Our American obsession with violence


What is it about our culture that celebrates killers, thieves, and ne’er-do-wells? Recently, I was looking at a photo of Billy the Kid playing cards with three of his accomplices. Reportedly, it is only one of two certified photos of The Kid. Henry McCarty, a.k.a. William H. Bonney, a.k.a Billy the Kid, was born in New York City. Orphaned at the age of 15, he was first arrested when he was 16.

The next five years would see McCarty kill 21 men in his short life. He headed west to avoid the law and cut a bloody path, including serving as a domestic terrorist in the New Mexico Lincoln County War, where he was charged with killing a sheriff and his deputy. Ultimately, as a result of his crimes, he was captured and sentenced to be hanged but escaped, killing two sheriff’s deputies in the process. Finally, two months later, he was tracked down and shot dead by Sheriff Pat Garrett. McCarty was 21.

Yet, even though there appears to be no redeeming factor in his life, over fifty movies and numerous television programs have told the story of Billy the Kid, often portraying him as a hero, or at least an anti-hero. In truth, he was a despicable human being who robbed and murdered his way through the last five years of his life.

But he is by no means the only one. When I was in high school, I saw the movie “Bonnie and Clyde,” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Clyde was handsome, Bonnie was beautiful, and, when they died in a hail of gunfire, one felt almost sorry for them.

Among our outlaw heroes are Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, John Dillinger, and Al Capone, to name a few. Even Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are among the famous outlaws who made their mark in violence, although Earp and Holliday are remembered for their later years. And all have been the subject of movies, TV programs, and books.

But our interest in people of violence doesn’t end with criminals. History, movies and TV programs have also extolled the greatness of Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, Hernan Cortés (who decimated the Aztec Empire), and Alexander the Great. All are remembered as conquerors but forgotten is the wanton slaughter of innocents.

President Andrew Jackson is remembered as the victor of the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 but forgotten as the man responsible for the deaths of 6,000 Cherokee men, women, and children who perished on the “Trail of Tears,” America’s own “Bataan Death March.” Over 60,000 Cherokee people and other Native Americans were forcibly ordered removed from their homeland by Jackson and marched over 1,200 miles west. This hero is celebrated on every U.S. $20 bill.

I wonder whose lives will be “celebrated” in the future? John Wayne Gacy? Jeffry Dahmer? Timothy McVeigh? Charles Manson? John Gotti? Wayne Williams? Ted Bundy? Think it can’t or won’t happen?

Several of these have already had movies or TV shows about them. There have been movies glorifying the exploits of criminal outlaw biker gangs. In America, if enough time has passed, we love our “bad boys.”

It’s really no wonder that much of the rest of the world sees Americans as “cowboys,” and that is not necessarily a compliment.

We are incredibly hypocritical about it all. Many of the Hollywood so-called “elites” demand stiffer gun control laws yet they make untold billions with movies that employ and glorify those very firearms. For example, one Hollywood hypocrite, Alec Balwin, has a history of opposing gun rights activists yet his stupidity with a loaded handgun on the set of a movie resulted in his shooting and killing a woman. Maybe a movie will be made about that too.

Our culture, that is, our American culture, has an obsession with violence and those who perpetrate it. We love it — just absolutely love it — as entertainment but we are shocked by it when it happens to us, someone we know, or the innocents in our lives are the victims of it.

When a culture glorifies violence, why do we act shocked when violence occurs? As Pogo said in 1971, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He has been a weekly opinion columnist for The Citizen for over 27 years. He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]


  1. STF, while the US may have the highest gun ownership rate, the incidences of violence within our neighbors is far much higher.

    Gun Violence Deaths per 100,000 2019

    El Salvador – 36.78
    Venezuela – 33.27
    Guatemala – 29.06
    Columbia – 26.36
    Brazil – 21.93
    Bahamas – 21.52
    Honduras – 20.15
    Mexico – 21.41
    Belize – 16.22
    Trinidad and Tobago – 15.62
    US – 3.98

    • Lulu – Thanks for looking up the statistics. I’m glad that U.S. citizens are not shooting each other as much as North and South America’s poorer countries are engaged in gun violence. Can you blame these folks for trying to escape their homelands and gathering at our southern border given the danger they live under?

      Our problem is more from guns used for suicides than homicides, and that includes about 20 veterans a day – a profoundly sad statistic.

      Unfortunately, the U.S. has far more violent death by guns (homicide, suicide, and accidental) per capita than all of our rich peer nations, but we also are far more heterogeneous. That shouldn’t be a reason for violence, but I fear that it is.

      At any rate, thank you for gathering the facts.

      • Fiction – To Sir delivered a factual smackdown of the talking point that the number of guns is a cause of gun violence. It’s clear that it takes a person to decide to misuse the gun, not the mere presence of a gun.

        Which brings us to the sick culture that glorifies criminal behavior, especially rap culture, which Rev Epps missed as a root cause of gun violence that must be acknowledged.

        But you also missed on your take that absolves the flood of 7-10,000,000 illegals who have entered our country under Biden. Anyone fleeing for reasons that qualify for asylum should apply in the first safe country outside the one they are escaping.

        And we all know the vast majority of illegals don’t qualify for asylum. They must leave, apply for entrance and be vetted as a potential citizen in the same line as all of the other legal immigrants we take in.

        No other country in the world exposes their citizens to the crime, expense, drugs, sex trafficking and national security risk that Biden allows.

        I am also angered by the situation with our veterans, especially our homeless veterans, when billions in scarce public funds are being used to feed, house, educate, give debit cards and free phones, healthcare, etc to illegals who shouldn’t be in our country. Yet, the men and women who served our country and who should benefit from those funds, don’t.

        Profoundly sad, indeed

        • Hi Penny – I hope you are having a wonderful holiday weekend.

          We’ve had these discussions before in the comment section, so I’ll be brief. The U.S. has a higher homicide rate than our rich, peer countries, and we have a much higher rate of gun-assisted suicide rates than our peers. We also have a much higher number of guns circulating. To extend your suggestion that the prevalence of guns is unrelated to this violence because a person must pull a trigger is the same as saying that we should be unconcerned about an abundance of street drugs since the suppliers of drugs are of no consequence; only the user is culpable.

          Even though we agree that illegal immigration is totally out of control, I see no remedy until Congress changes the asylum laws that practically beg people to use this corridor to enter the country. Executive orders from presidents have never, and can never, remedy the problem. This is a wedge issue that has been used by both parties, and to the detriment of “We the people.”

          Also, if we keep the “anyone can apply” asylum laws in place, Congress should at least change the law so asylum seekers are allowed to support themselves while their cases are pending. Then, at least the U.S. Treasury would not have to support them while their cases are pending.

          We very much agree on the tragedy of suicides, especially service-related ones. I join you in admonishing our leaders to take these unnecessary deaths seriously by providing as much assistance as possible to mitigate this crisis.

          As always, I wish you well, and I enjoy exchanging ideas.

          • Association does not equal causation. Guns don’t inspire people to kill their neighbors, family or themselves. Culture does.

            While you like to compare stats with our “rich” European neighbors, one statistic that stands out is and while the UE us slightly larger than the US population, health reports there that there are only about 6,500 overdose deaths in the UE versus our 107,000 in the US.

            Are you going to blame the drug overdoses on the prevalence of guns too?

          • Lulu – I am confused about your pivot to drug overdoses here. I was not connecting drug use to gun availability, rather I was extending Penny’s example of availability of any item or substance to use.

            I agree with you that America’s gun culture is strongly related to the nefarious use of these weapons on each other. I wish the NRA and other gun-loving groups would not glorify the use of weapons, but rather would advocate for very careful use of these dangerous instruments.

            We can dream, can’t we?

          • STF, it should be fairly obvious drug overdose rates are a strong indicator of illicit drug use. Illicit drug usage is rampant in the US, but still fairly benign in the EU in comparison.

            Likewise, higher homicide rates are a good indicator of an underlaying criminal activity. Drug addiction contributes to property crimes and enslaves people into the sex trade industry in order to maintain their addiction. Lawlessness feeds a gun culture and drives firearm sales with people wanting to protect their families and themselves and their property.

            So why would want to compare a rich, high drug using culture’s suicide and gun homicide rates against a culture with low drug usage?

            You appear to be so intensely focused on guns that you can’t see the drug addiction elephant in the room with more than double the needless mortalities as a problem.

          • America’s problem with death by drug overdoses is not highly correlated with homicide by gun use. For instance, opioid addiction and overdose is rampant in rural areas without much gun play involved. However, the availability of guns in America is a major factor in suicides, particularly for men. I’m sure some gun-assisted suicides are a result of illegal drug use, but many other factors are in play.

          • Fiction – I’ve addressed your talking point that nothing can be done to reduce Biden’s (and Border Czar Kamala’s) out of control illegal immigration several times in these pages, yet here you are again dismissing the impact of a president’s executive orders.

            Biden issued dozens of executive orders in his first weeks in office that gutted the border initiatives and enforcement enacted by Trump. Not surprisingly, illegal border crossings skyrocketed, resulting in 7-10,000,000 people invading our country. Biden / Harris own this, not Congress.

            Here you parrot Biden’s claim that “his hands were tied without Congress”. However, 3+ years after opening the border by executive action, Biden recently showed the lie and took several minor executive actions to reduce the flow of illegals. He did this only because polls showed he has clearly messed up border security and elections are approaching.

            If you’re going to be carrying the water for Biden / Harris to defend their indefensible breach of their #1 duty to keep Americans safe, at least stay up with their latest gaslighting and actions. Be well.

          • Penny – We just have a fundamental disagreement about how to remedy illegal immigration. I believe the most effective strategy is to kill the spider, and you favor more effective cobweb cleaners.

            I’m not defending the current administration’s policies, and I am aware that illegal immigration has been an issue for every administration in the 21st century. Please don’t conflate my argument about a basic solution with fealty to any particular party. I have disdain for the inaction of both.

    • Sure, if you want to compare us to banana republics. How do we compare with mass shootings? Not favorable. It’s obvious that guns are a bigger problem in America than anywhere in Europe or other industrialized nations.

      • The US invented Banana Republics, now we’re import the labor directly making the US one great Banana Republic.

        As far as mass shooting being a US phenomenon, that is a product of MSM to attempt to disarm the peons. They have redefined mass shooting to be “multiple people shot”

        Here is a list of the deadliest mass shootings…

        1 Garissa University College Attack Garissa, Kenya 2015 – 148
        2 Peshawar School Massacre Peshawar, Pakistan 2014 – 149
        3 November 2015 Paris Attacks Paris, France 2015 – 130
        4 2011 Norway Attacks Oslo, Norway 2011 – 77
        5 Westgate Shopping Mall Attack Nairobi, Kenya 2013 – 67
        6 2017 Las Vegas Shooting Las Vegas, Nevada, USA 2017 – 58
        7 South Korea Shooting of 1982 Uiryeong County, South Korea 1982 – 56
        8 New Zealand Mosque Shootings Christchurch, New Zealand 2019 – 51
        9 2016 Orlando Nightclub Shooting Orlando, Florida, USA 2016 – 49
        10 Sousse Beach Mass Shooting Sousse, Tunisia 2015 – 38
        11 Port Arthur Masacre Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia 1996 – 35
        12 Virginia Tech Shootings Blacksburg, Virginia, USA 2007 32
        13 Tian Mingjian Incident Beijing, China 1994 28
        14 Sandy Hook Massacre Newtown, Connecticut, USA 2012 27
        15 Sutherland Springs Church Shooting Sutherland Springs, Texas, USA 2017 – 26
        Why is it that many of these countries severely limit access to firearms, and have low gun ownership, yet are some of the most deadly?

        Did you know that the deadliest school massacre in the US was the Bath School Massacre of 1927? 38 Children + 6 Adults and 58 more wounded, but it is not listed because not a bullet was fired, so I guess the media considers it inconsequential since it doesn’t promote gun control.

        • Lulu – Thanks for listing these mass shooting incidences from around the world. It is easy to see that incidences of mass shootings are extremely rare – these 15 listed occurred over 30 years in a world of over 7 billion people. Of course, they are all tragic, but thankfully, not very common.

          Any effective reduction of American gun violence (especially the most significant – suicides) would involve handguns, not assault rifles.

          • Using your logic, if you reduce the availability of rope, you will reduce the number of hanging suicides? The question remains, will that make any meaningful difference in the total number of suicides, or will people just start diving off of high places instead, or stepping in front of the metro.

            When you look at Europe, with a order of magnitude difference in guns per capita, there is not a significant difference in the number of suicides per capita. You do see that there are far fewer gun related, however hanging becomes the preferred method of choice, but suicide rates remain comparable.

          • Be careful……sometimes leftists don’t always have a lot of logic or common sense……asking them to tap into something they don’t have can elicit some strong reactions.

  2. It is inconceivable that you can talk about violence without talking about gun control. How are most of the murders carried out? America needs to wake up and implement reasonable gun control. In Georgia you’re almost encouraged to buy a gun, and that’s not right. Too many guns, too much violence.

    • Reasonable Gun Control? Like Mexico? Mexico has a single gun store in all of Mexico run by the government, months of background checks, 6 documents, a limit of one handgun person, and max of 9 rifles provided they can prove they are a member of a hunting or shooting club. Proof of employment, and that they are a moral and upright citizen. Mexico has 6 times the number of violent gun deaths per capita than the United States. Yet their gun ownership is only 12.9 guns per 100 persons as opposed to the U.S. of 120.9. That makes the US roughly 9 times the number of guns per person than Mexico. So this makes the number of violent gun deaths per gun in Mexico more than 50 times higher than the US, so your argument on the prevalence of firearms being the root of the problem is as full of excrement as the main stream media that is pushing it as a political agenda.

      In 2021 there were 48,830 gun deaths, yet there were over 107,000 fatal overdoses that same year with more than 2/3’s (71,000) fentanyl related, so why does MSM largely ignore these? As for the gun deaths, what percentage of the gun deaths were drug related (either to support their addiction or disputes with dealers and drug cartels). Perhaps if concentrated on solving the drug addiction problems there would be a notable decrease in gun related violence and property crimes.

      Perhaps if our inner city youth had real career path opportunities other than street drug sales, we’d see some dramatic improvements in gun violence and overdose deaths. But our school systems rather convince our youth, they can’t succeed because of systematic racism so just stick to selling drugs and their bodies. The real systematic racism is the failure of our society to protect our kids from addiction and drug use.

      • Nearly 16 million illegal arms are in circulation in Mexico, which you do not count and conveniently so. It’s estimated that 200,000 to half a million weapons are smuggled across the border into Mexico each year. And of those that have been traced, roughly 70% originated here in the US with another 20% getting passed through this country from another smuggling country. Again, illegally. But don’t let these facts enter into a logical debate.

        • So basically, what you are saying is that gun control really doesn’t help as smuggling will still be putting guns into the hands of the criminals, and preventing innocent people from defending themselves. Sounds like a great plan the people enabling the open boarder have.

    • Buttle –

      “America needs to wake up and implement reasonable gun control” – can you give us an example of what you’d like to see? I happen to think our current gun control efforts are very reasonable…..AS LONG AS PEOPLE FOLLOW THE LAW.

      “In Georgia you’re almost encouraged to buy a gun, and that’s not right” – I wasn’t aware…….how is the state encouraging people to buy a gun? Are you talking about the increased crime that’s occuring?

      “Too many guns, too much violence” – can you expand on how the amount of violence is directly related to the amount of guns in circulation? Guns have been around and accessible since the birth of our country. I would challenge your assertion and offer my own: Guns aren’t the issue – it’s the lack of morality and self-control that is the issue, the lack of respect of the rule of law. For these reasons, the virtuous and moral gun owner is now more important than ever.

  3. America was conceived in violence by the European settlers that set forth upon this land with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. If they couldn’t “save” the Native-Americans, they then pushed them off of their land and eventually killed them. It took many years.

    Through the next 400 years across this land (of ours?), extreme violence and murder was perpetrated against those who didn’t look like original settlers either by skin color, language or religion. They were (and still are by a “significant group”) deemed a threat to our way of life.

    And mind you, this is not just an American obsession (violence) but it is a world-wide. So as we celebrate our own Independence Day from a former tyrant, we should also ask who are the latest tyrants here amongst us, keeping in mind of the white-man with orange skin, who “speaks with forked tongue.”

  4. American obsession with violence is hardly a mystery. We have more guns than people in our country. No other democracy comes even close to our obsession with firearms or with the incidences of violence using them.

      • The high gun per capita figure is a symptom of a much larger problem, one where people believe they are not safe from violence without them. They know the police can’t adequately protect them, their families, and their property from the criminals around them. The guns owned by criminals are but a small fraction of that total, the rest are being held by those wishing to protect themselves from those criminals.