Commentary

Hyper-individualism is the disease keeping us from addressing deadly gun violence

April 4, 2023 7:00 am

The New England Journal of Medicine published data showing that death by gun became the number one cause of death among children in 2020. (Photo by Aristide Economopoulos for NJ Monitor)

“We’re not going to fix it,” was how Rep. Tim Burchett answered when asked about a potential role for congress in addressing the relentless school shootings plaguing America. The Republican, three-term U.S. House member from Tennessee gave the comment only a few hours after last Monday’s deadly shooting in Nashville. 

Two attributes of the pro-gun crowd are troubling me. The first one is evidenced by Burchett’s additional comments last week when he said, “I think you got to change people’s hearts.” This defeatist tone from the gun freedom crowd is familiar. Shootings like last week are now regularly described as an act of “evil.” 

As empty as “thoughts and prayers,” evil is now the insurmountable phantom used by those not interested in “fixing” any of it. It’s the GOP justification to not bother trying. 

The second attribute is broader, but also easily identifiable. It’s called “hyper-individualism.” Though this permeates much of our politics and culture right now, it is most visible in the gun fights. Pro-gun Americans try to avoid saying things like “the death toll by guns is the price of freedom.” But it is this deeply expensive freedom, specifically, that supports gun manufacturer’s production of the tools being used to kill our kids. 

Dr. Dennis M. Clausen wrote for Psychology Today in 2021, “it seems that individuals have taken the attitude that they have the right to conduct themselves in whatever way they see fit, and everyone else be damned.” Clausen discusses how “Social Darwinists” have led this type of cultural movement before, in a sad misinterpretation of Charles Darwin’s famous 1859 book, “The Origin of Species.”

Clausen writes of how the phenomenon appears in road rage incidents and customer service violence we now often see on video. Pandemic behavior displayed this like nothing else I’ve ever seen, and with an intensity I hope I never see again. It cost a staggering number of lives. 

Hyper-individualism is a fancy word for a simple thing: selfishness. One of the problems with the pro-gun crowd is their inability to see the cost of their selfishness. The enormous fiscal aspect of the overwhelming presence of guns is quantifiable. The cost this extreme self-interested behavior is causing for the greater community is immeasurable.  

The deterioration of community is akin to the collapse of the nuclear family. David Brooks wrote extensively about that collapse in The Atlantic in 2020. Losing commitment to both family and community leaves us where exactly? It leads us here — a nation stuck with a problem featuring a menu of potential solutions, but not enough commitment to one another to meaningfully act.  

Federal bill and Young

Last summer, President Joe Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. It was, at best, an incremental federal step in our national struggle with gun violence for the first time in nearly thirty years. Twenty Republican members of congress voted for it. Did Republican voters revolt? Quite the opposite. 

Of the five Republicans in the House who voted for the act, only one was on the ballot five months later in November. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick represents Pennsylvania’s 1st Congressional District in the House. First elected in 2016 in a competitive district, he garnered 56% of the vote in 2022 for a 12-point margin of victory, tying his largest victory in four elections. 

Fifteen Republicans voted for it in the Senate. Only two of them had to face voters in the fall. Both won bigger than ever before: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, and Indiana’s Todd Young.

Senator Young’s 58% share of Hoosiers voting last fall would likely have been smaller if he had voted against the gun safety bill. I have no data to back that up, but I bet Senator Young does. He knew. He knew the right thing to do politically, even in red Indiana, was to vote yes. His margin of victory confirmed it. 

American voters want action on guns, even if Republicans in congress still lack the courage to regularly deliver it. 

The New England Journal of Medicine published data showing that death by gun became the number one cause of death among children in 2020. Other top causes are auto accidents, cancer and drug overdoses, all tragic problems we collectively have no problem trying to solve. 

Darwin’s theory about “the survival of the fittest” has been wrongly applied to all sorts of things the last century and a half. Specifically, his theory was about the survival of the species itself. Our children’s survival is being threatened by one neighbor’s selfish freedom to own an AR-15, while his neighbors, and their children, are needlessly dying from it. 

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Michael Leppert
Michael Leppert

Michael Leppert is an author, educator and a communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com.

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