Jan 302023

Acts of gun violence are a regular occurrence in the United States, prompting repeated calls for gun control of various forms. Unfortunately, these calls for legal reform fail, an occurrence as consistent as the gun violence that prompted the calls for reform. Perhaps it is time that the entire scenario be questioned, as there might be a better way to address this entrenched problem.

That better way is narratives! At an individual level we all have stories about our own life, some more central and others more minor. For instance, a person might view their athletic ability as a central self-narrative. In a similar fashion, nations have narratives that help to define them. In the United States arguably the most powerful narrative is, THE GUN. The west was won by the gun, and the cowboy-gun narrative is potent. Freedom and democracy represent another prominent narrative, although, maybe less robust than THE GUN, because democracy and freedom were largely won by the gun, as in World War II.

Of crucial significance, narratives are fiction and not reality, although they are treated like the real thing. For example, a cowboy and his gun—what could be more accurate? As it turns out, cowboys in the past and the few remaining in the present, can live just fine without a gun, but need a rope. For the true cowboy a rope is more important, but the storyline, “The west was won by the rope” does not really resonate well, even though it is more accurate. Given the power of prominent fictional narratives like THE GUN, trying to advance gun control is likely as effective as bringing a pellet gun to a tank battle. Might the power of narratives provide a way to make a real change in gun violence?

The key strategy that needs to be employed is to first change the prominent narrative to create fertile ground for legal changes. Take England where a prominent narrative is the monarchy and its role over centuries. If for some reason the monarchy was dangerous, trying to legislate its removal would be impossible given the power of the Royal Family narrative. Instead, this narrative would have to be diluted and weakened, such as by showing that the monarchy was not so important to England and maybe even detrimental. Then with the power of the Royal Family national narrative greatly diminished, legislating the abolition of it might be feasible. Likewise, if media, documentary and other filmmakers, writers, and leading figures, strongly questioned THE GUN narrative in the United States to dilute and weaken the power, then and only then, might legislative changes favoring gun control have a chance!

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