Is Violence in America's DNA? What Do You Think?

Is Violence in America's DNA? What Do You Think?

By Matt Foley


Because some might call “concealed carry” a blood right.

By Matt Foley

OZY's electrifying TV show serves up provocative questions each week.OZY's electrifying TV show serves up provocative questions each week. We want to hear your thoughts:

Join us for Third Rail With OZYa new TV show presented by OZY and WGBHwhere we debate provocative hot topics with experts and celebrities every Friday night. The subject of this week’s show: “Is violence in America’s DNA?” Tune in Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET on PBS, or online, and be sure to weigh in on social media (#ThirdRailPBS) and/or email us at with your take!

Missed the previous episodes? Catch up here!

As authorities in Las Vegas scramble to find a motive for why a seemingly nonviolent Nevada man changed course, unleashing deadly rage on hundreds of concertgoers on the Strip last Sunday, we’re left to wonder if America will ever correct its course.

Understanding Stephen Paddock’s motive is meant to help us sleep at night, proving that he was simply an outlier, while politicos on both sides try to frame the aftermath in their favor. Dead and gone, Paddock will do us no more harm, just like Omar Matteen, Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer, Elliot Rodger and Aaron Alexis. Right?

But maybe these men — shooters killed during their recent rampages — as well as the surviving Dylann Roof, aren’t merely outliers. As the political, economic and cultural face of America changes, maybe the country’s deep-rooted history of violence is fueling the flame. So, is violence simply a part of America’s DNA?

There are two major predictors of American aggression, says Dr. J. Ryan Fuller, clinical director at New York Behavioral Health. The first and obvious one is gun ownership; the second is profoundly cultural. Fuller links this  to a culture of honor — a notion particularly apparent in “the South and the West,” he says, where a history of herding and frontier life meant people frequently had to defend themselves and their interests. “It was a way to defend yourself in the absence of the law,” says Fuller. “Men became more violent in the face of a challenge to their masculinity.… Aggression takes care of the problem in the moment, while also issuing a warning of what will happen ‘next time.’”


The absence of a lifelong rap sheet in Paddock’s case doesn’t mean that the Las Vegas massacre came out of nowhere. “Most incredibly aggressive and violent acts are infrequent,” Fuller says. “Something may look like it’s out of nowhere, but there’s likely been frustration accumulating over time.” Fuller notes that while we associate aggression with anger, “most angry episodes don’t lead to violence.” In other words, there are a lot of fairly safe angry folks walking around. When those angry folks buy 33 guns in 12 months, we have a problem.

No amount of studies or dialogue can change the fact that a disturbed individual with a penchant for firearms — lots of firearms — turned on hundreds of his fellow Americans. But by examining history and questioning what we believe, perhaps the country can steer away from its long and bloody history.

Be sure to check out the selected stories below, which highlight issues ranging from gun control and arms dealing to forced military service and the evolution of war.  


Has modern society fetishized the military and warfare? Perhaps we have dehumanized the “other,” choosing to shoot first and ask questions later. Only 25 percent of soldiers shot to kill in World War II, according to a 1947 study by U.S. Army researcher S.L.A. Marshall. By the end of Vietnam? You don’t want to know. 


If gun owners can’t handle the responsibility of bearing arms, perhaps they shouldn’t be bearing them. Rather than eliminating guns, why don’t gun reform advocates aim to alter the scope of the firearms business? Perhaps limiting the insatiable demand for guns will work better than attempting to halt supply. Want a gun? No problem. Give up one weekend per month to the U.S. Army Reserve.


Do guns kill people, or do dudes with guns kill people? Perhaps keeping guns legal and easy to own, and increasing firepower education, is all doable if we just keep the weapons out of the hands of the citizens who have controlled them all along: men.


It’s said that the best gun owners are the most knowledgeable. But what happens when you know too much? This OZY editor embraced his infatuation with firearms, going so far as to sell weapons himself. Until, that is, he found out where they were going.

So, what do you think?