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Abby Martin: How Exceptionalism Fuels America’s Gun Massacres

We recently passed the second anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where twenty helpless children and six staff members were gunned down in cold blood.

Although the targeting of small children is uniquely cruel, school shootings have become notoriously affiliated with America. In fact, there have already been 95 school shootings in 16 states since that fateful day.

As Mother Jones reveals, 21 of those 95 shootings have been deadly. 35 victims have been killed, including the shooters, and 11 more injured. Yet despite their sensational media coverage, they make up only a tiny fraction of gun related deaths. According to the CDC, over 32,000 people died in 2011 from firearms, including suicides.

Still, what is driving members of society to gun down their brothers and sisters, from schools to movie theaters across the country?

Many people will tell you lax gun control. According to a 2013 study, gun ownership is directly correlated to firearm deaths. NPR  states “The US had the highest rate of civilian gun ownership, at almost 90 guns per 100 people. The next two countries on the list were Switzerland and Finland, with about 45 guns per 100 people.”

The problem is more than guns though, considering how we aren’t seeing similar mass shootings in Switzerland or Finland.

Others will double down that the issue is solely about mental health, pointing to the fact that many of the perpetrators were on antidepressants known as SSRIs. But it isn’t that simple, considering the sheer amount of Americans taking these drugs.

According to a 2013 Mayo Clinic study, seven out of ten Americans are on prescription pills, and a whopping 13% are on SSRIs. It also found that antidepressant prescriptions are more common among women, so why aren’t we seeing more people on these drugs, including women, going on murder sprees?

America has an identity crisis. This is a relatively new country compared to the rest of the world, yet it’s the bully that pretends to know war and democracy like no other. Unfortunately, generations of Americans have been told by their political leaders that they are more exceptional human beings than the rest of the world – this sense of privilege is incredibly toxic.

Today Gen Xers and Millennials are raised with unhealthy levels of entitlement, and despite the long dead American Dream, continue to assume that if they just “work hard” they too will become millionaires. Too often than not, they end up in soul sucking positions just to pay off college debt. We are coddled like children in terms of our political knowledge and truncated worldview to maintain mindless consumption, yet told to fend for ourselves when it comes to surviving in the real world. What does this kind of cultural vapidity do to a society?

Children of the empire feel entitled to wealth and power, while seeing their government pillage countries and commit atrocities with total impunity, killing millions of people with no empathy nor consequence. It’s a recipe for internal disaster, where people are taking out this confused sense of self on innocents before removing themselves from the earth.

Instead of addressing a clear cultural crisis, the debate is about mental health, gun control, or how every mass shooting is staged by the government to “take our guns” (even though more laws have been passed that weaken gun regulations since Sandy Hook).

Clearly gun laws and mental health care should be part of the discussion when it comes to America’s deadly problem, but until we realize the complexities that drive our uniquely disturbing social condition, no law will ever stop the bloodshed.


Copyright 2015 Abby Martin

Abby Martin is an artist, activist and journalist whose work can be viewed at http://www.mediaroots.org/. She currently works as a correspondent, writer and host of RT America’s Breaking the Set.


14 comments on “Abby Martin: How Exceptionalism Fuels America’s Gun Massacres

  1. Chris Pearson
    December 21, 2015

    What’s exceptional about the US, in this context, is not so much the fact that so many own a gun, but their reason for wanting to own a gun. In Finland people own guns for hunting; in Switzerland, for repelling a potential invading force (as part of a national militia). But in the US, people buy a gun because they feel a need to protect themselves from their fellow citizens or, potentially, from the government. It’s this climate of mutual fear and suspicion that explains the high number of gun-related deaths – gun-toting citizens on a hair-trigger – and the resulting prevalence of guns just worsens the situation, in a downward spiral. Gun control laws of the sort that are familiar to Europeans will make little headway and little difference until these attitudes change – but lobbying for such laws helps to change attitudes, little by little.


    • Aaron White
      September 2, 2017

      Good points. But what is it about us Americans that allows us to insist we have the right to own all these arms? The notion of ‘American exceptionalism’ does indeed need to be considered. The author is correct in implying that the owning and firing of guns by individual Americans is connected to the society-wide beliefs about us as a nation. It is OK for me to have a lethal weapon because I am a freedom loving American, not one of those bad guy terrorists. Just as it is OK for my nation to invade other countries because we aren’t imperialists. We need to face facts. We Americans have a problem with our beliefs about ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Anthony G. Gorski
    December 15, 2015

    I am torn. Some of what you say is so completely accurate, yet your assumptions are wrong. The people running governments in ancient countries are not better or more knowledgeable about things just because of the age of the country. It does not work that way and it is not inappropriate for the US to make its views known about war and about democracy, as in both, we have few equals. Since the dawn of this country, the drive of individuals and our unity has indeed created an exceptional nation. Whether you gauge it from the incredible governing documents we live under or the astounding progress made in health, our standard of living, science, technology, or any other standard. No, we do not have a da Vinci from the Renaisance period. But that is only because we were not yet in operation. But just imagine if we had been!! (merely jesting). The US is and has been a powerful positive influence on the world, and if you think not, well, I suggest you spend some time with immigrants struggling to come here or those, like my great-grandparents, who came and made a better life for themselves because of the freedoms they found. Or perhps live as a citizen, not a tourist, in Venezuela or Cuba so you can be reminded what exceptionalism means. Has every decision been spot on? No, but that is life. Because humans make the decisions, errors happen also. We learn from them and help those harmed by them.

    Yes, millenials are self centered, entitled, and it is our own fault, for many who were raised to work for their achievements tried so hard to make things so much better for them that the whole cart overturned, resulting in a very shallow, selfish generation. But the millenials are just one generation, and the majority of them will wake to find that they do have to contribute to feed themselves and their families (I predict their late 20s to early 30s will provide a crash course in how everything is not as easy as they thought nor does everything come as a gift from a relative). Their views, faults and qualities, will impact the US, but the Republic will stand and survive, just as it did after the Civil War (which I would say had far more of an impact on the US than the millenials’ first 25+/- years will).

    BUT, your understanding of the American Dream is flat out wrong. The American Dream is alive and well. Part of the proof that I am right is that you have the freedom to write this piece and I have the freedom to publicly tell you that parts are wrong – and neither of us will be harmed or punished for doing so. The American Dream is not money – “work hard and you will be a millionaire” has NEVER been an aspect of the American Dream – it is freedom and democracy and the ability to make your own choices about your life and your path. To take action and compete with others for status or wealth or to choose instead to simply live and care for yourself or your family, no matter your race or background. It is the idea that society will continue to improve and bring with it all those opportunities that we, as Americans, do enjoy.

    You are right that the problem is multifaceted and I believe it requires an approach we have not been able to muster lately – actions by elected officials that are based on the good of the nation, not the number of votes garnered. I used to respect the idea of wisdom from years in Congress, that hard-earned institutional knowledge. However, the abuses seen in the past 30 years trump the concept of a wise elder member schooling the newly elected. Government by the people and for the people has to be reinstated, and the career politician must become a thing of the past. This is the only way that decisions will be made with both eyes focused on the nation and NOT with one eye towards the ballot box and the other toward a life of luxury. It is not government by the people when those elected amass wealth far beyond the average citizen (and beyond their own salary) by selling their influence and investing with information unknown to others. That is criminal and must be eliminated.

    As for the gun issues, I caution you to view statistics with the same distrustful eye as you would a snake on the wooded path. You cannot form accurate analysis, nor make legitimate, beneficial public policy conflating all types of gun deaths into one total and using that number to claim there is an epidemic of school shootings to justify taking away constitutionally protected rights. Steps need to be taken, but no one option has all the answers we need.

    I will say also that the supposed spread of wealth of democratic socialism so easily discussed today in our national campaigns (I shudder) is a fantasy, and mere mirage popping up to capture the minds of those looking for an easy way out of our current economic malaise (another gift for the millenials). It will destroy the very fabric of our nation and we will be ruled by an elite wealthy class of totalitarians and you will wistfully remember “American Excellence” as you scan the empty shelves for toilet paper and flour. Those with resources will leave (as they have in France and other nations attempting to “spread the wealth”) and there will be no one left to tax. The thruth is that in socialism, as in comunism, the wealth is not spread, only the misery.

    Liked by 2 people

    • abubble4me
      January 6, 2016

      That was an amazingly well thought out and intelligent response to an article that I was really struggling to determine what it’s “Point” was. Seemed to me there was a lot of not the problem, not the problem, this is the problem with no suggestions of a remedy, so basically it was pointless.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Anthony G. Gorski
        January 6, 2016

        Not pointless. We have to talk about these issues broadly and invite everyone’s viewpoint in order to avoid being hoodwinked. US citizens have a tendancy to just be lemmings and follow people who make things sound simple. That is what we have done since the mid 1900s, maybe before. The difference now, I believe, is that there is money to be made in politics and so the wrong people run for office for all the wrong reasons.

        As an aside – Think about it – generally, prior to 1950, the way to make money was in the private sector as an industrialist, a real estate investor, a banker, a lawyer, an inventor (and up until the 1950s, you could do all of those things without a college degree) or a doctor. Yes, the big business moguls influenced politicians, but they had no interest in running for office, and politicians had successful private lives after holding office. Now. we have Congressional leaders whose assets and holdings were meager when they came into office and they are now worth millions – but they never left office, never worked in the private sector!! How is that possible? One or two might be clever investors or marry into wealth or have spouses with great private sector success, but not the large numbers we see today. The way they did it is to manipulate the govenment, or use information they gain only because of their position, for thier own benefit. That has to stop.

        As for the gun issue, we have to be careful of the statistics and call out the manipulators. Gun ownership has steadily risen in this country for decades, yet during those same decades, actual criminal activity with a gun has decreased AND violent crime overall has steadily decreased – look at the FBI’s own statistics and published studies by universities, such as Johns Hopkins and I encourage you to look for legitimate sources of statistics. For example, is an at home suicide actually a gun control issue that should be included in gun crime or gun death statistics? If a person shoots someone in self defense, is that an appropriate gun crime or gun death incident to include in gun crime statistics? Filtering out things that are not comparable, dramatically change the statistics.

        As for “mass shootings,” there is no one definition, so we have to be careful that we understand how the term is used in research as well as in editorials (to lead the lemmings…). I have seen elected officials that equate 2 gun deaths to a mass shooting – which means that a murder suicide involving a spouse caught in the act of cheating is a mass shooting. Certainly a tragedy, but not something you or I fear might happen to us randomly on the street. What about 3 dead in the same scenario, but it it the cheater and the lover killed and the jilted spouse kills themselves after driving 5 miles from the original scene. Beyond the general concern for the sanctity of life, that scenario does not make me fear for my spouse of child’s overall safety. Yet only by including these circumstances (ones that almost never include random members of the public as victims) do the numbers reach the levels that gun control advocates cite. An interesting expose would be research on the numbers of shootings that put random members of the public at risk or that may take the lives of persons with no connection to the shooter. Those are the ones that scare me.

        I thought your article was insightful (trust me, I do not spend this much time commenting on poorly written tripe). I sensed in it the struggle most all of us have about the horrible killings of innocents that explode onto the news, which is in our face 24/7. But I also saw in it a thoughtful writer who acknowledged that many clammoring for one answer were simply missing the boat. This problem has been many years in the making. In some ways, it boils down to a “spare the rod, spoil the child” problem. You are absolutely correct – pampered children make TERRIBLE teens and adults. Society’s disrespect for others and willingness to glorify athletes and “winners” has led to decades of bullying among children and adults, resulting in horrible mental health manifestations (that for decades no one was allowed to talk about).

        Taking away our rights (speech – congress is considering a bill that makes it illegal to talk bad about Islam; guns; association – efforts to allow Sharia type doctrines to work into zoning decisions and local ordinances, prohibiting pork at public schools; and allowing entire blocks of cities to be for one sect or another, etc.) does nothing to address the problems we face. We have to take a step back, adjust for the errors we see in what we have done as a nation and then move forward in the way that shows what the US really is and what it stands for. I think that exceptionalism is the answer, not the problem. However, it is exceptionalism of the NATION, its ideals, values and method of governing, NOT the exception of the individual, and that is where we have gone wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Quarterstone Comics
    December 14, 2015

    No one ever took those awards for participation realistically. And I can point you to more studies that show millennials actually focus on being happy and not rich in their careers as well as a slight decrease in loneliness.

    What all these men have in common since 1996 is that they felt belittled and in our culture men aren’t allowed to be anything but strong. They’re sad little boys who lash out in violence, two guys did it once and showed that the insignificant can be significant and finally get even. That they can get recognized. The issue is our culture is more and more figured on getting even. Our justice system is one of revenge. Instead of preventing crimes we merely dole out sentences. You want to blame an entire generation for an abstraction that has merit except it goes against the older generations white privileged view of “working hard gets you what you deserve.” I agree that there’s a sense of privilege in this kids. But its white male privilege. Not millennial “you’re special” sesame street mister rogers infused privilege.

    This mentality in America is summed up best as the prosecutor said in to kill a mockingbird “you felt sorry for a white woman?”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Emily McNamara
    December 14, 2015

    Ineffective parenting, a fool’s pride in ignorance and a need to be the one who hurts before being hurt are killing us. Knowledge of history, society and especially self are vital to preventing future gun attacks. When we sing in church, “God make us servants of all those in need…” and then go home and deny suffrage to all those in need, we are lazy hypocrites and that is why this happens. Ignorance and denial, self-righteous, prideful lack of respect for others, seeing kindness as a weakness instead of the most powerful weapon against the ills of the world…let’s face ourselves and grow.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Zeke
    December 11, 2015

    I think the article is remarkably accurate and truthful. The typical mass shooter is a young adult male who believes himself to be a failure at achieving the “American Dream”. There is no lingerie model girlfriend in his future, no mansion on a hill, no country club membership, no professional degree, no luxury car, and stock market investments. His future looks bleak and lonely, flipping burgers if he’s lucky.

    His high school counselors told him he was expected to go to college and become a doctor or a lawyer. He wasn’t equipped for that, and if one doesn’t fit the mold the system presents, then a reject and a failure is what one is declared at the age of 18. Couple that with mental health issues and you have a suicidal failure who is furious with his whole environment, and wants to get even.

    My only quibble with this article is the call for more gun laws. Invariably, these suicidal mental cases are already violating numerous laws, and just don’t care. I have not heard of one, not one proposal for a new gun law that would have stopped any of these acts. Why punish the people who DIDN’T commit the crime? I used to be a mental health professional, and I truly believe that it is about 90% a mental health issue. We simply no longer have any resources in the US for people whose friends and family my be exhibiting signs of dangerous psychosis. Invariably they show up at the emergency room, are given a prescription for drugs they won’t take and an appointment some weeks in the future for outpatient counseling which they will never keep. Are the freedoms and rights of dangerously crazy people more important than the safety of society in general?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gabriel Orgrease
      December 12, 2015

      I believe that we do have the resources but that they are allocated elsewhere and that there is not the political will to reallocate them toward the general health, mental and otherwise, of our society.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Quarterstone Comics
      January 6, 2016

      Every year 20 percent of students do not graduate or achieve what you described as the American Dream (which I, at 32, so technically a millenial, never was told it was any of those things.) And they aren’t going around doing this on an hourly basis.

      No one envied Elvis having Anne Margaret to the point of mass homicide. The things you don’t like about current pop culture have always been there. The American dream has always been to prosper like Ford, or Hearst, or Marilyn Monroe.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Zeke
        January 7, 2016

        You were never told any of those things? You didn’t notice that a high school drop out on TV, who works as a parking lot attendant is portrayed as living in a million dollar condo and driving a new, expensive car? TV commercials didn’t show you that despite not having enough initiative to shave every day you could expect a life of beautiful women and endless parties if you bought the right beer? You didn’t notice that people like the Kardashians are respected, cared about, and breathlessly reported about for their only redeeming quality, which is wealth for which they apparently expend zero effort?


  6. bigstarlet
    February 23, 2015

    Reblogged this on Thoughts, Raves, and Outright Beatings and commented:
    I’m special so I get to shoot people. No, I’m not being sarcastic. Maybe.


  7. erikleo
    February 22, 2015

    As a Brit (Englishman) I am always shocked when it comes to American gun laws; on the face of it it seems such a foolhardy legislation but of course I find it very sad and realise you have an uphill struggle to undo something you’ve had for over 100yrs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Quarterstone Comics
      January 6, 2016

      Its odd how people want a 2nd amendment to trump the 1st.

      But if we were able to convince people after a 100 years or so they can’t own people outright, I suppose we could make headway here.


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