GOP Logic
Credit: Dave Whamond, Canada, / CTNewsJunkie via Cagle Cartoons / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Barth Keck

Americans have been fighting a culture war for centuries: Are we a “Christian nation”? Do certain books harm a child’s development? Should we ban drag shows? The list goes on.

Now, we can add “Try That in a Small Town” to that list. Released in May, Jason Aldean’s country music song remained under the radar until the music video was released on July 14. Filled with footage of violence – some of which did not even take place in the U.S. – the video was pulled off the air by Country Music Television. The ensuing outrage, first from Aldean’s fans and then from well-known conservatives, caused the song to vault to No. 2 on the Billboard chart.

In addition to the controversial setting of Aldean’s performance in the video – a Tennessee courthouse where a Black teenager was lynched in 1927 – the song includes lyrics that critics contend are subtly racist and overtly violent:

Sucker punch somebody on a sidewalk / Carjack an old lady at a red light / Pull a gun on the owner of a liquor store / You think it’s cool, well act a fool if you like / Cuss out a cop, spit in his face / Stomp on the flag and light it up / Yeah, you think you’re tough.

Try that in a small town / See how far you make it down the road / ‘Round here we take care of our own / You cross that line it won’t take long / For you to find out / I recommend you don’t / Try that in a small town.

Aldean’s song, the latest battle in America’s ongoing culture war, will undoubtedly be replaced by another controversy before long. But no one will ever “win” the culture war because a perfect, monolithic “American culture” does not exist.

The recent dust-up over Aldean’s song got me thinking about another aspect of the culture war that also involves two diametrically opposed sides: guns. One on side are gun advocates who see gun ownership as an unassailable right; on the other are gun-control proponents who believe gun ownership requires oversight such as permits and background checks. Just like the overall culture war, this debate will never declare one side the “winner.”

“America has both the highest gun death rate (12 per 100,000 persons) and the highest gun circulation rate (about 121 firearms in circulation for every 100 persons) of any developed country,” according to a recent summary of articles in the ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS). Moreover, “in 2020, the nation saw 45,222 firearm deaths, of which 54 percent (23,941) were death by suicide and nearly 46 percent (20,958) were homicides – nearly a 40 percent increase from nearly a decade ago.”

One would think such alarming statistics might cause Americans to work together on a solution, but no such luck – which is one reason the AAPSS published the “first-of-its-kind collection of scholarly articles by some of the most well-known voices in their fields.” Among the project’s editors are two UConn professors: Kerri Raissian, associate professor in the School of Public Policy, and Jennifer Necci Dineen, associate professor in residence in the School of Public Policy.

“There are some real gaps in the data, and there are real consequences to that,” Raissian said, alluding to the 1996 Dickey Amendment that barred the use of federal dollars for gun research. “When we have conversations with policymakers who ask about long-term trends, sometimes we have to say, ‘I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to know that answer, because investment in research in the past just wasn’t there.’”

This collection of scholarly articles has enabled researchers to identify the truly complex nature of America’s gun culture. Put another way, there is no “one-size-fits-all strategy for reducing gun death.”

“In short, America does not simply have a gun epidemic; it has multiple gun epidemics that likely require a variety of different responses,” notes the AAPSS summary.

“[T]he public discourse is dominated by polarized and politicized factions – the ‘gun rights’ group lines up on one side and the ‘gun control’ group on the other,” continues the summary. “Calls for ‘common-sense’ reforms become mired in the mistaken notion that ‘the other side’ is completely lacking in common sense. But the truth is, there is plenty of common sense – on both ‘sides.’”

Meantime, the overriding culture war rages on. Jason Aldean’s song, coincidentally, includes a gun-related solution to the problems he sees in American cities:

Got a gun that my granddad gave me / They say one day they're gonna round up / That shit may fly in the city / Good luck trying that in a small town.
Try that in a small town / Full of good ol’ boys / Raised up right / If you’re looking for a fight / Try that in a small town.

The plain fact is that addressing society’s problems – most notably, gun deaths – requires cooperation, not antagonism. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see any culture-war peace accord happening anytime soon.

Barth Keck is in his 32nd year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

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