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opinion

Police on the scene after a mass shooting at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., on Nov. 23.JAY PAUL/Reuters

So as the killing-field nation that is America reels from its latest cluster of mass shootings, why aren’t all the woke culture warriors coming to the rescue?

What’s extraordinary is the impact that the liberals are having on so many social norms: on race, equality, ethnic stereotyping, gender identity. But on a critical issue – the culture that has pitched the U.S. into a cauldron of gunfire – the woke culture appears to be snoozing.

“If you make a movie today,” opined late-night wise guy Bill Maher, “you can’t show bullying, fat-shaming, slut-shaming, girl chasing, gay-baiting, ethnic stereotypes.” But isn’t it strange, he said, that it’s no problem at all to make a hero of someone “mowing down a multitude of human beings.” Isn’t it strange that in the face of “the unbridled romanticization of violence, it’s crickets.”

Indeed, American politicians continue to give Hollywood and the entertainment industry a free pass to put out countless movies, TV series and video games that gorge on and glorify gun carnage.

The average American kid, as Mr. Maher noted, sees tens of thousands of acts of violence before the age of 18. How this factors into the U.S.’s ever-escalating numbers of mass shootings can’t be quantified, but the impact is undoubtedly significant. In America, this year’s total number of mass shootings – incidents with four or more people being shot – has exceeded 600. By comparison, in Canada – where there are certainly repercussions from the madness next door – the gun homicide rate is a small fraction. In 2020, for example, it was one-eighth what it was in the U.S.

That number is still high. To be noted is that handguns used in crimes in Canada come mainly from the United States; in Ontario, the number is about 70 per cent.

Republicans like to blame the mass-shooting surge on mental illness. It is no doubt a part of the problem. But mental illness is pervasive in societies everywhere, and those societies don’t have anywhere near the per capita number of killings that blight America.

Politically speaking, Hollywood tends to support the Democrats, and the Democrats support Hollywood in return. But the Republicans, of course, are the gun party. Republicans seem to only deepen their resolve to defend the second amendment whenever there is bloodshed. They routinely block Democrats’ bids for more restrictive gun control measures. President Joe Biden has called for a nationwide assault weapons ban, but with the Grand Old Party taking control of the House of Representatives in the midterms, it is not likely to happen.

As vice-president to Barack Obama, Mr. Biden chaired a task force in 2013 that sought to get Hollywood to reduce the level of violence in movies and video games. But the idea of regulating content didn’t get far. A stronger case can be made for it today, but too few are making it.

For the entertainment industry, too much revenue is made from blood filling the screens to change. America’s violent movie culture is too deeply ingrained; it’s part of the country’s mythology, as part of a folklore that includes the likes of Dirty Harry, Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde.

Guns are too central to the American identity for there to be real reform, writes Justin Joyce in his 2018 book Gunslinging Justice: The American Culture of Gun Violence in Westerns and the Law. Guns symbolize the power of the individual. Guns come as a solution for conflicts beyond the legal system. Guns take out the bad guys, and bring freedom. The fact that Americans seem more prepared to ban books than guns, Mr. Joyce writes, tells you a lot.

In the earlier days of gunslinger films, mass shootings on American streets were not prevalent. But back then, gun ownership was nowhere near as politicized as it has become in today’s environment, with its rising levels of racism, populism, polarization and internet rage. Now a great swath of the American population believes you have to be armed to ensure safety. To say the country is armed to the teeth is an understatement: according to the 2020 Small Arms Survey, there are an estimated 393 million firearms in the U.S.

There’s been the odd modest advance on gun control on Capitol Hill in the past year, but any major initiatives face not only the obstacle of the new Congress, but also the Supreme Court. In June, it showed its conservative colours, overturning a New York gun safety law that required a licence to carry concealed weapons in public places.

Following the recent rush of massacres – which saw 14 Americans mowed down – there was the usual outcry that something had to be done. And just as was the case in the aftermath of countless other harrowing slaughters, it will be to no avail.