armageddon, zombies, or a race war, most weapons are purchased to take American lives. A fearless moral inventory would mean more than a political sound-bite or hypercritical preaching.
AA Step Eight requires a list of persons harmed and a willingness to make amends to them. If paranoia concerning an upcoming race war is based America’s history of violence then reconciling that history is the answer, not more guns, and more violence. When several grief-stricken Sandy Hook parents spoke of love and life and forgiveness, it was movement toward recovery.
Step ten may be the most difficult. It requires an addict to admit wrong-doing. This means admitting violence begat violence. Under Step Twelve, having had a spiritual awakening as the result of this program, addicts must carry this message to other addicts.
Congress is waiting.
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College in New York City, is author of “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present” and a legal correspondent covering the U.S. Supreme Court.