UW-Madison Professor Places Gun Culture Roots In Post-Civil War South

The first thing I ever wrote to be published was a Letter to the Editor of my county newspaper lamenting the lack of gun control. I was a high school teenager who found it hard to fathom the stunning number of handgun deaths in the nation.  Several decades later and the search for an understanding of our gun culture continues to vex me.  I still am not able to square the tens of thousands of lives killed each year due to guns with a legislative process impotent to enacting meaningful corrective measures.  

How the culture for gun madness was born and how it took root in such a powerful way has intrigued me since I used a Smith Corona to type (or was that pecking) my letter to the Waushara Argus. On Sunday, an insightful and thought-provoking article from Nick Buttrick, assistant professor of psychology at UW-Madison, was published in the Wisconsin State Journal which demonstrates from a data-loaded historical perspective how and where our national gun culture took birth.

The South was a very dangerous place after the war. More than half a million men, with their weapons, returned to what rapidly became one of the most heavily armed societies in the world, and one of the most violent: The murder rate in the South during the 1870s was an estimated 18 times higher than in New England — largely driven by white men killing each other.

Elite white Southerners considered the empowerment of the previously enslaved population an existential threat and worked to repress Black political power as completely as possible.

As part of that project, white Southern leaders explicitly anchored the protection of their way of life in the private ownership of firearms, arguing that guns protected white people from an illegitimate government unwilling to keep them safe. The huge supply of firearms from the war made this argument salient.

Using data from the 1860 census, nationally representative survey data from more than 3.5 million Americans, and records of every death in the U.S. from 1996 to 2016, we found that the higher the rate of enslavement in a county in 1860 — i.e., where nascent Black political power was more threatening to post-Civil War white elites — the higher the rate of gun ownership today.

In other words, counties with a historical prevalence of slavery had both the most guns and the tightest link between guns and feelings of safety. These are the places where contemporary American gun culture took root.

Mass shootings and obituaries from gun violence are now part of the fabric of daily life in this country. While it is important to place our current dilemma into a historical construct the lay of the land does not allow one to think it leads toward an enlightened and credible congressional majority that works in concert with needed gun control measures.

There was no way as a teenager to imagine that mass murder from high-powered military-type rifles of the kind used in Las Vegas when 58 people were killed could ever occur. When I sat at our family kitchen table and typed out the newspaper letter it would have been hard for me to believe that, Telemachus Orfanos, a man who escaped with his life from that mass shooting would die in another mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. The fact that a person can find themselves in the midst of two separate mass shootings in America underscores where the gun culture born in the South has placed our nation.

Supreme Court Starts Session With Win For Gun Control Safety In America

The new session of the U.S. Supreme Court started out with an action that runs in alignment with a major theme of this blog, gun safety in the nation.  The Court rejected two appeals by gun owners seeking to overturn the federal government’s ban on the sale of bump stocks.  Those stocks are the shortened term for devices that allow a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger.  It is not difficult to understand why that item is most undesirable, and why the ban was implemented. The ban was one of the very few policy moves from the one term of Donald Trump with which I could voice strong agreement.

The only way to report this story is from the perspective of the safety factor as the ban is a way to stem the furthering of gun violence this nation faces daily. The action of the court in their rejection of the cases is a significant victory for gun control advocates and supports the role our government has undertaken–though far too timidly–with efforts to regulate very dangerous weapons.

Why these cases being shunted out the Court door matters is that knuckle-draggers who sought to undo the ban tried to suggest the government did not have authority to ban bump stocks under the National Firearms Act, a law enacted in 1934 to regulate machine guns. In 1968, the Gun Control Act expanded the definition of a machine gun to include accessories “for use in converting a weapon” into a machine gun, and the ATF concluded under the Trump Administration, when it issued the ban, that bump stocks meet that definition. I found fault with the ATF under the Obama administration when that agency ruled bump stocks should not be classified as a “machinegun” and therefore should not be banned under federal law. 

Bump stocks are accessories for semi-automatic rifles, such as the popular AR-15-style weapons that have been used in a plethora of mass shootings in our country. They use the recoil energy of a trigger pull to enable the user to fire up to hundreds of rounds a minute. That is simply insanity that needed to be curbed. It took the mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead before the ATF acted during Trump’s time in office, and credit needs to be given where it is due. After all, what more needs to happen to show the bump stock ban was necessary. The Vegas shooter used assault-style rifles to fire more than 1,000 rounds in 11 minutes into the crowd of 22,000 music fans.

For rational and common-sense people in the nation who fully understand and desire that logical regulations be placed on the sale of guns and their “particular attributes”, today was a solid win. Not a bad way to start a Monday morning or the first day of a new session of the Court.

Three Questions For Amoral NRA and Soulless Gun Manufacturers To Address

Has the NRA offered to pay for any of the funerals in Highland Park or assist in millions of dollars in hospital costs for the injured?

How do the NRA and soulless gun manufacturers expect gun victims without adequate health insurance to pay for the enormous costs associated with mass shootings?

Do the NRA and soulless gun manufacturers push for a blood drive where mass shootings take place and scores are wounded and rushed to local hospitals? Or are they too busy counting blood money from their gun sales?

Why Are Guns More Important Than This Kid Being Able To Walk?

Why do we fight for gun control in the nation?

No one needs their personal gun(s) more than this child needs to walk. Period.

This 8-year-old boy shot in the 4th of July parade in Highland Park is now paralyzed from the waist down.

Cooper Roberts, one of the Roberts family’s twin 8-year-old boys, had remained in critical condition for several days with a severed spinal cord.

On Friday, Cooper was removed from the ventilator and was conscious for the first time, but it was confirmed that the boy is paralyzed from the waist down, close friend and family spokesman Anthony Loizzi said in a statement.

“Cooper is asking to see his 8-year-old twin Luke and his dog George,” the statement said.

The reason there is so much legitimate anger, revulsion, and utter repudiation for the selfish and soulless gun advocates and those within the blood-soaked NRA is that their actions and amoral behavior create the conditions where Cooper is to live his life in a wheelchair.

If you have in any way supported the NRA or voted for their political puppets who have undermined gun legislation in our nation then you must carry the weight that is now the future of a kid who can not walk.

Cooper was described as a boy who likes to play sports and is a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers.

But at least some angry men around the nation have their guns today. And can buy more this weekend! Maybe even get their father to ‘sponsor’ them so they can get a high-powered weapon.

Bad Parenting And Mass Shooter In Highland Park

On July 14th I turn another year older and it seems each year at this time I spend a bit of time pondering life, looking back nostalgically and also sizing up where life has taken me. This year, given the gravity of the headlines following the mass shooting in Highland Park and the additionally troubling news of the shooter traveling to Middleton and the Madison area, makes me most aware of how adrift society has landed from when I was in my early 20s.

I am not lacking knowledge as to the differences in generations and the types of stresses and issues that current parents and children encounter in life. Technology alone has altered the landscape from how teachers conduct classes to how kids ask someone out for a Saturday night movie. Granted, I was born in 1962 in a rural county in Wisconsin.  Many can, up to a point, claim ‘things were much different’ then, and they would be accurate.  But only up to a point. 

What I have argued and at times it might appear even preached, is that there is no reason the same common-sense rules of the road for parenting that my mom and dad employed should not apply today. A large portion of my first book Walking Up The Ramp (second book to be published later this summer) speaks to how mom and dad raised a boy to be a man. The very foundations that applied in my home, along with the vast number of my fellow classmates during the years of schooling were not old-fashioned or ‘dated’. Rather the problem today is that in too many cases they too often have been cast aside. Worse still, not even entertained as a path of raising a kid.

I was flabbergasted to read, and sadly see, Denise Pesina, the mother of mass shooter Bobby Crimo pulled down her top and exposed her right breast while confronting the professional SWAT personnel waiting to enter her home following the slaughter during the Fourth of July parade. That act was one more piece of the growing puzzle as to the lack of character of the killer’s parents and what type of home environment existed. Perhaps the photo can be used for her end-of-the-year holiday letter?

Her action was not a ‘one-off’ and pardon me the bad pun. Such behavior does not just occur, but rather resembles the makeup of the person, err…’parent’.

Nothing, however, proves the lack of parenting skills or the total disregard for community safety more clearly than when Robert Crimo, Jr., the father of the mass shooter, signed off on his son’s application for a deadly gun in December 2019. That occurred despite Bobby having two previous encounters with local police, including one in September 2019 where he allegedly threatened to “kill everybody” in his family.

Sure get him a deadly weapon! What possibly could be the harm in doing so?

With such a delusional frame of mind can my readers imagine the father as the mayor of Highland Park? His political background and the news from this week underscore how correctly voters were when gauging him at the ballot box.

Obviously, there will be a criminal investigation into the culpability of the father, and legal fees for his actions, we can only hope, are extravagant, given the scope of the deadly and heinous crimes committed by his son. We can strongly assume the father will slink away and not be ever again seeking public office or pressing for lax gun control measures.

As I have done a couple of times previously on Caffeinated Politics I again offer a few ideas that either were in place when I was a kid or ones that clearly had no need to ever be addressed because we had a solid family foundation. I wonder how many of the ones below were not included in the Crimo home and treated as a daily routine?

Sadly, we know the father had no regard for gun safety given his reckless actions regarding his son. Meanwhile, it is reported the wife has been separated from the husband, and it appears the family home is soon to be facing foreclosure.

  1. Kids need to be read to from day one.  Books need to be in a home and used as an everyday item same as a plate or spoon.
  2. There is no excuse to miss school except for sickness.
  3. Schoolwork is front and center in the evening.
  4. One may not have lots of money but there can still be an investment made in education.  Attending parent/teacher meetings or volunteering at the local school are but two ways to impact a child’s education.
  5. From the start know who your kids interact with and the quality of people they spend time with when the parent is not around.  Alerting them from the start about the quality of friends can be most important.
  6. Every day there is a time when all in the family meet for dinner (supper) and no electronic gadgets are allowed at the table.  Talk centers on whatever took place in the lives gathered.  Fostering good communication skills for the whole family is a most undervalued asset in times of turmoil. 
  7. Kids do not smoke in the house.
  8. No drugs are allowed in the house.
  9. No guns or other weapons are allowed in the house.
  10. There is an expectation from Day One that learning is important and respect for oneself and others is never to falter.
  11. No one even hints at dropping out of high school.

Times change but common sense does not.  Young people who make awful choices need to take their share of responsibility for what happens.  But parents need to step up their game and help society create the next generation of adults we would want as our neighbors.

We saw this week what happens when parents do not meet their obligations. Not only to their children but also to society.

Chicago Sun-Times Reporter Lynn Sweet At Highland Park, “Worst Mass Attack In Recent Illinois History”

When it comes to news reporting from the Windy City along with political insight few come better than Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times. To say I have respected this reporter for decades would be an understatement. When it comes to solid writing and a tenaciousness for getting information Sweet is the type of journalist who always gets praised on this blog.

While I enjoy newspapers between my fingers after they land on my front stoop the decades-long appreciation I have for the Sun-Times makes it the only digital paper to be read daily at our home.

So very early this morning—or very late last night–I read a most impressive article by Sweet, who was at the Highland Park parade when hell opened up. One that I will post below in its entirety, something I seldom do. But given a paywall and the power of her words, I take this exception and simply ask that you read the following.

You know why I’m writing this.

I was at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade.

Not as the Sun-Times Washington bureau chief. As a civilian. I’m staying with my sister over this holiday. She lives in Highland Park, which is approximately 25 miles north of Chicago’s downtown. More than 30,000 people live there.

I just wanted to go to this parade and enjoy the day. Hang out with friends. Maybe after the parade, go to one of the stunning Lake Michigan beaches that hug this North Shore suburb. Or maybe have a swim at the Highland Park pool, next to the fire station. That fire station transformed into an emergency operations center after the unimaginable — is this a cliché? — happened.

In a matter of seconds, a sniper — using a high-powered, rapid-fire weapon — slaughtered six people and wounded dozens of others as the parade made its way down Central Avenue in downtown Highland Park.

The parade started about 10 a.m. I’m at the start of the route.

Leading off the parade were fire engines from Highland Park, sirens blaring in a good way — before the world changed in this suburban city at 10:14 a.m., when the sniper started shooting from a rooftop.

There was a color guard — four sailors, two with rifles on their shoulders. Soon after that, the Highland Park City Council marched, led by Mayor Nancy Rotering — who a few minutes after she passed me would be dealing with a massacre on what was supposed to be a day of celebration.

The blue-shirted members of the Highland Park High School band stepped off playing “It’s a Grand Old Flag.” Then the marchers from the League of Women Voters from Highland Park and Highwood.

It was all so delightfully normal.

Then it wasn’t.

I was watching and listening to the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band perform on top of a flatbed truck when I saw people running away from Central Avenue. “A shooter,” someone said. I saw terrified people run into an underground garage, looking for safety from the bullets.

As people were fleeing the scene, I hustled toward it. Please don’t make a big deal that I did it. I’m a reporter.

I saw, frozen in time, what people left when they fled. So many baby carriages. Folding chairs. Backpacks. Water bottles. Towels. Blankets. Police were asking people to leave the active shooting scene.

As I approached Port Clinton Square, by the reviewing stand, I saw a woman down. I don’t know if she was dead or alive. Two people were leaning over her. I saw another woman on the ground.

Then, near a bench in the square, I came upon a pool of blood, ruby red blood. There was so much blood, that the blood puddle was lumpy because so much already coagulated. The shape of the blood — was this a twisted Rorschach test? — looked like a handgun to me.

I’m going into this gruesome detail because this is what gun violence from a rapid-fire weapon with an apparent high capacity magazine looks like. My sister, Neesa, on Central near the railroad tracks, heard two sequences of rapid fire. The pause is likely when the shooter switched out magazines.

I saw my first body of the day. A blanket covered the top of the man. His shorts were soaked with blood. His legs were bloody and blood was still flowing out of him. Two more bodies were on the steps leading into Port Clinton. Thankfully, someone threw blankets over their torsos.

We know that a “person of interest” has been apprehended. He’s local, 22 years old, grew up here. We all wonder about his motive.

As I’m writing this, a friend just sent me a note from his rabbi about a member of North Shore Congregation Israel who was murdered Monday.

Both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about the horror in Highland Park. Harris will be in Chicago on Tuesday and it’s likely she will further address gun violence. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, with Rotering and many law enforcement officials, gave a press briefing from that firehouse — the one next to the city’s pool, where we were supposed to be celebrating our nation’s independence.

The Highland Park mass shooting is getting global attention, as it should: It’s the worst mass attack in recent Illinois history.

As we mourn the Highland Park victims, let’s not forget the chronic loss of life in Chicago happening almost every day from gun violence.

On Chicago’s South and West sides, nine people were killed and at least 52 others were wounded by gunfire in Chicago as of Monday evening on this Fourth of July weekend.

In May, the massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde were added to the tragically growing list of mass shootings in the U.S.

And now Highland Park.

I’ve been reporting on gun massacres for years — since the 1999 Columbine school shootings. But always from a distance. I wasn’t there when the killing happened.

Until this July Fourth.

When I was.


White Male Shooter Brings Pall Over July 4th, 6 Dead In Highland Park, Men Should Ask Why?

A Lake County police officer walks through chairs and bikes left behind on the Central Avenue parade route sidewalk near the scene of the Highland Park mass shooting. Chicago Tribune photo.

Shortly after noon on July 4th, I took the American flag off of our flagpole. It was not any ordinary American flag, but a special one that I fly one day a year.

I took it out of its special plastic container late Sunday night and hoisted it up the flagpole. Only on Independence Day does the flag which had flown over Mount Vernon on the day of our visit fly proudly at our home. That flag represents a touchstone of history, and also underscores my respect for not only George Washington but the Founding Fathers as a whole.

But when the news was reported of the mass shooting Monday morning in Highland Park, killing 6 and injuring about 30, I walked outside and took the flag down. There was simply no way that flag was going to fly at half-staff on July 4th.

Not for a nation that simply refuses to coherently address gun violence.

We are the only industrialized nation in the world that allows for the bloodshed and carnage to continue without taking firm and resolute actions. Or as one might say back home where I was raised, not willing to shuck the issue down to the cob.

A couple of weeks ago Congress was so gleeful about the meek and timid gun legislation that was passed. Yes, it was better than nothing at all, but still impotent when addressing the real needs when it comes to guns and violence in America.

At the time of the Senate passing the measure I was listening to some music as I mowed our lawn. A song called 40 Miles From Poplar Bluff was on my playlist and a line from that long ago tune says and daddy’s morning coffee came from ol’ left over grounds.

That is how I view the gun law. Weak, timid, and akin to leftover coffee grounds. It is so far from where the nation needs our legislative bodies to be when addressing gun violence.

No one should be surprised that on July 4th a mass shooting took place, that another white male is being sought (as of this writing the killer is yet to be apprehended), or that there will be more mass shootings this week. After all, this is only the start of the week.

I had already awoken to WGN radio news which reported at least 55 people had been shot, seven fatally, in the 4th of July holiday weekend violence in Chicago. Every weekend there are scores of reasons in that one city, alone, that scream out why true gun control measures need to be passed in this country.

And we know why there need to be federal laws so to stem gun violence like on the streets of the Windy City.

The guns that end up on Chicago’s streets often come from Indiana and Wisconsin. In 2019, of more than 11,000 guns confiscated by Illinois authorities, 460 were traced back to Wisconsin, which ranked third for states with the most gun traces outside of Illinois, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. (I wrote about this issue, and had my column published at Urban Milwaukee.)

Today we are reading and watching the news reports of yet another man committing a mass shooting. Almost every mass shooter in the United States is a man. And white men are the most responsible for such shootings.

As NPR has reported, researchers say that men, more than women, tend to externalize their problems and look for others to blame, which can translate into anger and violence. And when women do choose violence, guns are not typically their weapon of choice.

If men vastly outnumber women as mass shooters, those perpetrators are often a model for the next male shooters, who “see themselves in them,” Peterson said, a phenomenon that she noted is particularly true among young, white men. Violence Project data show that white men are disproportionately responsible for mass shootings more than any other group.

Too many white males in the nation, (some who would have us believe they are now a discriminated group because we demand they act reasonably in society) become agitated and even outraged when it is pointed out that they are the leading cause of mass shootings in our nation. Not only does our nation have too many guns that are easily accessible, but we also have some males who think their perceived grievances give them license to act out in any way they desire.

Why are there so many white men who when confronted with the rigors of life resort to violence? Why are so many of the group unable to cope with their emotions and find avenues for productive and healthy living? How did we raise in this nation such a group of misfits?

If you listen to some of the twaddle on Fox News you will know they fear masculinity is being drained from males. They actually talk about such absurd topics on prime time. Meanwhile, the streets of our country are seen to be overrun by what can be correctly termed toxic masculinity.

Today a young white male killed six and injured scores. Guns are to blame, for sure. So, too, is whatever is wrong with too many white men.

Texas Mass Shooting With Editorial Cartoons

Nothing can put forth a message like a well-crafted editorial cartoon. Here, then, are some of the ones regarding the Texas massacre of 19 school children and two adults that made an impression at this blogging desk.