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Culture Wars - Tearing Apart the US?


Summarise President Obama's reactions to mass shootings in the US.
Analyse the author's position on gun ownership and gun control in the US.
Comment / Creative Writing (Choose one.)
Comment on the extent to which controvery over the issue of gun control is characteristic of the US culture wars. Refer to both this article and your coursework in your answer.
Imagine you are a German high school student spending a year in an American family in Oregon. You live with a welcoming host family, who are keen hunters and fishermen. Since you have read the article in The Guardian and regularly follow the news, you cannot understand why gun ownerhsip is not as restricted as it is in Germany. That is why you ask your host father about his opinion on guns and gun control in the US.
Write the conversation between you and your host father.
Material 1
‘Thoughts and prayers are not enough’: Why the US has so many mass shootings
There was a palpable weariness in President Obama’s official response on Thursday to the gun carnage at Umpqua community college in Oregon. He leaned repeatedly on the word “another” – another mass shooting, another community stunned with grief, more American families “whose lives have been changed forever.”
But underneath the tired exterior of a president who has had to deliver essentially the same speech nine times over the past six years, there was also an evident seething anger. “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he said. “It does not capture the heartache and grief we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage being repeated somewhere else in America.”
That Obama had rediscovered his anger over gun violence was news in itself, because for most of the past
three years it has been lacking. He demonstrated the same passion after the 2012 slaying in Connecticut of 20 five-year-old children and six of their adult carers[1] in Newtown. He said bullishly then: “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”
At that time, Obama was not the only person in the US who was convinced that the mowing down of 20 young children in their classrooms with a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle would force the country to finally
get serious about addressing the epidemic of gun violence.
But since Newtown there have been 994 mass shootings in the US and, according to the website[2], almost 300 this year alone.
Yet when Obama invested considerable amounts of his second-term political capital trying to fix the problem in the wake of Newtown[3], he quickly foundered on the rock[4] of National Rifle Association[5]
intransigence combined with the political expediency[6] – some would say cowardice – of Congress. A proposal to begin closing some of the most glaring loopholes in the country’s exceptionally lax gun laws collapsed after moderate Republicans and four Democratic senators caved to pressure from the gun lobby.
Despairing of any action from Congress, Obama issued 23 executive orders[7] under his own presidential powers that fine-tuned some regulatory areas without ever truly tackling the problem.
But the ongoing stream of mass shootings has been testimony[8] to the inefficacy of those measures. With sickening regularity, Obama has been forced to stand in front of the White House podium and give yet another rendition of his post-tragedy address, like a gun rampage edition of Groundhog Day[9]. Each time he has made the speech, his words have come across as a little more limp, a little more pro forma – “routine” was how he himself put it on Thursday.
If the president has felt defeated over guns that is perhaps understandable. In the wake of Newtown, and the failure to secure meaningful legislative change in its aftermath, America’s gun disease has looked insurmountable.
But perhaps the most powerful way to express the disaster is the most simple. Every day in America, 297
people are shot with firearms and 89 people die. That’s an annual death toll at the end of a gun of 32,000 people.
In his address on Thursday, Obama invited the US media to compare the annual level of gun fatalities to the number of victims of terrorism on domestic soil, and then compare the trillions of dollars invested in counter- terrorism with the almost total legislative inaction over firearms.
But a comparison with the response to last year’s Ebola crisis might be even more instructive. […]
If gun violence were treated with the same efforts as Ebola, the mission to eradicate it would begin with nationwide research into the nature and scale of the crisis. Yet even that proves to be impossible, because the NRA has campaigned over many years to prevent federal agencies from compiling records on firearms and their movements – painting such an effort in apocalyptic terms as an attempt by the federal government
to strip Americans of their Second Amendment[10] rights.
Over the past 35 years, Congress, under NRA lobbying, has consistently prevented the creation of a centralized national database of gun owners and their weapons. That’s like forbidding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention[11] from identifying and logging incidents of Ebola infection. […]
Almost nine out of every 10 Americans – Republican supporters nearly as much as Democrats – agree in
the Pew[12] opinion polls with the idea of expanding federal background checks to all gun sales. Almost eight out of 10 want to see tighter laws over mentally-ill people acquiring firearms.
The disparity between such overwhelming public approval for modest gun control reforms and the almost total stasis[13] gripping Congress on the issue lies at the core of America’s modern gun malaise. It raises the possibility, however faint, of change; and it tells Obama that there might be a purpose after all for that anger
bubbling beneath the surface.
Pilkington, Ed. ‘Thoughts and prayers are not enough’: Why the US has so many mass shootings. The Guardian (3 October 2015).

[1] carers: here: primary school teachers
[2] a website of anti-gun activists which lists all mass shootings in the US
[3] in the wake of Newtown: after the mass shooting at Newtown primary school
[4] foundered on the rock: here: failed to achieve his political goals because
[5] National Rifle Association (NRA): an American organization which advocates gun rights
[6] expediency: German: Berechnung, Kalkül, Opportunismus
[7] executive order: a presidential decree (comparable to a law) which does not need congressional approval
[8] has been testimony to: here: has publicly proved
[9] Groundhog Day: a movie in which the protagonist finds himself in a time loop repeating the same day over and over again
[10] Second Amendment: a legal change made to the US Constitution in 1791 which guarantees the right to bear arms
[11] Centers for Disease Control an Prevention: the leading national public health institutes of the US
[12] Pew: a research center which provides data on social and political issues
[13] stasis: immobility, paralysis, standstill
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Culture Wars - Tearing Apart the US?

$\blacktriangleright$  1. Summarise Obama's reactions
  • weary of giving the same speech nine times over the past six years
  • anger because thoughts and prayers are not enough, carnages cannot be prevented
  • events cannot be tolerated anymore $\rightarrow$ invokes people to change
  • thought that event of Newtown would change people's mindset
  • used a great amount of his capital in order to fix the problem and issued executive orders that had the purpose of regulating some areas, yet, without effect
  • tired of repeating the same words over and over again without ever appealing to people
  • defeated over guns, had failed to make a change in the law
  • Obama even went as far as to make a comparison between the annual level of gun fatalities and the number of victims of terror $\rightarrow$ showed that capital invested in counter-terrorism was tremendously higher than the amount of money for legislative inaction over firearms
$\blacktriangleright$  2. Analyse author's position towards gun ownership and gun control
  • (stylistic device) "Evidence"
    $\rightarrow$ Interpretation
Author is against gun ownership and pro gun control:
  • "Obama had rediscovered his anger over gun violence […] for most of the past three years it has been lacking" (l. 9)
    $\rightarrow$ author criticizes Obama's lacking emotions about gun violence
  • irony: "same passion after the 2012 slaying in Connecticut" (l. 10)
    $\rightarrow$ Obama has not shown enough compassion towards the cruel event in Connecticut in the author's opinion
  • "Obama was not the only person in the US who was convinced that the mowing down of 20 young children […] would force the country to finally get serious about addressing the epidemic of gun violence" (l. 13-14)
    $\rightarrow$ mowing down: terrible extent of having gun laws
    $\rightarrow$ 20 young children: innocent people suffered from gun laws
    $\rightarrow$ finally get serious: it is time for change
    $\rightarrow$ epidemic of gun violence: needs to be shut down, disease has already spread
  • "political expedience - some would say cowardice - of Congress " (l. 20)
    $\rightarrow$ author blames politics for not acting and being bribed by NRA
  • "exceptionally lax gun laws" (l. 21)
    $\rightarrow$ politics are not doing enough
  • metaphor: "caved to pressure from the gun lobby" (l. 22)
    $\rightarrow$ judges politicians being bribed by NRA
  • personification: "sickening regularity" (l. 26)
    $\rightarrow$ speeches about gun rampages have become normal
  • simile: "like a gun rampage edition of Groundhog Day" (l. 27)
    $\rightarrow$ author sarcastically shows how routine-driven gun rampages have become
  • personification: "America's gun disease has looked insurmountable" (l. 31-32)
    $\rightarrow$ hopelessness of the author
  • simile: "If gun violence were treated with the same efforts as Ebola […]" (l. 41)
    $\rightarrow$ shows sarcastic comicality of extent
  • metaphor: "apocalyptic terms" (l. 44)
    $\rightarrow$ gun law and gun ownership seem unstoppable and unthinkable for American citizens
$\blacktriangleright$  3.1 Comment on whether gun control is characteristic for culture war
Possible information for Introduction:
  • explaining issue of gun control (revolves around the controversy of the extent to which civilians should be able to purchase, possess and use firearms)
  • 2nd amendment
  • vs. social dynamics always affect legislation (no reason to allow people to use guns since they can be misused)
Main Part
  • two apparent point of views: total ban vs. total freedom
    $\rightarrow$ no inbetween, different fronts are not blurred
  • culture war between traditional and progressive values
    $\rightarrow$ also a war between Republicans and Democrats in part (Republicans more in favor of 2nd amendment)
  • "gun culture"
    $\rightarrow$ society that relies on violence
    $\rightarrow$ ethically perverse and politically filthy culture of violence is evident in the power of the gun lobby and its political advocates
  • Michael Moore: "Bowling for Columbine"
    $\rightarrow$ presents USA as a country born in fear of outsiders - fear continues to influence US foreign policy
    $\rightarrow$ 2nd amendment as prevention from British trying to take back the US in 18th century
    $\rightarrow$ culture of fear and how that fear leads us to acts of violence, domestically and internationally
  • NRA basically helped invent the culture wars and kept inflaming them
    $\rightarrow$ became closely aligned with Republican Party
    $\rightarrow$ even as crime rates continue to fall, NRA continues to rise
    $\rightarrow$ Republicans warn about riots, terrorists and gangs, perils that are sure to emerge at some point in time according to Republicans
    $\rightarrow$ NRA Vice President James Porter called it "not a battle about gun rights but a gun war"
    $\rightarrow$ gun control advocates criticize politicians for NRA support
    $\rightarrow$ people go to town hall meetings about gun control and get involved in the topic
  • cluster of cultural issues referred to as "God, guns and gays"
    $\rightarrow$ real and symbolic significance of gun ownership for Americans
    $\rightarrow$ guns as signs of self-reliance and personal liberty
    $\rightarrow$ some gun owners support extending Brady Act background checks
  • debates about gun control actually highly beneficial to gun lobby
    $\rightarrow$ if gun control is considered an assault on the values of those supporting guns, NRA can motivate them to oppose gun control
  • Clinton: no real culture war
    $\rightarrow$ made gun control an issue of public safety (stronger gun laws necessary in order to fight violent crime)
    $\rightarrow$ supported by law enforcement officials who emphasized the peril of easy access to guns
Possible Conclusion:
  • culture war because deeply rooted in history
  • dramatic realignment and polarization transforming United States' politics and culture
$\blacktriangleright$  3.2 Write a conversation
Hey Nick, can I talk to you about something?
Of course, what's up?
I just read this article about Obama's reaction towards the mass shootings and gun control in general. And I wonder what is it that Americans have with guns, I don't really understand why there are always debates about that…?
Well, this is a rather delicate topic to talk about but I get what you're saying. For you it must be really different here from what you're used to in Germany, isn't it?
Yeah, pretty much! In Germany, you would never ever see someone walking around with a gun! And there, only police officers, hunters or people in a gun club are allowed to possess guns but even they are not really allowed to carry them openly like here. It is like super restricted! First, you need to complete training classes in order to obtain a certificate that says that you are able to shoot a gun. In addition, you need to pass a psychological and various other tests and you need an extra certificate or extra permit for obtaining ammunition. And you need to lock the guns away safely and this needs to fulfill certain conditions as well.
What about hunters? I mean, we are hunters and someone needs to be responsible for the animals in the woods or what do you in Germany do about that?
Uhm, I think hunters need to pass the same tests to obtain a weapon. Also they are only allowed to carry the weapon in the specific hunting-area that has been assigned to them. And they are only allowed to shoot a certain amount of game per month or so. Their sole purpose is to keep the numbers of specific species in track.
Okay, so that's how it works in Germany. Well, me being a hunter… - it is just natural that I am against a confiscation of guns in general! But I am actually pro gun control - people should not be allowed to just go to a gun show and buy any rifle they like. I think there should be more restrictions in general.
Like which?
Well, first everyone should have to go to a training class so that they know what they are doing actually. Then, before someone wants to obtain a weapon, there should be some kind of background check.
Yeah, where they ask you why you need the gun, what you are going to do with it, where they want to see your certificates and stuff…
Yes, exactly! And I think that weapons should be locked up safely as well. There have been so many accidents in the past few years, where children killed their parents by accidents or nightmares like that!
So, would you want it to be like it is in Germany?
Not as restricted, you know. You cannot take this away from Americans, it is so deeply rooted in their mindset and in the culture that you would inflame civil war if you would take this away from them. Also, many think that possessing a gun is a symbol for self-defence and self-reliance, they need to feel that sense of security even though it is ridiculous, even if something happened, you wouldn't be able to react that fast with your own gun… So, I guess restrictions are okay, as long as everybody is cool with them…
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