Monday, May 21, 2018


Writing for The Washington Post, Petula Dvorak asks, "Can Americans ditch guns the way we ditched cigarettes?"
Not that long ago, cigarettes were completely woven into American culture. The Marlboro Man, posters telling us: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette,” even the armrests on planes and all our cars were designed for smokers.

And now? Not so much.

Can it work like that with guns?

... somehow, within a couple generations, we’ve altered the culture of smoking in our country. In 2016, just 15 of every 100 adults aged 18 and older were smokers — a huge decline from the 1960s.

Can gun culture be similarly uncoupled from Americana?
Gun control can reduce the bloodshed, but I don't think we'll ever really make a dent in the problem until the country, including red America, begins to regard ownership of huge arsenals and quasi-military weapons as appalling and excessive. The culture will also have to start notice that our easy commerce in guns is making it far too easy for the sociopathic, the reckless, and the suicidal to shed blood.

But even if individuals turn away from the gun culture as it exists now, defenders of the culture will still dominate the debate, just as they do now, because of the NRA and right-wing media.

I know that industry lobbyists fought hard to save the tobacco culture. But the tobacco industry was never able to persuade heartlanders that smoking was a way to get back at elitist liberals who wanted to control ordinary people's lives. That's the message we would have heard if the surgeon general's report had been issued in 2004 rather than 1964.

Fox and the rest of the right-wing media would have worked closely with the tobacco industry to discredit the report as "junk science," just the way the right-wing media now works to discredit legitimate climate science. Any links between smoking and disease would have been mocked as fantasies cooked up by agenda-driven liberals determined to exercise social control for its own sake. Smoking would be identified with patriotism and freedom; Fox hosts would personally do a lot of on-air smoking. The science would be mocked at Drudge and Breitbart, on talk radio, and in right-wing podcasts and YouTube videos. (I'm sure Alex Jones would have many fascinating theories.)

As long as we have a right-wing media with as much power as it has now, and as long as its sworn mission is to oppose anything liberals support, cultural change will be tremendously difficult -- especially if the Republican Party remains as dominant as it is today. In the years following the surgeon general's report, the anti-smoking message met less resistance than it would meet now.

So I think change on guns will come slowly, if at all. Conservatism has too much power.

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