BILL MOYERS: This week on Moyers & Company…

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Here you have an obviously disturbed young man. Everybody sees it, his mother sees it, and one way of dealing with it is to buy him guns. And to me that speaks of our mystique of weapons. Perhaps his mother thought the gun was curative in some way.

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BILL MOYERS: Welcome, but be forewarned: a few scenes in this hour are disturbing, because we are dealing with violence and don't want to hide what is true about it. As you know, one year ago this weekend, as you know, 20 school children and six educators were massacred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The killer also murdered his mother, and then killed himself. 28 deaths in all, from guns. And across America, perhaps as many as 30,000 more have been killed since that fatal day.

This is why I have asked Richard Slotkin to join me. He has spent his adult life delving into how violence took deep root in our culture, from colonial days to now. In his magisterial trilogy, "Regeneration Through Violence," "The Fatal Environment" and "Gunfighter Nation," Richard Slotkin tells how America came to embrace a mythology of gun-slinging settlers taming the wilderness to justify and romanticize a tragic record of subjugation and bloodshed. His latest book, "The Long Road to Antietam," tells the tale of the bloodiest day in American history.

In these and other works, this preeminent cultural historian tracks the evolution of the gun culture that continues to dominate, wound and kill. Richard Slotkin has retired now from a distinguished teaching career of over four decades at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, just 45 minutes from Newtown.



BILL MOYERS: What were you thinking as the first anniversary of the massacre approached?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, I was thinking of the sadness of that day and just the idea of all those, as one woman at the town said, "those poor little babies" being slaughtered. And I was also remembering with some anger the way in which one of the first knee-jerk responses to that event was a kind of rabid defense of, not only defense of gun owning, but a kind of plea for extending the privilege of gun ownership and the number of occasions, type of occasions on which guns could be used.

And not only that the different places that one can carry guns and also the number of situations in which it's permissible to pull out your gun and shoot somebody. I'm thinking about Stand Your Ground laws, so-called.

BILL MOYERS: When one of these massacres occurs, do you automatically or just habitually think about this long train of violence that you've been researching and writing about for so long now?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, thinking about this Adam Lanza case, the killer in Newtown, at first it just seemed to me a crazy kid doing something almost inexplicably crazy with a gun. As the report has come out--

BILL MOYERS: The state report recently--


BILL MOYERS: --came out a couple of weeks ago.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yeah, the state report has gone into the way in which he used videogames and obsessively played violent videogames. And apparently did research on massacres. And there's a way in which in the individual case you see something that also works on the cultural level. And that is that people will model their behavior on examples that they consider to be heroic.

And that's how mythology works in a culture. There are cultural myths that define what for us is a positive response to a crisis. And it's embodied in media. And we learn it through the media and we model our behavior on that of heroes. And apparently Lanza in the way he conducted the massacre was making the kind of moves that are the standard moves of a person playing a violent videogame.

You'd never enter a new room unless you've put a fresh clip in your gun. So he would shoot off half a clip and then change the clip anyway-- because that's what you do when you're playing a videogame. And that image of playing out a script that's been written for you, that has some value for you as a way of gaining control or being a hero is what he's living out.

And what Lanza did was really to indoctrinate himself and train himself in a way analogous to the way we now use videogames to train the military.

BILL MOYERS: Talk about that a moment, train himself?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes, that is he's obsessed with performing some validating act of violence and he does these-- he treats these videogames as training films. I could do it this way. I could do it that way. And as I follow out the script of the videogame, the videogame validates my actions in various ways. You triumph within a narrative, or you simply score points and build up a score.

BILL MOYERS: There is a video game, believe it or not, it's violent I'll warn you, it's violent -- it allows you, the viewer, the follow the killer of Newtown--


BILL MOYERS: --to follow Lanza, and actually shoot the kids in front of you. You are a cultural historian, not a behavioral psychologist, not a weapons expert. What do you suppose the producer of that video had in mind?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Just simply exploiting the appeal of violence in a particular kind of situation. And also in this case, there's an appeal of transgression, of--

BILL MOYERS: Transgression?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes, of violating everybody else's norms and doing something that really grosses everybody out. You think even, to take a more normative example: the videogame Grand Theft Auto, in which you behave like a criminal, you'd think in a kind of standard videogame you'd be the hero against the bad guys. But the appeal of that is that you get to go to the dark side as, to use the language of Star Wars. And the dark side of the force always has its appeal.

The graphics put you in a very realistic situation so that you're the killer. It's an imaginative leap that in my generation, it took a little more difficulty to make that connection, but we made it nonetheless. I grew up with western movies.


RICHARD SLOTKIN: And I'll say John Wayne-- he wasn't necessarily my hero, but he's the type of a kind of hero that I admired. And we played guns in the street. You'd start off-- guns were-- you were cowboys. You'd segue without a break into marines and you'd segue into cops and robbers. But the gun was the thing you were playing with.

BILL MOYERS: And yet so many who would do that never went out like Adam Lanza--


BILL MOYERS: --and started killing. That's why people are reluctant to say this causes that.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes just to extend my example a little bit, one of the syndromes that people working with Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD was something called John Wayne Syndrome where the young men had internalized the John Wayne model of heroism and one of their problems was they felt they had failed somehow to live up to that model.

And that's the psychology we're talking about here. You internalize a model of heroic behavior from the media that purvey the myths that shape your society. And there's a whole spectrum of responses you might have in relation to that internalized model.

You might not do anything yourself. You might simply consent that the government or somebody act on your behalf, you don't make the war yourself, but you consent that somebody make the war for you, kill the bad guy for you.

BILL MOYERS: The report also says he used a spreadsheet to chronicle previous mass shootings and collected articles all the way back to 1891 about school shootings.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes. Yeah, his imagination is horribly fascinating in a way because he's reaching for a historic-- he's not just reaching for a model. He's reaching for a historically validated model that will somehow invest what he's doing with meaning. What the meaning is, is gone with him, but the gestures seem to me to point to that.

BILL MOYERS: So put it historically what this tells us about the lone killer.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: We produce the lone killer. That is to say the lone killer is trying to validate himself or herself in terms of the, I would call the historical mythology, of our society, wants to place himself in relation to meaningful events in the past that lead up to the present.

BILL MOYERS: You say “or her”, but the fact of the matter is all of these killers lately have been males.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes, yeah, pretty much always are.

BILL MOYERS: And most of them white?


Yeah, I think, again this is because each case is different, but the tendency that you've pointed out is true and I've always felt that it has something to do, in many cases, with a sense of lost privilege, that men and white men in the society feel their position to be imperiled and their status called into question. And one way to deal with an attack on your status in our society is to strike out violently.

BILL MOYERS: I guess we'll never understand this. That official report laid out Lanza's troubling behavior. He was diagnosed at six with sensory integration disorder. He couldn't stand to be touched. He had Asperger's syndrome. He closeted himself in his bedroom with his windows sealed by black plastic bags. He didn't want to communicate with his mother, except mostly through emails. What do we take away from this-- knowing we'll never know?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: I think the thing that I'm tempted to do with that is to shift away from the unknowable Adam Lanza to the people around Adam Lanza and his mother-- that here you have an obviously disturbed young man, everybody sees it, his mother sees it. And one way of dealing with it is to buy him guns as presents; buy him fairly exotic, well-chosen models, train him in the use of apparently this elaborate arsenal which his mother had.

And she said she loved her guns and never made the connection to the fact that these guns are available to an extremely troubled young man. And the neighbors never questioned that her love of guns might be putting weapons in the hands of somebody that they found disturbing to deal with. And to me that speaks of our mystique of weapons. Perhaps his mother thought the gun was curative in some way.

We have the gun as a symbol of productive violence in our history has magical properties for a lot of people. And I have this horrible feeling something like that prevented anyone from seeing just how desperately dangerous was the situation which these people were living.

BILL MOYERS: It's almost incomprehensible that when the police went into the Lanza home after the massacre, they found this gift she had left him, a check that was dated the 25th of December, Christmas. And it was to be used by him to buy a CZ 83 pistol.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: She must've thought that the gun would do him good.

BILL MOYERS: Richard, you live close to Newtown and you followed this of course, not only because as a citizen but because of your work in history. What did you see about the reaction of the community in the days and weeks following that that affected you?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: The thing that really got to me most was the strength of the pro-gun reaction that came out almost immediately, that, anticipating that of course there'd be some call for some forms of gun regulation or gun control that there was kind of a preemptive attack on that by a range of organizations within the state, no, it's gun control won't do any good.

And within a couple of weeks I was on a panel discussion in which there were four people who had been typecast as anti-gun which I'm not really-- and the pro-gun people, as if it was a 50/50 balance.

And of course the pro-gun people kind of took over the whole thing because it was-- a bad moderator. So you got the impression that the state was sharply divided. When the governor came out with a program of increased regulations, the majority was so overwhelmingly for it that the bill passed.

BILL MOYERS: I remember that.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: And without any back and forth really about it. So that it turned out that they weren't even a large minority, but they were a minority, minority within the state. And yet rhetorically their presence was very powerful. And the arguments that they were making were the kind of arguments that resonate with our love of liberty and so on. They really to just take this terrible incident and a situation which might lend itself to some sane regulation and just blow it up into a life or death of the republic kind of issue which makes it almost impossible to deal with.

BILL MOYERS: You said you were not anti-gun.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: No, I'm not. There are situations in which it is perfectly reasonable for someone to want to own and use a gun. Hunting is a legitimate and respected and necessary aspect of the ecology.

There are many people in many places, many different kinds of places, rural, far from police, where it makes perfect sense to want to own a weapon for self-defense. So can't say I'm against guns. But then when you go beyond the rational, it gets a little crazy.

Why wouldn't you want if you're a legitimate gun owner, why wouldn't you want gun ownership to be regulated in such a way that to the extent feasible criminals, insane persons could not readily gain access? Why wouldn't you want a prohibition on illegal gun trafficking if your guns are legal and it's a legal sale? Why wouldn't you want rules mandating some program of safe storage of weapons so that people can't be as careless as Mrs. Lanza seemingly was in leaving guns around where crazy people and criminals can get their hands on it? That's where the rule of reason has to enter in, and that's where it doesn't enter in.

BILL MOYERS: There was a surge of sanity on the part of politicians again after Newtown. Truth be told, and as we all know, very little has changed. How do you explain that?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, I think the extreme gun rights position, so called, some once called it “gun-damentalism” connects on a kind of spectrum to more normative attitudes. You have, as I said, reasonable gun owners. Then you have the American consumer. The American consumer looks at the gun as it's a piece of property. The American consumer wants to use his property without restraint, wants to throw his plastic water bottle wherever he pleases, wants to drive a gas-guzzler, wants to play his boom box loud.

Which is a crude way to put it, and yet I think there's a lot to that. Nobody wants to be bothered registering their weapons. Take it a level down from that or level further out from that, there's an ideological level which really kicks in around the time of the Reagan presidency in which gun rights is a very powerful symbol for the deregulation of everything. If you can deregulate that, you can deregulate anything.

And then the last level is what I'd call the paranoid level, the people who think that they have a Second Amendment right to resist Obamacare-- that the constitution protects their right to resist the government, that that's what the Second Amendment is about.

And that's dangerous stupidity and nonsense. But it uses the language of liberty and rights that we're used to thinking of in other contexts. And if you think of all of the rights in the Bill of Rights, haven't they been extended and expanded over the years? Why not Second Amendment rights as well?

And that's the level at which it gets pernicious. But their appeal, their ability to control the debate, I think, comes because their position coincides with the interest of the Reaganite ideologue who doesn't want to regulate anything and the consumer who simply doesn't want to be bothered.

BILL MOYERS: And don't both of those strands, both of those tendencies have their roots deep in our culture, going all the way back to the beginning?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, yes, I mean, the thing that's different, that's exceptional about American gun culture, so called, is the license that we grant for the private use of deadly force. Other countries have similar levels of guns in the home.

BILL MOYERS: Now, Switzerland is a militia state--


BILL MOYERS: --and the guns are kept at home.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: But the guns kept at home in those countries are not used to murder individuals. They're not used to settle property disputes, are not used to shoot somebody who comes to your door trick-or-treating and you're not sure who they are.

And what we have in this country is we have a history in which certain kinds of violence are associated for us with the growth of the republic, with the definition of what it is to be an American. And because we are also devoted to the notion of democratic individualism, we take that glorification of social violence, historical violence, political violence, and we grant the individual a kind of parallel right to exercise it, not only to protect life and property but to protect one's honor and to protect one's social or racial status. In the past that has been a legitimate grounds.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, I'm thinking of the Jim Crow era in the south where if a black man is walking on the sidewalk and towards a white man and the black man refuses to give the sidewalk he can be-- any sort of violence can be safely visited upon him because no jury will convict. Cases where-- another book that I wrote about in which a successful black farmer refused to sell his crop, this was in South Carolina, for the stated price. And events escalated from a personal attack to ultimately lynching. So we granted to private citizens the right to police the racial boundary and the social boundary.

BILL MOYERS: You write in one of your books, "In American mythogenesis," the origin of our national mythology, "the founding fathers were not those eighteenth-century gentlemen who composed a nation at Philadelphia. Rather they were those who … tore violently a nation from implacable and opulent wilderness." Talk about that.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, first of all I have to say that every nation, every nation state requires a historical mythology, because a nation state is a kind of political artifice. It pulls diverse peoples together. And so you need an account of history that explains that you're actually all the same kind of person or that your different natures have been blended through experience. So what--

BILL MOYERS: We the people?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: We the people. And the United States is a settler state. And this begins with colonial outposts in the wilderness. And our origin has a story then, has to be how did we go from being these small outposts to being the mightiest nation on planet earth? Well, we did it by pushing the boundaries of the settlement out into Indian country. We did it by ultimately fighting wars against Native Americans, driving them out, displacing them, exterminating them in some cases.

And in the process of pushing our boundaries out, we acquired certain heroic virtues-- an ability to fight cleverly both as individuals and cooperatively, and a connection with nature which is particularly critical. As a country really develops you get a kind of American exceptionalist notion of progress which is that American progress is achieved not by man exploiting man, but it's achieved by conquering nature, by taking resources from nature, farmland originally, timber resources, ultimately gold, minerals, oil and so on. In the American model, in order for it to work, you have to say that Native Americans, Indians, are not quite human. And therefore they, like trees in the forest, are legitimate objects of creative destruction. And similarly blacks, African Americans, are legitimate objects of exploitation because they are considered to be not fully human.

So what you get in this, the evolution of the American national myth, really up through the Civil War is the creation of America as a white man's republic in which, different from Europe, if you're white, you're all right. You don't have to be an aristocrat born to have a place in the society. You don't absolutely even have to be Anglo-Saxon, although it helps.

But so among whites you can have democracy. But the white democracy depends on the murder, the extermination, the driving out of Native Americans and the enslavement of blacks. Both of those boundaries, the western frontier, the Indian frontier, and the slave frontier, are boundaries created and enforced by violence, either literal or latent, potential violence.

BILL MOYERS: So that's why you wrote something came from this mythology, something about "the land and its people, its dark people especially, economically exploited and wasted, the warfare between man and nature, between race and race, exalted as a kind of heroic ideal."

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes. That is the frontier story. That's the western movie in a way. That's “The Searchers.”

BILL MOYERS: The movie, “The Searchers,” yeah.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: The movie, “The Searchers.” Yeah. That's James Fenimore Cooper. That's Buffalo Bill. In a curious way you can even take it to outer space, but--


RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, space, the final frontier. "Star Trek" was originally going to be called “Wagon Train to the Stars.”

BILL MOYERS: You mentioned Buffalo Bill. Didn't Buffalo Bill say "the rifle as an aid to civilization?"

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes, but that's exactly the American myth. Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett's rifle, killing the bears, killing the game, killing the Indians is what makes the wilderness safe for democracy, if I can paraphrase Woodrow Wilson.

BILL MOYERS: And Samuel Colt, who gave us his famous or infamous pistol, there are many versions of a quote either by or about him, something like, “God created men equal, Colonel Colt made them equal." There's even one that goes, "Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal." On and on these variations go. What do you make of that idea?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, that's the Colt, “The Equalizer,” was the nickname for the Colt revolving pistol.

BILL MOYERS: I didn’t realize that.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yeah, and it's a curious-- it represents a kind of shift if I may, that the mythologized weapon, the rifle, is a hunter's weapon. And it's also a soldier's weapon, a plainsman's weapon, but also a soldier's weapon. The Colt pistol is a man killer. It's a weapon that's used as much within the boundaries of society as on the borders of society.

And Colt-- one of Colt's original marketing ploys was to market it to slave owners. Here you are, a lone white man, overseer or slave owner, surrounded by black people. Suppose your slaves should rise up against you. Well, if you've got a pair of Colt's pistols in your pocket, you are equal to twelve slaves. And that's “The Equalizer,” that it's not all men are created equal by their nature. It's that I am more equal than others because I've got extra shots in my gun.

BILL MOYERS: But you write about something you call “the equalizer fallacy.”

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes, the equalizer doesn't produce equality. What it produces is privilege. If I have six shots in my gun and you've got one, I can outvote you by five shots. Any man better armed than his neighbors is a majority of one.

And that's the equalizer fallacy. It goes to this notion that the gun is the guarantor of our liberties. We're a nation of laws, laws are the guarantors of our liberties. If your rights depend on your possession of a firearm, then your rights end when you meet somebody with more bullets or who's a better shot or is meaner than you are.

BILL MOYERS: And yet the myth holds--


BILL MOYERS: --stronger than the reality?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, yes, the myth holds. And it is stronger than the reality. Because those guns, particularly the Colt is associated with one of the most active phases and most interesting phases of expansion. And therefore it has the magic of the tool, the gun that won the west, the gun that equalized, the whites and the Indians, the guns that created the American democracy and made equality possible.

BILL MOYERS: But there are other nations with a particular history different from ours that have been very valid. I mean, Nazi Germany was no slacker, the Soviet Union, Europe, all white countries contributed two wars within 30 years of each other. They have their own peculiar violent tendencies.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: The difference in American violence-- two kinds of difference. One, it's settler state violence, that is to say it's legitimated when it's directed against Native Americans, Mexicans outside the boundaries of society or against an enslaved class within it. Eliminate slavery and you start to make problems there.

We're a colonial society in which we've incorporated elements that the Europeans never really incorporated. And the second element is this democratic individualism that we grant the license to kill to individuals in a way that Europeans don't. Their violence predominately, their mass violence especially, is social, police state violence, class warfare of a violent kind. For us the murder rate, individual violence, lynching--

BILL MOYERS: 30,000 people killed every year by gun violence.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes, and I would take it back even further than that to the period between the Civil War and the 1930s when you had, partly as a result of the Civil War, a society awash in handguns, war surplus handguns, very few law, no national regulation of most things, essentially a sort of a right wing Republican dream of the unregulated society. And what you got was social warfare waged by individuals and groups of individuals.


RICHARD SLOTKIN: KKK. But in the south that is on the racial boundary in the south KKK, White Citizens' Council, Knights of the White Camellia against blacks, against their white allies in the Republican party. In the north you have labor wars in which armed strikers are opposed by so-called private armies of detectives, we'd later call them goon squads, but called detectives then, armed to shoot the workers.

BILL MOYERS: Homestead 1892, Ludlow massacre out in Colorado.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Right. So you have a period in the United States as I say from 1865 to 1930 of extreme social violence in which America, a lot of Americans are armed. European visitors all remark on the prevalence of pistols and Sears manufacturers a whole line of men's pants with a pistol pocket.

BILL MOYERS: What about the argument we increasingly hear that we need to have more guns because of a threatening government?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: To me that's the most nonsensical thing I've ever heard in my life. First of all, the government isn't the black helicopter government that they have in mind. But if it were, your guns wouldn't do you a bit of good. And it's an idea that began with the big lie about the reason that Hitler took over in Germany was because he disarmed his enemies. The communists were not disarmed. They were outgunned. And they didn't have the army on their side. There's one, in that panel discussion I was in somebody--

BILL MOYERS: After Newtown?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: After Newtown. One of the spokesmen spoke about the—that oh if the Poles had had more widely distributed guns, the Germans would never have invaded. Right, you know, a bunch of farmers with shotguns standing up to the Wehrmacht. The Japanese didn't invade California because they knew Americans were all heavily armed.

And that the Japanese never intended to invade California had nothing to do with it. It's a pernicious lie. And the reason it's so pernicious is that it legitimates the idea that you have a right to violently resist the government. Most people won't do that. Most people when the cops come to the door, will put their hands up if it comes to that. But there are people, some of these violent tax resistant movements, who take that position very literally.

BILL MOYERS: We continue to hear from a lot of people, notably Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association. Here's what he said right after Newtown.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: The only way, the only way to stop a monster from killing our kids to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

BILL MOYERS: So what kind of society do we get? What kind of social order do we get if everyone is armed?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: To me we get a very dangerous, or if we're talking about the United States, it's extremely dangerous because there are so many things about which Americans feel violently. The country is still very much divided by race. The anger that one hears about things like Obamacare, the rage that's expressed, the level of political rage makes me feel that there's anger out there looking for an object and that the more heavily armed we are and the more permissive we are about the use of guns, the more dangerous it's going to be.

BILL MOYERS: I hear you talking about race and wonder how that has shaped the pattern that produces more outrage over mass killings like this one, and there should be outrage, than over the slow but steady accretion of one on one killings in the inner cities. I mean, over 106 kids were killed last year in Chicago alone.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yeah we don't regard as outrageous in the same way the daily killings in the ghettos and in the black neighborhoods that we do when it's, you know, little white kids in a little white suburb. There's also a difference though in that one is a kind of abhorrent outburst of violence in a part of the society that feels immune to violence.

Whereas we've allowed violence in our cities to become a kind of normative pattern. And actually I shouldn't say we've let it. It's always been that way. It goes back as far as our cities go that they've always been violent places. And the culture has taken a kind of dismissive attitude towards it.

BILL MOYERS: How so? Why, historically?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Historically I think, it has to do with the way in which members of racial and ethnic minorities are not considered to be fully human, so we expect them to behave violently to each other.

BILL MOYERS: And a threat to jobs, a threat to our own standard of life, standard of living.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: That's right.

BILL MOYERS: The Irish were seen as a threat to the wellbeing of the Protestants.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Now, the blacks in the cities were a threat when they were rioting in the '60s, a threat to white neighborhoods. And you got gun control and attempts at violence control as well as measures of social welfare taken in order to avert that threat. But black on black violence in isolated, in urban, neighborhoods leaves white America untouched in both the literal and the figurative sense, even though that is the largest share of the killings that go on.

BILL MOYERS: Well, we talked about videogames. But what about movies? Here's a group we put together. If we find that entertaining, are we in a societal way condoning or validating violence?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: I think it has to do with proportion. There's so much violence and it's so inescapable. If you look at the-- if you sort of did a genre map of the different types of films that are now available, so many of them are violent action movies that if you're taking your repertoire of responses to the world from the art that you consume, violence is the right response in, let's say, eight cases out of ten.

That's the first thing. The second thing is that, aside from just the sheer level of raw violence that one sees, the question I would ask is what kind of rationale are movies now, television programs and videogames, what kind of rationale for violence are these stories providing? The old Western movies provide a very important rationale. And that was the principle that no moral, social, political problem can be resolved in a Western without violence.

Anyone in the Western who thinks you can get away without a gunfight is wrong. And there, it isn't so much the spectacular quality of the violence, because by modern standards, it's pretty tame. But it's that insistent rational: the only way to resolve the situation is violence, and anyone who thinks differently just doesn't understand the way that the world works.

BILL MOYERS: I have actually wrestled for some 20 years with something you wrote in “Gunfighter Nation.” You said that central to the myth, the myth of America, the myth of how we came to be is the belief that “violence is an essential and necessary part of the process through which American society was established and through which its democratic values are defended and enforced.” So we invoke violence because we think it not only saves us but nurtures us and that we have some kind of obligation to use it in the service of spreading democratic values?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yes, and it validates our beliefs, it validates our values, the things we stand for if we're willing to fight for them. Nothing validates them like combat, fighting for them. And, you know, and the frontier myth is the oldest myth. We have a couple of others that work with similar kind of power. One of the ones that I was thinking of when I wrote that was what I call the “good war myth” or the “platoon movie myth.”

And that's the-- it's the newest of our myths, it comes really out of the Second World War in which the United States, which had been always a white man's republic, an Anglo-Saxon white man's republic, becomes through the platoon movie, that ethnically and racially mixed unit now becomes a multi-racial, multi-ethnic democracy united how? Through war against a common enemy, a good war, a justifiable war, a necessary war, a defensive war, a war that liberates Asia and Europe through the force of American arms so that our self-transformation into all men are created equal finally, whatever their color or creed or national origin, is achieved through war and only through war.

BILL MOYERS: As you know so well, President Theodore Roosevelt, back at the turn of the 20th century wrote that quote, "mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct … are gradually bringing peace into the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of the world hold sway."

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yeah, he also said that a savage war, a war against savages, is always a righteous war. And it was certainly what Roosevelt was doing there was taking the American past of Indian fighting and of conquering the west by driving the Indians out, and expanding it to an international stage.

BILL MOYERS: So this idea of the frontier continues to summon us, to--

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yeah. It does, although not often in as literal a way as Teddy Roosevelt would've had it. Two analogies, sort of two examples occur. One is: why is it that for liberals, I'm thinking about Obama particularly, the war in Afghanistan was a war of necessity whereas the war in Iraq was a war of choice. They're both wars of choice. But the war in Afghanistan has all of the hallmarks of savage war, a primitive enemy bent on our destruction, can't make a deal with them, can't liberate them, can only destroy-- I'm thinking about the Taliban and I'm thinking about the Al Qaeda, people there.

BILL MOYERS: Bin Laden hiding--

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Bin Laden, yeah.

BILL MOYERS: --out, operating from there.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: That's a righteous war, whereas Iraq, Iraq was supposed to be World War II, was supposed to be a war of liberation, but it wasn't. And it soon became obvious that it wasn't that. And so you’ve got a kind of public revulsion against that, among some liberals who supported it initially, but not against-- not until recently anyway, not against Afghanistan. And the second piece of that is the economic piece of that which is that the American economy is an economy which perpetually expands without costing anybody anything, without cost to a lower-- without exploiting a lower class.

For the past 30 years it's been perfectly obvious that that's not working anymore. The rich get richer, the working class gets poorer. And yet we still hold to that. Why don't we believe-- why don't we believe in global warning and the consequences of that? Why don't we believe-- because nature's inexhaustible, has to be inexhaustible.

If nature is not inexhaustible, infinitely exploitable, then the American system will stop working. Let's not even say whether it used to work or-- it will stop working, it will fail. And we can't afford to believe that.

BILL MOYERS: So we create myths that help us organize our beliefs against the reality--

RICHARD SLOTKIN: That's right.

BILL MOYERS: --that we cannot factually deny?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: That's right. That's right.

BILL MOYERS: So what is implicit in this notion of regeneration through violence?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: I think it's, for today, it's still our belief in the validity of violence as a way of dealing with the complex problems that as a nation, as a society, even as people, that we face. We still trust to military action excessively in dealing with foreign affairs.

And we still, it's still a kind of predominant mode. We'll cut foreign aid of all kinds, but we won't cut, or not cut as much, military budgets. We'll develop new ways of using force to intervene in foreign affairs, covert ops, special operations, but force still has that critical role for-- it's almost like there-- it's not necessarily the first resort, but sure as hell is not the last resort for us.

BILL MOYERS: I sometimes wonder if Charlton Heston will have the last word on this argument. Here is Heston speaking in the year 2000 at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association. Their nemesis, at the time, was Al Gore running for president as a Democratic candidate, who they said would take away their guns.

CHARLTON HESTON: So as we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words, for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed and especially for you, Mr. Gore -- from my cold, dead hands!

BILL MOYERS: What do you think listening to that?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: I think the man's an idiot. If the government was actually the kind of government he somehow fantasizes, they would take the gun from his cold, dead hands. There's a wonderful line in the first “Men in Black,” where the space alien comes and wants the farmer's weapon. And the farmer says, "From my cold, dead hands." And the alien says, "Your negotiation is accepted." I mean, that kind of defiance is cheap. Because it threatens a resistance that would be illegitimate if it was undertaken and that no one in their right mind would actually undertake.

BILL MOYERS: But mythologically, what does it represent?

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Well, it's an assertion that you're Davy Crocket. That you're-- well, I guess, in his case, it could be an assertion that you're either one of the revolutionaries at Bunker Hill, defying the British, from the age of the weapon he was carrying, I would assume he was defying the British. Or it could be Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy.

And this notion that if you don't like the way the… if you don't like the outcome of the election, go start your own country. Take up arms against the government and somehow that's a legitimate and constitutional action. It isn't. It's unconstitutional. And if you do it, the government will come and take the gun from your cold, dead hands.

BILL MOYERS: What a conflicted country this is.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: Yeah, yeah. But think of the resentment and the fear that would lead to that kind of posturing on a public stage. That's the, to me, that's the menace of our time is that undercurrent of resentment and fear and hatred that finds an outlet in the legitimated forms of violence.

BILL MOYERS: Including the killing of 26 people, 20 of them children, in Newtown, Connecticut.


BILL MOYERS: Richard Slotkin, thank you very much for being with me.

RICHARD SLOTKIN: You're very welcome.

BILL MOYERS: Back when Charlton Heston made that defiant boast at the NRA convention – that gun control advocates would have to pry his rifle from his cold dead hands – he must have thought he was back in the fantasy world of Hollywood, re-living his roles as those famous Indian killers Andrew Jackson and Buffalo Bill Cody, whose Wild West, as he called it, courses through the bloodstream of American mythology. For sure, Heston was not channeling his most famous role as Moses striding down from Mount Sinai with a tablet of stone inscribed with God’s blueprint for a civilized society, including the commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”

But the good lord seems not to have anticipated the National Rifle Association. Its conscience as cold and dead as Charlton Heston’s grip on his gun, the NRA has become the armed bully of American politics, the enabler of the gunfighter nation, whose exceptionalism includes a high tolerance for the slaughter of the innocent. “Mother Jones” magazine reports that at least 194 children have been shot to death since Newtown. 127 of them died in their own homes and dozens more in the homes of friends, neighbors, and relatives, not strangers. 72 pulled the trigger themselves or were shot by another youngster.

My native state of Texas leads the country in the number of young ones killed by guns. While some states passed tougher firearms legislation after Newtown, Texas enacted ten new laws against sane restrictions on guns. Which is partly why last month, four women had lunch at a restaurant just outside Dallas. It was a planning meeting for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, that’s a group started after Newtown that describes itself as the “Mothers Against Drunk Driving of gun reform.”

As the four women ate and talked, about 40 members of a pro-gun group called Open Carry Texas – champions of guns anywhere and everywhere – gathered outside the restaurant, many of them with their firearms. They said they were there not to intimidate but to make a point. Sure, as if real men need guns to make a point.

So it goes. “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” but if you do, hide behind the Second Amendment, made holier and more sacrosanct by the NRA than God’s own commandment.

We close with a simple public service announcement, produced by the very un-intimidated Moms Demand Action, marking this month’s Newtown anniversary.

ANNOUNCER in No More Silence: On December 14th, we’ll have a moment of silence for Newtown. But with 26 more school shootings since that day, ask yourself: Is silence what America needs right now?

BILL MOYERS: At our website, you can revisit my conversation from earlier this year with David and Francine Wheeler, who lost their six-year-old son Ben at Sandy Hook Elementary.

That's at I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.

Watch By Segment

  • Segment: Richard Slotkin on Guns and Violence

    As the anniversary of the Newtown tragedy approaches, Bill speaks with cultural historian Richard Slotkin about violence in America. Plus, a Moyers essay on our gun culture.

    Segment: Richard Slotkin on Guns and Violence
  • Bill Moyers Essay: On the NRA

    As the anniversary of the Newtown tragedy approaches, Bill speaks with cultural historian Richard Slotkin about violence in America. Plus, a Moyers essay on our gun culture.

    Jerry Miller, of Georgetown, Texas, looks over a rifle at the National Rifle Association's annual convention on Friday, April 25, 2014 in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
    Bill Moyers Essay: On the NRA

Gunfighter Nation

December 13, 2013

As America remembers the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting a year after a lone gunman shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children, Bill speaks with cultural historian and scholar Richard Slotkin about the role of guns and violence in our society. Slotkin is the author of an acclaimed trilogy — including Gunfighter Nation — on the myth of the frontier that has shaped our nation.

In an essay following his conversation with Slotkin, Bill talks about the role of the NRA in the firearms debate and looks at a new public service announcement by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun control organization.

Learn more about the production team behind Moyers & Company.

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  • Anonymous

    One vould have a Sandy hook tragedy ery day in amercica for the next 50 years and still not illuminate the insanity of our gun laws and policies in america. England and Singapore have virtually zero deaths but guns, Yes they have stabbings and strangulations. But a deranged mental person would have a hard time knifing and strangling a entire room of school children or a movie theatre of people. There are more deaths by suicides than car accidents in america with hte majority inflicted by guns. We finally are modifying our insane marijuana legilative laws. This is a sick insane society that lusts for pain and punishment.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent interview with professor Slotkin. Bill’s interviews are always incisive and educational. This website is a true gem.

  • JTM

    So how does one use the weapon he has the right to have for self defense of his home when it is locked in a safe?

    How do you propose to get a “gun control law” which prohibits a law abiding “nut case” (a term aptly describing the majority of recent perpetrators) from purchasing a firearm past the Constitution and the body of law protecting doctor/patient confidentiality?

    Only a tiny fraction of weapons transferred at gunshows are by transactions between individuals (not involving licensed dealers where the sales ARE subject to instant background checks). and a fraction of those are later used in a crime. Not much of a “loophole” there!

    The session was riddled with ad hominem slurs. VERY Impressive!!

  • Guest

    Timothy Mcveigh would have killed far few people had he chosen to use a gun. My point is people bent on doing evil are going to find a tool with which to carry out that evil. You see how well making drugs illegal works. What makes you think banning guns would be any more effective?

  • Mike kruse

    It’s ashame you can’t watch two educated people discuss a topic without rampant use of logical fallacies. While logical fallacies are great for political banter, they do nothing to foster debate or find solutions. I counted over ten. How many can you find?

  • Mike kruse

    Fine speech? The thing was riddled with logical fallicies. Debating or arguing using fallicies is no more useful than partisan political banter.

  • wonder

    This is such an informative and clear thinking opinion about a social myth that most don’t recognize, discern or question. I hear the insanity about a mother who buys guns for her troubled teen / young adult and I wonder, why are we not speculating about Lanza’s father and his actions or lack of responsibility? His father is still alive? Lanza’s mother was attempting to cope with her son but where is his father in this discussion? Another blindspot?

  • Billy_Batson

    The show was about the origins and the state of the gun violence culture in America. There was practically nothing about specific gun control measures. JTMs remarks seem unrelated to the content of the show. On the other hand, to the extent that they parrot NRA talking points, they do, perhaps, illustrate the points that Dr. Slotkin makes regarding the gun lobby.

  • Anonymous

    I never said ban, england and singapore dont ban guns but there is some reasonable policy. What can any sensible consumer do with semi automatic that fires a hundred rounds a minute. This is not your colonial single style musket out there. Everyday, everyday one can read the newspaper and read about a accidental or deliberate senseless murder. 30,000 murders since sandy hook two years ago. This is a society with virtual zero gun control. Flood any market and the propensity for abuse skyrockets. It works that way with meth it works that way with guns. Trully dangerous implements should have some control. Its a proven fact 99% of guns for the gun war on the border come from the USA. Its far easier to secure a gun that to find a living wage job in our ghettos

  • susanpub

    Is buying him a gun for Christmas coping with this obviously troubled or disturbed young man in a rational manner? I did hear at the time something about the trouble she had finding resources to get him help & I have great sympathy for that problem (a serious one in the US), but what kind of denial makes you think a gun is a good gift for this kid? I cannot understand her thinking.

  • susanpub

    Sandy Hook was just one year ago…

  • JonThomas

    There is a correlation, and it has nothing at all to do with high rates of gun ownership.

    The reasons are multi-layered, and somewhat complicated. It is quite insincere, or even ignorant to make such an oversimplified argument.

    There are poverty issues, population issues, black market competition issues, stress issues, crime issues… etc…

    I’m not anti-gun but I am extremely anti-casuistry (love that word… yes, I broke out the thesaurus.)

  • Anonymous

    List just a few; when people see what you consider “fallacies” they will see through your argument for the false and distorted thing it is.

  • Do Your Research!

    Wow, these two geniuses cited a pro-gun control flash game as an example of violence in videogames. Smooth.

    In case anyone cares, the “The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary” videogame has three modes: historical, gun control, and eagletears. The first mode recreates the setting of the Sandy Hook shooting, with the player wielding an assault rifle and unarmed teachers and students fleeing for their lives. After 11 minutes the police arrive and the killer commits suicide. In the “gun control” level the player uses a sledgehammer to get through a window and a sword to attack defenseless students. When the police arrive the killer fails to kill himself with pills and is sent to jail. The last stage, eagletears, arms both the teachers and the killer with guns.

    When I played the game, which has an almost cartoon-style animation and is in no way realistic when compared to a Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, I scored a 50% mortality rate in the historical mode, 25% with the gun control, and 89% on the eagletears level. Let that sink in for a minute…

    After the game there’s a message from the creator who urges people to contact their representatives in Congress if they believe that “guns should have as much regulation as driving a car.”

    All this to say that maybe people should actually do a little more in-depth research than reading article headlines before they’re interviewed on public television for their “knowledgeable” opinion. Might help them not come across as complete ignoramuses.

  • Anonymous

    The propensity of “Stand Your Ground” laws also gives people a sense of entitlement in having and using guns, such that the police feel threatened when they are called for domestic disputes or any other situation and the police thus tend to use their weapons in situations where they would not have done so in the past.

    Consider the fusilade that the local police unleashed at the Tsarnaev brothers when their vehicle was located in Watertown: some 200 bullets some of them passing through the walls of living spaces in adjacent homes, one entering a chair in an occupied room. Also consider the six or so pedestrians on 5th Avenue (?) in New York recently (in the last year) injured by police gunfire at a person who had left the scene of a shooting on an adjacent street.

    This should be seen as support for Mr. Slotkin’s claim that everyone having a gun makes everyone less safe, if only because the police are a lot more ready to fire indiscriminately at anyone that they “think” might be threatening them.

    Fusillades of bullets are used by soldiers because analysts determined that soldiers do not aim their guns in a gun fight, they just point in the general direction and count on spraying the area with bullets, a few of which they count on being effective.

    And that is what the police are doing, or beginning to do, also.

  • Just Writing

    I’ll be perfectly honest with you:

    I have been watching Mr. Moyers on PBS for over 30 years. I am a great fan of his work. I am a citizen of the USA. My political and social views are almost
    always pro-labor, pro-environment, anti-big business. I am employed as a senior manager in a very large organization who earns in excess of $125,000 per year.
    Over the last six months, I have:
    1. Taken 30 hours of firearms training in my local community.
    2. Purchased (all new) two semi-automatic handguns, one revolver, and one shotgun. I had never before owned any firearms
    3. Applied for a concealed carry permit in my home state.
    4. Joined three firearms-rights organizations.

    This Moyer & Company segment was largely forgettable what with the bravado, selective use and exclusion of relevant facts, hyperbole, simple opinion and rhetoric, and pro-nanny government musings.

    A more worthwhile and insight producing story to cover would be this:

    Interview someone like me and others like me who would do the things cited in 1. through 4. above. Something is going on to cause me to do these things, Mr. Moyers. You’re not covering that something. Stories such as this week’s on Moyers &
    Company keep pro-firearms groups active and engaged. And for that, I thank you and your writers,
    Mr. Moyers.

  • Anonymous

    Barring your anecdotal impressions, which frankly aren’t really relevant, what are you trying to say?

    I did see that you acknowledge a ‘continuum’ of realism &, evidently you place CoD & GTA at one end of that…

  • Anonymous

    Wyoming, per capita in 2010 had the 5th highest rate of gun deaths in the United States. So, your interpretation is exactly wrong and, as JonThomas has said, rather simplistic.

  • Anonymous

    JSC1227 – I am sorry but you are misinformed.

    It is not that I disagree about America being overly violent, but you do not promote your case well by relying on falsehoods.

    In the United Kingdom, annual deaths resulting from firearms total

    2011: 146
    2010: 165
    2009: 157
    2008: 174
    2007: 130
    2006: 211

    and so on.

    When you say “zero” people take it to mean “zero” not 146 or 165, b/c those deaths should not be taken lightly.

    Similarly, there are around 10-11,000 gun homicides per year in the US (too high, we both agree) but the highway deaths in the US are around 34,000 per year (far too high we can both agree, I’m sure).

    This information is easily searchable on the website.

    Get the facts first, then make the argument.

    If we make a comparison then of the US (300,000,000+ citizens) and Japan (130,000,000 citizens in a very high population density) it’s even more objectionable when comparing the highway deaths in the US to Japan’s 4,500.

    Too much anger, too much violence in the US.

    How do we fix it? I think it starts with some economic equality and giving hope for the future to as many as possible, black, white and in between. This is the message of JFK, MLK, Gandhi, Mandela, Pope Francis I, Evo Morales, José Mujica of Uruguay.

    Change needed now.

  • Anonymous

    JSC, again, I need to point out inaccuracy here: England has indeed banned guns. Their Olympic Pistol Team must cross the English Channel to practice shooting in France, that’s how restrictive the gun laws are there and, as pointed out above, there are still gun murders in the UK. Peace, friend

  • Anonymous

    There must be a middle ground be tween the two extremes. I dont trust my govt with its stockpiling of hollow point bullets, but stand your ground lets virtually let anyone murder anyone with impunity, with a minor wiff of feeling threatened. Human beings are not all that rationally. A normal animal doesnt need to hord 10,000 times more food and possensions than it could possibly eat, but there is a greed and a irrationality in many political arguements, where random acts of violence do not resolve anything. Violence should be the last resort not the first one.

  • Anonymous

    Lets set aside your concern for logical fallacy for a moment. Lets say his appeal was more visceral & his evidence found within the fabric of our society, our history, and a cultural ethos….forest for the trees sorta thing…Is he wrong?
    It is rather telling he cannot appeal to the heart when so many lives are being needlessly lost – that the myopia of crying foul has to mask something that may resonate as true. For it is very difficult to argue we are not a very violent culture, it is very difficult to argue that more guns=less deaths (irrespective of the reasons). It is a shame when attempts to discredit a position are undertaken when upon a moment of reflection the ‘truthiness’ of the thing is clear. It is a tragedy when the costs of such are, quite literally, death and murder.
    Anywho, can you specify some of the logical fallacies? I do think there were a few.

  • Van

    His mother was obsessed with guns herself. Don’t you read the papers? as they once said.

  • George Briere

    We teach through our history and culture to resolve conflict with violence , then we seem to be surprised when there are mass killings

  • Anonymous

    Bill, you are pure class to ignore the some of the sweeping statements of your guest. I am going to play the devil’s advocate you didn’t play this time.

    Richard Slotkin: “If you’re white you’re alright”. Baloney, and Mr. Slotkin back talked about 10 minutes later.

    Think of how Italians and Irish were (and still are) treated in the US. People still crack jokes about both of those white groups.

    Sadly, your historian guest chooses to ignore that the 2nd Amendment has worked both ways. Blacks also used guns (shotguns, patrolling the streets) during the Civil Rights Era to protect themselves. That’s US history and I cannot conceive Slotkin chooses to ignore this as someone who speaks of mythology.

    He claimed that Japan never intended to invade the US? Here is what Yamamoto said:

    “Should hostilities once break out between Japan and the United States, it is not enough that we take Guam and the Philippines, nor even Hawaii and San Francisco. To make victory certain, we would have to march into Washington and dictate the terms of peace in the White House.” Japan was certainly not of one mind with regard to the US. Still, in Slotkin’s defense, the US provoked the Pacific War through illegal sanctions on Japan, and the comments on excessive military interaction in foreign affair “resolutions” are spot on.

    Bill, a little clarification needed:. 30,000 people killed by gun violence, yes, 20,000 of them suicides. People kill themselves with or without guns. Example: Japan has around 30,000 suicides per year but almost none of them with guns. They still find a way. :(

    Please be careful not to mislead your audience, just stick to the facts despite the fact that this is a terribly painful issue for America. Focus where you are strong: Truth about the social inequality in America. Fix the root problems of violence, fix the murderous results.

    Here’s the biggest rub: The skeptic in me notices that Sandy Hook turned into massive PR event for both sides of the gun issue, further polarizing the nation just like abortion or gay rights without realizing that all humanity is the loser. Governor Cuomo didn’t skip a beat in his bid to become president to launch a massive campaign to launch the first laws on gun ownership in New York State. After all the hubbub, the laws were passed on both sides and it was business as usual in the US.

    I want to know where is the outrage over all the kids killed in the “hood” every night? Sandy Hook is appalling, just as US drone strikes killing yet ANOTHER wedding parade abroad, and yet where is the outrage? The Sandy Hook opportunism was and is an insulting overture to the innocent dead and their families as politicians have used it for talking points. It comes across as a bit hypocritical when a lily white area has a streak of murders there is national debate, but so little talk over Detroit, or Chicago, where gun laws are severe, yet don’t stop the slaughter. How concerned are we for the least of our brothers? What are politicians doing to increase a sense of well-being in the US outside giving massive amounts of pharmaceuticals which are now detectable in ground water nationwide? All these drugs cure nothing and occasionally sparks off psychotic episodes. Hiding symptoms is not curing a problem of depression.

    We need to give our brothers and sisters hope, a feeling of belonging, reasons to live, and we can do much to end this prison and drug culture of the US. Peace.

  • Anonymous

    Live by the sword, die by the sword. The mother is also a victim of this ignorance and violence.

    The real question is, how do we grow as a society to show more mutual respect and love for neighbor?

  • Do Your Research!

    My apologies that my point was apparently not evident in both the first and last paragraphs of my earlier comment.

    Slothkin claimed that the game based on the Sandy Hook shooting was “simply exploiting the appeal of violence” when in actuality it was designed to show that gun control would have saved lives. If he had actually played the game (or read a review from someone who had) he would have realized that fact, but instead he (I speculate) simply saw that someone had created a game where the player acts out the role of the shooter, and did not bother to investigate further.

    And I realize now my slight miswording in regards to realism. The realism I was referring to was that of the animation and graphics.
    Rereading the interview transcript, I see that I mixed up the comment on the
    realistic graphics of Grand Theft Auto with the discussion of the Sandy Hook game. Again, my apologies. Regardless, to clarify my point allow me to point out that The Slaying of Sandy Hook Elementary uses an “artistic” art style—a side-scroller with solid color 2-dimentional silhouettes. I listed CoD and GTA as the most recognizable examples of the shooter genre, but I think you’ll agree that everything from Team Fortress 2 to GoldenEye 007 have more *realistic,* if not nearly as violent, graphics than this:

  • Jim Hoover

    John Slotkin is not anti-gun? that is just denial on his part. Oh, he is so magnanimous he let us hunt? WTF is he I didn’t vote for him, What I see him as what we, what we say in twelve step as a bleeding deacon he only know what he know and is not teachable

  • Jim Hoover

    I guess john doesn’t remember the last thirty years a little country called Vietnam who defeated this nation with small arms as did Afghanistan they defeated both the Soviet Union and The U.S. and let’s not forget we defeated the Iraqi army but lost the peace. There goes you credibility

  • Jim Hoover

    This guy is suppose to be a historian? the service was not integrated in WWII but more like during the Korean conflict

  • Jim Hoover

    the only trouble is there is no evidence of his mother buying him weapons or training him to use said weapons. those who don’t go to firing ranges you must sign in to fire all must sign in you don’t get one person to sign in them ten people get to fire sorry but on the ranges I’ve been on if that happens you get thrown out. If you jump to conclusions you might just might want to do some investigation on if it is plausible. As for the check , mentioned that has been labeled unfounded.

  • Anonymous

    What model rifle did the Vietnamese use to shoot down B-52’s? And what kind of rifle did the CIA give bin Laden to shoot down Hinds?

    All your examples show is how important it is to have friends in high places, or at least be in a landlocked country (with porous borders) when a sea power tries to invade.

  • Jim Hoover

    because there is no evidence to that fact. That lie was put out by the Brady Campaign or what ever it is calling itself now. never trust a source of facts from an entity that keeps changing it’s name.

  • Jim Hoover

    we didn’t have troops in north Vietnam now did we? You trying to say that the 58,000 troops who died in the south had to defend themselves against SAM’s I spent 9 months there an never saw one SAM missile but I saw beau coup SKS’s, AK-47, tokarev

  • Anonymous

    And the reason “we didn’t have troops in North Vietnam” was because it was never practical to do so thanks to heavy Soviet support, both in materiel as well as the diplomatic situation.

    In the south, if anything it’s not that the Viet Cong had rifles but that the supply of rifles never stopped, since weapons far heavier than a rifle protected the north’s industry.

  • Jim McGee

    I just saw Bill with Richard Slotkin. They came very close to a door that they did not open. What about the Future? Does anyone have any ideas about how we might create a new definition of what is means to be an American; a new mythos? And how can we get people to believe in it and value it?

    After seeing the report cited in this discussion, how could any intelligent and caring person not believe that video games and other violence pornography are a big part of the problem?

  • Anonymous

    Who is a “responsible gun owner” in a country where gun owners are never held responsible for anything? The only real standard of responsibility here is “hasn’t been proven to have deliberately shot someone.” Someone who leaves their handgun out on the kitchen table for their four-year-old daughter to kill themselves with is treated in exactly the same manner as those using gun safes and trigger locks. “Terrible accident. Sorry for your loss. Who could have possibly known? Here’s your gun back.”

  • Julie Price

    What makes you think you are sane and rational?

  • Anonymous

    George: Precisely. Once we “create the warrior” either through war, violent (Sparta) society, video games, social vioence, even sports, how do we “uncreate the warrior”?

  • Anonymous

    Hear hear, thanks for taking the time to write that.

    You’re a good person and I’m sure you can be the change. Bless you.

  • Anonymous

    : (

    We must be informed and be the change.

    For the love of neighbor and all the little babies.

  • Scott T

    I respect Mr. Moyer’s work greatly but feel disappointed that on this issue he has failed to apply his powers of critical thinking. The topic is so emotionally supercharged that few are able to get past their own personal biases and apply sound logic. Truth is that much about civilian gun ownership is counterintuitive. It is easy to see the harm that easy access to firearms produces. Shootings are media gold. But what is not obvious is the good that comes from armed citizens. The vast majority of times a person uses a gun in defense they don’t even have to fire a shot. Not very interesting news. Add in the times when a gun is fired but the attacker is missed or runs away wounded and you realize that many more attacks are stopped by guns than are ever counted in typical statistics. Completely uncountable are the attacks and breakins that are not begun for fear of meeting an armed victim.

    Police carry guns for protection. Their safety. And they carry them at all times, they train and equip their families to defend themselves. What is special about cops? Nothing, as a range safety officer and pistol match Director I see alot of people, many of them cops, shoot in competition. Unless they are SWAT or spec Ops guys, they score no better than any other civilian gun owner as beginner competitors. I contend that a civilian who meets the requirements of their local law enforcement for police officers should be allowed to carry the tools of threat neutralization. Such policy would raise the expectation of gun owners while not violating the right to self defense. Many countries treat firearms with tired requirements. Semi automatics and handguns require higher levels of scrutiny than manually operated long guns.

    Perhaps ideas like this are too rational for the US ” debate ” teams. Notice I never said BAN.

    I encourage people interested in information other than rants and half truths to read statistical analysis such as ‘the book, More Guns, Less Crime.

    If you are anti – gun by nature I challenge you to become informed on the matter first hand by taking a good firearms safety class.

    If you are a gun owner who thinks that they have the ability to defend themselves in a crisis, I challenge you to find a local practical competition and try your hand. I guarantee that you will learn a great deal about the performance of you and your equipment. It may save your life.

    Try, or http://www.USPSA.Org

    Gun ownership is not a crime. But it is a responsibility.

    For better gun advocacy, try sanity may be found there.

  • Anonymous

    @do your research, thank you for the reply. I do better understand your position now and I can ‘see’ that. Perhaps Slothkin felt it was somewhat, the subject matter specific to school shootings, an exploitation irrespective of intent of the game pro or con violence. But, that’s not what was clearly conveyed so I where you’re coming from. Re: ‘realism’ I’d have to agree there are a number of games that are more ‘realistic’ in their respective classifications within gaming mmos, fps, etc. I think we’ll see a growing body of research that suggests links between deepening realism and extrapolation to real world events/activities etc. (it’s an area still in its infancy and there are spurious arguments on either side atm). Interestingly, the military strives in as much realism as possible in their urban sims precisely because it allows, they ‘feel’, for quicker implementation when in similliar environments. Thanks again for the civil reply (I’d take more time in my own but w/ the holidays approaching..quite busy:)).

  • Melwoolf

    You really think that everyone having a gun (of course, responsibly!) would be the answer? What a paranoid and delusional answer. Why can’t Americans grow out of their infantile gun toting response to everything. I, too, grew up (in gun toting Texas) and remember the macho culture of guns too well and I hated it. What I dislike most is the assumption that we all have Second Amendment rights that is without question and should never change forever and forever…what about “Thy Shall Not Kill”? It seems that is okay to change what is most convenient to your argument.

    Most nations in the West have matured and decided that a gun does not make for a calm and peaceful life. Of course, if you live in the countryside far away from a town you may need one. That is fine. The idea that you cannot have a key or lock combination that would take seconds to get at your gun is silly. I’m concerned that there are so many children who seem to be the victims of this gun culture and the ease with which guns are lying around here, there and everywhere. Americans always have “rights” but no responsibility to their fellow citizens.

    Should that person in CO been able to use his gun – do you think that there would possibly not have been others killed in the crossfire? This argument is a joke. The idea that the more guns everyone has the better and safer we will be is weak. But you obviously are happy that the gun industry and the NRA run the show and keep on making their wonderful profits based on the idea that every man for himself and a frontier mentality that never changes. I would have hoped we could grow up but maybe that is a pipe dream.

  • Scott T

    The National Shooting Sports Association has several programs to promote gun safety. They have given out over 36,000,000 gun lock kits for free.

    They are calling for improving the background check system, including mental health records.

    They campaign against straw purchases of guns.

    They are the actual professional advocates for the firearms industry. Yet the loudmouth NRA gets all the press.

    In my opinion, the NRA ‘s top priority is fracking the greatest amount of money possible out of it’s members with toxic rhetoric. Equally ludicrous is the misleading dogma spouted by foes of armed citizenship.

    The US media loves it’s discord LOUD and entertaining. Voices of logic and reason have little chance of competing.

    I was hoping that Mr. Moyers would offer a platform for deeper insight on the topic. I’ve been sadly disappointed so far. Are you listening Bill? Drop me an email. We’ll chat.

  • Scott t

    The National Shooting Sports Association has several programs to promote gun safety. They have given out over 36,000,000 gun lock kits for free.

    They are calling for improving the background check system, including mental health records.

    They campaign against straw purchases of guns.

    They are the actual professional advocates for the firearms industry. Yet the loudmouth NRA gets all the press.

    In my opinion, the NRA ‘s top priority is fracking the greatest amount of money possible out of it’s members with toxic rhetoric. Equally ludicrous is the misleading dogma spouted by foes of armed citizenship.

    The US media loves it’s discord LOUD and entertaining. Voices of logic and reason have little chance of competing.

    I was hoping that Mr. Moyers would offer a platform for deeper insight on the topic. I’ve been sadly disappointed so far. Are you listening Bill? Drop me an email. We’ll chat.

  • Jim

    I respect Bill and all the work he has done through the years. One of my earliest memories of his work was when he reported on Operation Paper Clip, the recruiting of German Nazi scientist after WWII. This is a complex and emotional issue for both sides. What I would like to see a guest from the other side of this debate, such as Larry Pratt, as he has appeared on national broadcasts many times. I wish there were more respectful debates on television. Most of the time we only hear the dogma of one side or the other and I’m personally tired of hearing these infomercials. If we don’t have serious debates then where is the growth, when we mostly tune into the polarized news we agree with. I live in California and the guns laws are always getting more restrictive, never the other way around. I feel as the NRA want to have guns, people for gun control will not be satisfied until they ban all guns. I’ve also traveled and live in Asia where most countries do not allow gun ownership. In some countries I’m sure the people wish they had guns to throw off the yoke of their repressive government, in others, no such problems exist. I feel a gun is a tool as any other. What really drives violence has to do more with cultural, social, economical issues. I am a responsible gun owner and most of the people I know that own guns are not what the media portrays us out to be.

  • David Crohn

    Guns are NOT a tool like “any other.” This is the worst fallacy of the gun lobby. Can you hurt someone with a hammer or a knife? Of course. But hammers and knives are not designed to hurt people, and most, in fact, serve other purposes. The ratio of stabbing sprees to shooting sprees is fairly uneven, I’m guessing.

    That’s really great that you’re a “responsible” gun owner (putting aside what that even means), but why do you need a gun at all? Are you hunting for your food? Defending your land from savages?

    Also, please stop with the BS about guns throwing off yokes of repressive governments. How many guns did Gandhi use? How many bullets did it take Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence? Also, open a newspaper. Many, many, many people have very powerful guns, and they’re not using them to throw off any repressive regimes. Is it guns that the people of North Korea need, or food and electricity?

    Think this through a bit, Jim. It’s not all that complicated. The government SHOULD take away your guns. Yours and everyone else’s. Because if they did, at least one thing would happen and at least one thing would not happen: There would be an end to gun deaths and your quality of life would not suffer. Not one bit.

  • David Crohn

    “Armed citizenship”? What does that mean? Please, I would LOVE to know what you think that means and to see if you can explain it coherently. Who gets to decide who gets to be armed? How does the armed citizen decide when and where to use force? Do shoplifters get shot? What about bad drivers, public urinators, loiterers, lying politicians, alcoholic pharmacists? No? Who are you to decide?