Only in America

Jonathan Drake / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

What does the dissenting mail look like, when I publish an item like this one, arguing that Mitch McConnell illustrates the pious hypocrisy of those who are “deeply saddened” by gun massacres but obstruct efforts to prevent them, or round-ups of reader responses like this?

Here is a representative sample.

Draconian controls. I said in my McConnell item that the NRA had successfully equated any proposed control on gun use and ownership with total control. (We recognize that DUI laws and liability-insurance requirements don’t amount to confiscation of your car, but that distinction disappears when we’re talking about guns.) One dissenting note illustrates this outlook:

Sorry, but I'm guessing you'll favor draconian gun laws no matter what the crime rate or frequecy of mass killings. I also suspect that you'll carry water for the anti-gun Left no matter what, and that you'll keep ginning up facts to supoport that cultural/ideological project.

I'm sure that you and your fellow East Coast journalist colleagues will cover for Feinstein, Schumer, Pelosi, and company when federal  agents kill some innocent people in the course of enforcing the gun laws you favor the way you did back in the early '90s.  Will you have "blood on your hands" then?

Frankly, I'm sorry I ever got into the habit of looking at Atlantic Online. I suppose I assumed it was the same publication that Michael Kelley edited years ago. I won't do it again, though.


Could you provide an example of where the proposed controls have worked? I believe this is a fair and reasonable question to ask.

We have background checks last I looked.

And if you ban a weapon like the demonized AR15...who pays for the rifles as they are turned in? Do you really believe they will all be turned in even if you could get it passed?

This knee-jerk reaction every time this happens, pretending that gun control is the answer without any evidence is not helpful.

Would you favor the death penalty for anyone possessing an unlawful firearm?

Again, I think these are fair questions you left unanswered in your article.

For an example of where proposed controls have made a difference, I would offer: the entire rest of the world. All developed countries contain mentally ill people. Only in the United States do these people repeatedly engage in large-scale slaughter with guns. Only in the United States do significant numbers of people argue that policies or controls could not possibly make a difference.


Culture  is the problem. A reader who, like me, grew up in California in the Baby Boom era, argues:

After each of these mass shootings I ask myself what has happened to American culture and Americans over the past 50 years to bring this about.

I turn on the TV, read the newspapers and all people are talking about is gun control.

I think about the old Wall Street Journal 'No Guardrails’ editorial which cites 1968 and the Democratic Convention as a critical point when our nation began to devalue self restraint.

Mr. Fallows: you and I grew up during the period of self restraint that preceded the late 1960’s, a time when family, religion, community had more importance in American culture and greater effect on individual behavior than today. We can’t turn back the clock but we should at least be honest with ourselves about what has changed in America over a 50 year period such that mass shootings are happening with increased frequency. I submit that is has more to do with behavior than with guns and gun availability.

Atlantic magazine is featuring stories about 1968 this year. Maybe this is a good opportunity to examine the cultural changes in America since 1968 and to try to honestly analyze the consequences for American culture of the shift from a dependence on local institutions for our unwritten rules and codes of behavior to the impersonal forces of big and centralized government. It might also be productive to examine the consequence of rejecting judeo-christianity as a part of our cultural infrastructure.

As I wrote back to this reader, I do indeed recognize that culture continually changes, and has since the time of my youth.

But it’s changed all around the  world, in many places more dramatically than in the United States. (Compare the China of the 1960s to this era — or Japan, or Korea, or South Africa, or Russia.) Only in the United States are the cultural changes expressed through nonstop mass shootings.