“What is wrong with this culture?”

| September 8, 2014


Nicholas A. Rudnik, Valdosta Today Editorial Contributor:


On Monday, August 25, 39-year-old Charles Vacca was shot and killed by an Israeli-manufactured Uzi machine gun. Vacca died of a gunshot wound to the head. He was shot by a 9-year-old girl from New Jersey at an Arizona gun range, Bullets and Burgers, at which Vacca was employed as an instructor. The death has been ruled accidental. Even more horrible is that the entire incident was caught on film. Rightfully, this incident has become a flashpoint in the national political discourse regarding gun rights in America.

On Wednesday, former Republican Congressman and current co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough, was livid in response to the video. He ridiculed those who would allow a 9-year-old to fire a fully automatic military-grade weapon, conveying a harsh righteous indignation for the entire premise of the incident. “Who would put an Uzi in the hands of a 9 year old girl,” Scarborough said. “What is wrong with these people? What is wrong with this culture? … What right is advanced by doing that? A man is dead and they’ve ruined a little girl’s life. For what?”

Joe Scarborough is right. A man lost his life—and for what? The questions are replete: What parents would take their young child to a gun range and let them fire a fully automatic firearm? Further, what type of gun range is called Bullets and Burgers? Surely one seeking to market to children. You know, fire an assault rifle with Dad for a few hours and top it off with a burger and a milkshake—to be necessarily facetious: good old fashioned American father-daughter time. Wrong. If this 9-year-old’s family would’ve taken her to Chuck E. Cheese, Charles Vacca’s dead body wouldn’t be lying in a morgue right now. The stakes are far too high to beat around the bush.

Alright, if you watch the video, anyone well-versed in handling a weapon, will notice that Vacca, at several impasses, erred in judgment. Yes, Vacca should’ve been on the opposite side of the young girl (or behind her). At the very least he should’ve known, being an experienced instructor, to stand on the other side of the student, out of the path of any potential recoil. And sure, he should’ve had both hands firmly on the gun. But that’s beside the point.
The point being, as Scarborough put it: “A man is dead and they’ve ruined a little girl’s life. For what?”

CNN opinion columnist Mel Robbins said it differently. A self-proclaimed “gun lover” herself, Robbins wrote: “Should a fourth-grader be legally allowed to shoot an Uzi? The only answer to that question is: Hell fricking NO—it should be against the law.” And Robbins is right, as well.

And how does the National Rifle Association (NRA) respond? As they usually do. In the wake of each successive shooting tragedy in this country, to say the NRA has been indecorous would be unnecessarily gratuitous. More properly, their behavior is simply deplorable and disgusting. Vacca wasn’t even buried in the ground and an NRA twitter account posted information on how children can have “fun” at a gun range.

But we should come to expect this from the NRA. For they no longer represent the values of ordinary gun owners. In fact, following the Newtown massacre, the NRA released a new shooting game with coffin-shaped targets. Bad timing? Certainly. Extreme? Absolutely. This is the new NRA. Seeking to appease fringe “survivalist” and paramilitary thugs, rather than advocate common sense policies for mainstream, responsible gun hobbyists, sportsmen, and the like.
We have to remember that this NRA: the take-no-prisoners, the-unfettered-access-to-guns, the-only reasonable-restrictions-are-those-we-deem-acceptable group is a relatively recent development—since the 1970s. Since then, the NRA has undergone a metamorphosis into advocating for, essentially, unfettered gun ownership (their motivation being, to support gun manufacturers, or the business of selling more guns). This ain’t your daddy’s NRA.

I follow my previous statement by noting, I’m not trying to undermine the second amendment of the federal constitution. So to the commenters who’ll inevitably feel they need to remind me about it: yeah, I got it. But, and there is a very important but: constitutional rights have reasonable restrictions. I’ll illustrate this point with the first amendment. You can’t falsely shout “fire” in a crowded theater, thus inducing panic and hysteria. Libel is not protected under the first amendment. Nor is obscenity (i.e., pornography—and rightfully so). Nor are threats. Nor is speech intended to incite violence (i.e., fighting words). This is our first amendment; the most essential to the framers of the federal constitution in forging a robust participatory democracy, yet it is has reasonable limitations. Our second amendment is no different than the first in this essential respect.

Now, responsible gun owners understand this. And likely, that has something to do with being responsible. As Emerson reminds us, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” There’s a rather militarized, albeit very small contingent of American gun owners who feel that the second amendment deserves no reasonable restriction. They’ll typically cite it as a “fundamental” or “irreparable” right inherent to us. To that end, they’d be right. We have a constitutionally guaranteed right to own a gun. But that right is not without certain restrictions and regulations (like with the case of the first amendment). This is their equivocation. And it is this purist position which is only reinforced by the modern NRA—uncompromising to any reasonable gun regulations. Emerson was right; it’s a foolish consistency sensible only to small minds.

This purist position, devoid any overbearing understanding of constitutional law or public policy is a dangerous slippery slope. Remember on June 6, Dennis Marx of Cumming, Georgia entered the Forsyth County courthouse armed to the teeth—to use a well understood colloquialism. He injured a sheriff’s deputy and deployed handmade smoke grenades to cover his approach to the building. Upon entering the courthouse, Marx met a hail of gunfire from sheriff’s deputies and subsequently died on the scene. Marx was a self-proclaimed ‘sovereign citizen.’ As the Southern Poverty Law Center defines it, sovereign citizens is a hate group which “believe[s] that they—not judges, juries, law enforcement or elected officials—get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and they don’t think they should have to pay taxes.” Often, they act violently to government functionaries; notably, judges, law enforcement, revenuers, and the like. Further, they often espouse a racist or anti-Semitic component.

Bear in mind, when the NRA resists reasonable gun regulations, they’re not sticking up for normal, everyday hunters and weekend hobbyists—they’re only further emboldening the likes of anti-government extremists (i.e., sovereign citizens). They’re only contributing to this culture of violence manifested in modern America. Sovereign citizens and those like them are few in numbers, but they pose a significant threat for law enforcement and the general public.

To repeat Joe Scarborough’s question, “What is wrong with this culture?” We live in an increasingly violent, increasingly militarized society. Why? Because we can? That’s no reason. We should not and will not live in fear. America is the pinnacle of the Global North; the essence of postmodern civilization. We are the epitome of a modern, highly complex society. Yet we have those among us who convert their homes into little cottage-sized armories, purchase bulletproof vests, gas masks, and other military technology. We’ve become a society so saturated with violence, that to some, this has become normal.

Understandably, sovereign citizen shootings in Georgia are a far cry from a fatal shooting of an instructor in Arizona—though they both speak to a pervasive culture of guns and violence in twenty-first century America. In sum, I wholeheartedly understand the utility, particularly in rural America, of gun ownership. But I would never let my 9-year-old fire an automatic weapon. When we adopt a purist position on any issue, the roots of extremism are firmly planted. Expect more death, violence, and gore if we cannot tackle both reasonable gun regulation and the proliferation of toxic violence in civil society.

Bullets and Burgers, that’s the name of the gun range where Charles Vacca worked when he was shot dead. It’s a bastardized label; conflating classic Americana overtones in a now-undeniably ironic way. “A man is dead and they’ve ruined a little girl’s life.” The “gun culture” in America can add two more names to their body count—to the lives they’ve ruined. And “for what?”


Nicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at narudnik@valdosta.edu. Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

Mr. Rudnik has contributed this article as part of Valdosta Today’s effort to provide local opinions to spur discussions and positive conversations related to improving our community. Comments and opinions are from the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Black Crow Media, Valdosta Today or our sponsors.

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3 Comments on "“What is wrong with this culture?”"

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  1. Ray Black says:

    Sir to be brief the place where the “gun culture” was /is little more than a for profit side show ,,, not a proper gun range , And as good as the “teacher ” may or may not have been at his craft with guns he was evidently was not a teacher ,, back to the side show thing . With your reasoning mabey we should outlaw spoons because people get fat or better yet automobiles because they kill far more people ( outside of Chiago ) than guns do every day .

  2. Al says:

    Another person trying to become a careered democrat politician. The way you democrats run this country I dont think you will even have a chance to run for anything in the future because there wont be none.