American Exceptionalism

“American Exceptionalism” has meant different things at different times. Usually, however, the meanings ascribed to that phrase have been positive. Over at The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Parlor, however, “El Jefe” has described a far less rosy aspect of our exceptionalism.

As a country, the US is 4.4% of the world’s population, yet we own 42% of the world’s guns.  Let that sink in.  Our homicide rate in the US is over 300% that of the average of the rest of the OECD.

As he also points out, there are many ways in which the population of the U.S. is not exceptional.

  1. Do we have mental health problems?  Of course, but so does every other country.
  2. Do we sell violent video games?  Yes, but so does every other country.
  3. Do we have violent television shows and movies?  Yes, but so does every other country.
  4. Do we have a breakdown in the family unit?  Yes, but so does every other country.
  5. How about churches?  Are our churches shrinking?  Yes, but they are doing the same in other countries.

What we have that other countries don’t have–or at least, don’t have as much of–is guns. Lots and lots of guns.

After the Las Vegas mass shooting, Americans engaged in what has now become a ritual of hand-wringing and mutual recriminations. Critics of our lax gun regulations pointed out that large majorities of Americans (including a majority of NRA members) want to tighten those restrictions; defenders of the armament status-quo insisted that widespread gun ownership equals “freedom.”

Although most of the commentary rehashed arguments we hear after every mass shooting–and we have a lot of mass shootings–I did learn something new, and it was both terrifying and encouraging. Half of the 265 million guns in the U.S. are owned by 3% of the population–and only 22% of us own any firearms.

It’s encouraging to know that my non-armed household is in the majority; the news–and the high number of gun deaths– sometimes make it seem as if every American old enough to lift a gun owns one.

What’s terrifying is the likelihood that  (with the possible exception of people who may be collecting historic muskets and powder-horns) the 3% who possess vast arsenals are scary dudes.

We don’t know nearly enough about gun owners or gun violence, because Congress refuses to allow the CDC or other agencies to fund research on the subject. But USA Today recently reported on a privately-financed survey of gun ownership.

Researchers found that the top reason people owned guns was for protection from other people, even though the rate of violent crime has dropped significantly the past two decades, said Deborah Azrael, director of research at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and one of the study’s authors.

Azrael said the study tried to update numbers and trends that hadn’t been reviewed in two decades. Separate reports on background checks and gun storage, based on the same survey, are scheduled to be released later this year.

“In a country where 35,000 people a year die by firearms, we haven’t been able to come out with a survey on gun violence for 20 years,” she said. “That’s a real failure of public health and public policy.”

The study also found that gun owners tend to be white, male, conservative, and residents of rural areas. Presumably–hopefully–that means that most of them are hunters, not crazed militia-men. On the other hand, a lot of America’s guns are handguns: the study found 111 million handguns nationwide, a 71% increase from the 65 million handguns in 1994.

So long as we have Trump in the White House and a Congress wholly-owned by the NRA and the gun manufacturers, we are unlikely to impose the sorts of reasonable restrictions that other countries have found effective, and we’re equally unlikely to get the kind of research we need.

I’d really like to know more about that 3%……


  1. People that own guns tend to have a kind of militant attitude about owning them and the NRA has Run a remarkable propaganda campaign. Maybe the Dem party could learn from their tactics? Maybe, maybe not.

  2. I happened to watch a portion of 60 Minutes last night. A story about the DEA caught my attention. The point of the story was that congress is paid for by lobbyists – in this case, pharma. But NRA, big Pharma, big Banks, investment firms – take your pick – own our congress and much of the rest of the government infrastructure at all levels. IMHO the country is so corrupted that it is close to extinction, or already extinct. We are in desperate need of a person or a group capable of developing and executing a plan to recapture our government. It will be a difficult, dirty and protracted fight, but it has to start. Soon.

  3. In addition to the usual “after-massacre-hand-wringing” sales at gun shops increased again. This time, “bump stocks” are in demand. After all, everyone with 5 assault rifles and a thousand rounds of ammo needs to have an ersatz machine gun, doesn’t he? It’s nice to know that the actual number of these crazies is only about 3%. I would have guessed a higher number.

  4. Sheila,

    “Half of the 265 million guns in the U.S. are owned by 3% of the population”

    “We don’t know nearly enough about gun owners or gun violence, because Congress refuses to allow the CDC or other agencies to fund research on the subject.”

    “I’d really like to know more about that 3%……”

    For one thing, Congress has cut off funds to investigate extremists organizations such as the K.K.K, Alt-Right, American Nazi Party and other extremists organizations.

    All we are left with is a body count of extremists organizations provided by the “Intelligence Reports” from the Southern Poverty Law Center which is no more effective than would be a body count of Jews being cremated in Concentration Camps.

    Most of these extremists organizations are part of a massive SECRETIVE, SUB-SURFACE WEB containing vital nodes, very similar to the web-like ORGANIZATIONAL STRATEGY used by the Christian Coalition in earlier times.

    Just a guess, the 3% figure probably comes about because of the concentration of firearms within NODES controlled by individuals. In other words, something like ARSENALS. As I said, this is only an unsubstantiated guess because there are no government funds to properly investigate. Just another American exceptionalism. At least, Germany has tried.

    ar-se-nal (ar’so nel) n. [< Ar dar assina a, workshop] 1. A place for making or storing weapons 2. A store or collection

  5. Incidentally, you may want to read up on the 3 percenters. This is a particularly scary movement that encourages rebellion. While the number may be coincidental, the group is among those highly armed and is also increasingly scary in their rhetoric.

  6. It actually is even worse than not being able to fund research, in good old FLA and many other red states, it’s illegal for doctors to ask their patients questions about guns in the home and how they are stored.

  7. 3% of the entire population? If so, that is over nine million people! That’s an army.

    I’ve run into a few of that 3% in my lifetime. All were white males, all uneducated, all Christian conservatives. Two of these men stockpiled weapons and ammo believing that some kind of “end times” were coming. They were like those people who give all of their possessions away and take to a mountain top because the world will end on such and such date; only these nut jobs want to protect their stuff from some imagined enemy.

    The one man sold his house and moved to Florida where he bought a house that had a bomb shelter and stocked it with thousands of rounds of ammo to fight off the people who, he imagined, would soon storm his place looking for food because society had collapsed. This was in response to the craziness surrounding the turn of the century from 1999 to 2000 and the worry that computers would fail.

    The other man stocked his basement with all kinds of survival gear and guns and ammo because after the 2012 election he was convinced that Obama was coming for his guns. He bragged about his actions to his incredulous neighbors after church one Sunday. They were polite to his face, but the rural community spent the next week in gales of laughter and ridicule behind his back.

    Those who own a gun for “self protection” are telling the world that they are willing to kill another human being. What a damning thing to reveal about one’s self.

  8. Nancy; I view the NRA as one of this country’s most dangerous organizations for a number of reasons. For about five years I was licensed to carry a handgun; being stalked by my ex-husband and parking in Market Square Arena parking garage where there were periodic problems with rapes and attacks was my reason. It was often still dark when I got to work and at times, nearing dark when I left. I was trained in the care and use of my handgun and licensed to carry; when I moved out of this state and no longer felt the NEED for protection, I sold my handgun. I understand some people’s need for self-protection; the mass shootings have nothing to do with self-protection and it is rare that the shooters are found to have diagnosed mental problems.

    Years ago, I was told by my Marine husband that part of basic training included holding their rifle in one hand and their penis in the other while chanting; “This is my weapon, this is my gun; one for protection the other for fun.” If true, and our military were/are trained to develop this mindset; it is no wonder men feel the need to amass and convert military weapons to fully automatic to kill as many victims as possible in the shortest length of time. Most of them; too cowardly to surrender, kill themselves, often denying us the possibility of knowing their “reasons”.

    This is a violent country; children grow up on Mother Goose (think to yourselves some of her poetry), Roadrunner and Bugs Bunny cartoons and the Three Stooges…all violent “entertainment” for children. Cowboys and Indians movies instilled in most of us our initial indoctrination of racism. Yet statistics prove, as Sheila stated, that the majority of Americans are non-armed so this, to me, points to that old question regarding those who kill; is it “nature or nurture?

    Pat; have you seen any of the interviews with Republican Rep. Scalisi who spent weeks in and out of surgery in life-and-death situations, isn’t healed yet and will be plagued with physical problems the rest of his life? His shooter used a “bump stock” but Scalisi is adamant in his belief that all Americans have the right under the 2nd Amendment to purchase “bump stocks” and conversion kits to turn their weapons into fully automatic military levels. He must be a favorite son of the NRA. He also remains staunchly anti-LGBTQ even though one of his first responders, and responsible for immediate life-saving action, is a lesbian. One of our elected leaders who obviously will remain a staunch pro-gun, anti LGBTQ supporter…as long as we continue to reelect him to office.

    As long as converting long guns to semi-automatic and semi-automatic guns to fully automatic remains AGAINST the law but buying (and consequently using) conversion kits and “bump stocks” remains LEGAL; we are going to continue seeing mass shootings and the senseless killing of victims of all ages will escalate.

  9. We should have known. Only 22% of us own firearms. Gun owners should be required to take an up-to-date math class. They think 22% is over half of the population.

  10. After this last election, I think the word exceptional and America can no longer be used.

    I just moved from Indiana to Tennessee. Nashville housing is extremely expensive and so we are out in the country. During the first month of living here, I think I got a visit from every security system salesman. At one point I told a guy that I have lived in St. Louis and Indianapolis without the need for a gun and asked if the area I am now living in is really THAT dangerous. He smiled as he grew up in Detroit and said ‘no’.

    I have never seen so many gun stores and gun ranges in my life. They seem to outnumber the churches and there are a lot of churches. Tennessee is an open-carry state and imagine my disbelief to see a guy on a Friday night at the local Lowe’s garden shop with his large cowboy hat, nice plaid shirt, tight Wrangler jeans with 2 guns on his waist and a gun on his ankle. Later, we went to Walmart and there was a guy tattooed from head to foot with his gun strapped to him buying bananas.

  11. That 3% demographic are mostly the paranoid, racist, survivalist, backward-thinking and gullible fools who buy another gun like some people by another shirt just to feel good. These are just my observations, but I’m guessing the study’s results will come pretty close to that. The question: “How many assault rifles and rounds of ammo does a household really need?” is pregnant with answers from these people.

  12. A little tidbit:

    Someone suggested on the internet that we need a new NATIONAL ANTHEM. I don’t necessarily agree but I can understand why….”The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum” was their choice. It might not be a bad backup if things continue to UNRAVEL.

    I have to admit, I’ve always liked the beat. There are a few different versions on YouTube. I predict it will move, eventually, into at least the “Top 40” on the Hit Parade List [my former boss, Gordon McLendon, was the creator of the “Top 40,” during the 50’s, at his NODAL station, KLIF in Dallas, part of his nationwide NETWORK of radio stations]. KABL in Oakland/San Francisco, KNUS in Chicago among others.

    Around the same time, McLendon created the Liberty Broadcasting Company consisting of over 300 affiliated radio stations broadcasting RE-CREATED Major League Baseball games as the “Old Scotsman.” CBS finally sued and bankrupted his business. SOUND FAMILIAR.

    Politically motivated in the early 70’s, he went into the business of RE-CREATING the hatred of Nazi Germany, along with his closest friend Bunker Hunt, son of H. L. Hunt who was purported to be at one time the richest man in the world and the most influential force within the Southern Baptist Convention.

    Charles Koch is not the only one who had a multi-millionaire father. So did Gordon Mclendon and Bunker Hunt. The John Birch Society is their common thread. Charles Koch’s father was a founding member.

    Unfortunately, sometimes a lunatic becomes a great creator. McLendon was committed more than once, one time when I was on board, and, eventually, put a gun to his head and committed suicide. It is an important fact since McLendon was the creative genius of the Religious Right/Far Right Movement as we know it today.

    His suicide was covered-up. Bunker Hunt identified his body. Both were major suspects in JFK’s assassination. Like the HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE, you have to go back to the beginning to really understand what has happened to all of us.

    Just an incidental fact, he also was one of the founders of the CIA Alumni Society.

    Back to the pleasures of music….Listen to the song. It has a great beat. Just right for the times.

  13. “The study also found that gun owners tend to be white, male, conservative, and residents of rural areas.”

    That describes my ex-husband. He is an avid gun collector, hunter and participates in many kinds of sport-shooting . All of his political decisions are based on the propaganda of the NRA and he is convinced that the “government” is going to take away his guns, ammo and the 2nd ammendment; and despite this, he is basically a normal non-crazy guy. For twenty years I was around many people just like my ex who loved their guns and their right to have them almost as much as their families, so they buy into all that the NRA shoves down their throats.

    I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing that will change their minds about guns, but most take gun safety and responsibility very seriously and my ex, like his buddies always spoke of some type of control over gun sales at guns shows. The prolific gun show sales seems to be where people that should not have guns get those guns because of the lack of regulation, and Indiana is a place where a lot of those people go to get those guns. Just ask the police in Chicago.

    I am not a gun owner, don’t like them mostly because I had one shoved in my face during an attmepted robbery at a bar I worked at during college. But I also know that our gun problem is not the mostly normal people that own guns, its the NRA and the gun idustry that funds the extreme NRA position on gun use and ownership. The gun industry wants to sell lots of guns and ammo and when they make a product that can last for nearly 100 years, they have got to make people think they need to buy more or they will go out of business. The NRA has inflicted terror on all of us and they have used the unending flow of money the gun industry to fund their their actions.

  14. To learn more about Gordon McLendon, since I only touched a few areas, suggested reading would be: “Gordon McLendon: The Maverick of Radio” by Ronald Garay (Greenwood Press, New York, 1992) and “Talking Radio: An Oral History of American Radio in the Television Age” by Michael C. Keith (M.E. Sharpe, New York, 2000).

  15. There are sane gun owners, true hunters and collectors of rare and unique firearms. Then there are the gun crazies who are most of those in the 3% demographic. For them owning many guns gives them a feeling of power, of being macho, and of being safe. Guns, however, do not make one safe. Here is a good article for understanding that:

    Guns: Feeling Safe Does Not Equal Being Safe – CSI…/guns_feeling_safe_does_not_equal_being_safe

    The NRA is an undesirable organization as it takes a major role in promoting gun violence in America, which, incidentally is the worst in the world by far. Much like the opioid cartel which pushes its deadly product on the public under the false banner of reducing pain (which it legitimately does for a few people), the NRA whitewashes the deaths its advocacy causes. Both of these highly counterproductive factors in American society must be neutered or eliminated. It is up to good folks to see that this is done.

  16. I am a gun owner and have a few of the semi automatic guns everyone is worried about. I am very liberal and live in a rural area and always have. I do not hunt but did in the past enough to prove to myself that I could in order to survive.
    I own the guns for two reasons, protection and sport shooting. The need for protection stems from the fact that there are Neo-nazis’ walking the streets in their fake fatigues and carrying weapons, there are fundamental Christofashists calling for open violence and the NRA is calling for the same. As long as this is happening I will keep my guns.
    The second reason I keep them is that I enjoy sport shooting. I grew up with guns, was trained to safely operate them and have been shooting since I was young. It is a skill I am proud of and work to maintain.
    I support strong background checks and keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill. I also support limits on the number of guns bought in a particular period.
    I leave with just one more thought, it is better to have a weapon and not need it than to not have one and need it.

  17. Fmontyr; I think the majority of people who, like myself had reason to need self protection, we hope the sight of a handgun will turn any attacker away. We do not WANT to have to use them but…do we allow someone who has attacked and injured us in the past, the opportunity to continue doing so. Believe me when I say; they are not the least bit afraid of that piece of paper from the court telling them to leave us alone. Police refuse to act on Protective Orders unless they see an attack themselves…or find a bloody body. Violation of Protective Orders is a misdemeanor and the violator is back on the street within hours if they are arrested. The only good a Protective Order provides is, if injured and police arrest the violator, it shows we have taken legal steps to protect ourselves. Otherwise the courts have no indication victims made any attempt to seek protection. Not only being a victim myself but, more than five years working in the Marion County Municipal Court Probation Department I saw these cases hundreds of times; plead down to a lesser charge and receive probation and small fine…repeatedly.

  18. SOME of us have to learn to BOTH SPEAK TRUTH AND STAND-UP TO POWER. Not enough people do it in America and that, in my estimation, is the major reason the DEBACLE we’re witnessing Is occurring.

    We’re allowing the fear of retaliation to destroy the nation. WE’RE LOOKING THE OTHER WAY. The few who speak-out end up as SITTING DUCKS, just take a good look at ONE personal example…

    There’s much truth in the adage: “There is strength in numbers.” It is definitely so when it comes to FREE SPEECH or a FREE PRESS. It’s assured, VOTING will never be the answer without it.

    de-ba-cle (di ba’ kel) n. [French debacler, break-up] 1. a crushing defeat 2. a ruinous collapse
    ~Webster’s New World Dictionary

  19. the CDC if forbiden by law,to account gun violance as a health matter,go figure who supported that mess. im in NoDak, north dakota, its Whatever you own,wear it, but few have it holstered in view. most every rancher here has a arsonal,and the sheriff will wait till you come to town to see you. i actully had him call me on his cell, and asked me to step outside, in this moment i thought it was a prank,sure enough, hes in his big suv, he was smiling,and it was a buisness call. no problem., we had our chat,and off he went…,its unwritten here, unless its a dire need, see land owner on neuteral ground. if one can remember gordon kahl, i have met a few who belonged to the passe-comitatus, a local group of tax protesters,anti goverment nut jobs.the seeds still remain. gun ownership here is under the idea of,anti goverment here,,,and protection is a is merely a word. theres gun clubs here that require membership in the nra. since now they, the nra,speaks of subversion, im wondering how far they will take that now? one friend who passed on a few years ago, right wing,bigota, related to the posse, but a hard workin man who was honest,once quoted, ive got 2500 acres,a shovel,and i need a little exercise.. otherwords, they dont report crimes out here….. we let this happen, and we elected those who support the subversion of our goverment,and arming right wing north korea, power in the hands of less than intelligent people breeds contempt.

  20. Frankly, I find some of the generalizations in the blog entry and the comments about the “3%” disturbing.

    I personally know 2 people from among the 3% you describe. They are fine people. Sane. Rational. They are simply hunters, collectors, and gun enthusiasts. And they collect pistols, rifles and shotguns and one of them even assembles his own ammo (which otherwise makes target-shooting very expensive). They are very careful with storing and handling their collection, and believe that owning and shooting guns requires a commitment to personal responsibility above and beyond that typically required to function as a member of society. And they both do not feel their rights to gun ownership should be infringed upon or unduly burdened because millions of other American shirk taking the required responsibility.

    I would offer a few thoughts based on the above:

    Where I disagree with my gun-collecting friends is that I believe they are making the same argument that many automobile owners made 80 years ago against state registration of automobiles and trucks. They were growing in number in a rate that probably equals Facebook’s rate of growth over the past 10 years, and their preponderance on the roads of our cities and and town had created all manner of problems – one being damage to roads that were largely made of dirt and were not up to the beating that autos and trucks were giving them. So was invented one of the first “use taxes” on vehicles that required registration, identification (plates) and FEES to help pay for infrastructure that could support the growing fleet. Another was public-safety….the number of vehicle-vehicle and vehicle-pedestrian accidents were growing astronomically and the issue of liability was slowly evolving through the courts.

    I simply cannot see any reason how or why gun owners can object to gun registration & licensing (with restrictions) and TAXING guns to pay for the administrative and enforcement costs, as WELL as costs of helping to research and mitigate gun compliance and safety issues in our country. It is not reasonable to ask society to exempt the God-fearing and law abiding gun owners from those with less sanguine motives. It would be like exempting any automoblie owner from registration if they have no record of stealing one or causing damage or and/or injury with it – whether accidentally or intentionally. But they do and so far, and with a lot of help from the NRA, they have prevailed.

    Also, if I owned an insurance company (life OR personal liability) I would ask every applicant if they own a gun and I would either deny them coverage outright, or I would require them to pay a higher premium. But they don’t currently do this because all Federal and State laws in this country are rigged to the limit and beyond to SHELTER gun owners and manufacturers from any liability of damages incurred as a result of their actions.

    Last, I’ll close with a comment about our neighbors in Chicago, which is often held out as an example of why gun control laws don’t work – they argument being that they have among the most restrictive gun ownership laws in the country AND they have one of the highest rates of gun violence. The fault in this logic lies in the simple fact that gun-control laws implemented locally over a limited geography are simply not effective. It is WELL KNOWN (and possibly documented although I have no citations) that illegal arms shipments RUN LIKE A RIVER from the communities of Northeast Indiana into the South neighborhoods of Chicago.

    So, before we engage further in hyperbole and histrionics about the threat of the evil 3%, let’s consider focusing only on our own back yard – the General Assembly and Governor’s office of the State of Indiana, where laws and regulations can and should be passed to help stanch the flow of arms out of our state and into the communities around it such as those of Chicago, Detroit, Cincinatti, Louisville., not to mention our own communities, including, including Indianapolis which, unfortunately, provides us with this inconvenient truth:

    “One of the most dangerous cities in the country, there were 1,288 violent crimes for every 100,000 Indianapolis residents in 2015, far more than the violent crime rate nationwide of 373 incidents per 100,000 Americans”.

  21. We will never have a serious conversation about gun control if we can’t even understand that some people in this country speak two languages or more.
    My husband says that if you need to bring a gun out, you have already lost.
    I say that guns kill humans and that is their only purpose.

  22. It may be a failure of imagination on my part, but I can see no reason for owning an assault rifle or a semi-automatic weapon of any kind or any oversized clip other than for murdering large numbers of people. Yet the press consistently fails to mention that aspect of the gun problem. Surely there is value in shaming the NRA for promoting mass murder and for telling it like it is.

    Just as puzzling is the reticence of the police to speak out against the very weapons that guarantee they will be out-gunned in the next incident of violence. What are they thinking, or are they? Congressmen get shot and yet Congress does nothing to alleviate the problem. Their attitude? Mad man Scalise is apparently ready to die to protect the right of an assassin to kill him. Many of us aren’t. Do we get a voice? Wayne LaPierre says no. If he were giving me millions of dollars as he is congressmen, I’d still be unpersuaded.

  23. The other thing America has that other countries do not have is the NRA.
    Guns don’t kill people; people kill people…how many times have you read that line or heard it recited in discussion? Here’s the rebuttal:


  24. When the victims of a horrific mass murder are the children of NRA leaders, a cog will turn a notch or two inside those leader’s sissy skulls. As long as the dead and maimed are the other, nothing will change.

  25. Larry; I wonder if NRA family members being victims would matter to them. The legal purchase of conversion kits and “bump stocks” to illegally convert weapons to fully automatic didn’t change Scalisi’s mind after being almost killed this summer and left with life-long damage to his pelvis and internal organs.

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