Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Gun culture may be harder to change than gun laws

Katherine J. Wu

Staff writer, The Atlantic

Guns are part of everyday American life. Then: If Donald Trump is attempting to pave a path back to the White House in 2024, the road ahead just got a little rockier.

10 years after Sandy Hook

Two black-and-white images of adults hugging children
(AP / Getty / The Atlantic)

Connecticut is where 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School almost a decade ago. Today, it is also a state in which it is still very easy to legally carry a gun. My colleague Graeme Wood, a Connecticut resident and gun enthusiast, proved just how easy last weekend, when he enrolled in a daylong class on guns and gun safety—the primary obstacle standing between him and a bona fide certification to carry a lethal weapon.

Anyone, Graeme observes, “with an IQ higher than a mango’s could pass” the class, which cost about $75. After that, it’s simply a matter of presenting yourself and your fingertips to the police, and paying a small fee. Anyone who’s not registered with the government as a criminal or psychiatric inpatient, and is not an “illegal” resident, is expected to be green-lit for gun ownership.

“I asked the instructor, who had spent decades working in fire and law enforcement, whether the officers at my local police station might refuse to issue me a carry permit, just because they thought I looked squirrelly and mentally unstable,” Graeme writes. “‘If they rejected people on that basis, do you think I’d have a permit?’ he joked. ‘But seriously. You could go in wearing your underpants on the outside and it wouldn’t matter.’”

Certainly this pipeline could be tightened. But, as Graeme explains, such a change might not make much of a difference—in Connecticut, or anywhere else in the United States. Nearly 400 million guns—many more than there were when Sandy Hook was attacked—are in civilian hands in the country already, woven into the fabric of daily life, and embedded deeply into American culture. Yesterday, an 18-year-old man carried one of them, a rifle, into an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and killed at least 19 children and two adults. In the aftermath of the tragedy, people across the world are grieving; parents are fearful for their kids’ lives. And yet, little seems likely to change. Whatever will may exist for reform and gun control, my colleague Ronald Brownstein writes, this country’s political infrastructure probably won’t let any meaningful legislative action through.

That doesn’t mean we remain complacent. “These kids and all the people who die every day,” the emergency physician Megan Ranney told me, “deserve better than for us to forget them.”

yellow flowers behind plastic in a cemetery
(Thomas Hoepker / Magnum)

The rest of the news in three sentences:

  1. In Georgia’s primary last night, the candidate endorsed by former President Trump was beaten out by Governor Brian Kemp; Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who refused to play along with Trump’s election-fraud fantasy, won his race too.
  2. China, in an attempt to further its zero-COVID approach, will try regular mass testing for the coronavirus, risking further economic stress.
  3. With the Supreme Court set to overturn Roe v. Wade, genetic testing for fetal anomalies may be poised for a big shift.

Latest dispatches: Conor Friedersdorf surveys the responses to the Uvalde, Texas, mass shooting in media and among politicians [Up for Debate]. Yair Rosenberg writes that the 2009 sitcom Better Off Ted was hilariously prescient [Deep Shtetl].

Tonight’s Atlantic-approved activity: Read Carl Dennis’s poem “At the Graveyard With Anne.”

A break from the news: David Sims delivers a mixed verdict on Alex Garland’s film Men.

1 reply »

  1. I’ve never met a serious person in favor of gun control. They’re always fuckin tards. Every libertarian, communist, conservative or whatever with an IQ above a mango knows that just means police state.

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