To address shootings, acknowledge Americans are moving to gun-friendly places

“Let me make the songs of a nation and I care not who makes its laws,”

Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, 1703 – or something like that.

Today we have a downer of a topic, I’m sorry to say. But it’s one that we probably shouldn’t ignore – shootings. That is, undirected killing sprees by people with guns. They seem to be happening more frequently and they’re certainly getting more news coverage lately.

As seen in:

Francisco Oropeza, 38, who has been charged with killing five people in San Jacinto County, Texas, on May 1 after his neighbors asked him to stop firing his weapons in his yard.

A month earlier in Nashville, Tennessee, Audrey Hale, 28, was shot and killed after opening fire in Covenant Elementary School and killing six people.

Or just over the past weekend, eight people were killed and seven more injured by a shooter at an outdoor mall north of Dallas, Texas.

Here at the Compass of Power we like to put the place in politics. And we’re in luck. We don’t have to wade into this topic all by ourselves.

The godfather of geo-histo-politics (you know, geography, history, politics combined) is Colin Woodard. He wrote about the subject of shootings recently, using the power of a new institute dedicated to looking at America as a collection of regional cultures.

These are the nations Woodard established in the book “American Nations,” and the institute is Salva Regina University’s Nationhood Lab. A quote from Woodard’s article:

“The geography of gun violence, and public and elite ideas about how it should be addressed, is the result of differences at once regional, cultural, and historical. Once you understand how the country was colonized and by whom a number of insights into the problem are revealed.”

Colin Woodard

Woodard’s team analyzed both homicides and suicides. But instead of looking at the data state by state, they grouped county-level information into the broad cultural regions of America that Woodard had already defined. (And that we talk about all the time on this podcast.)

We’re talking about the Yankees in the north, the Deep South, the West Coast, the Dry West, the Midlands – all these cultural groups that we don’t learn about in school but are very evident once we start looking at how we interact as a nation, especially in our politics.

Here’s a few of the findings from that study of the geography of gun violence.

Once you stop looking at it state-by-state or as Republicans vs. Democrats and start looking at it in these this regional context, the region of New York City comprises the safest part of the US mainland when it comes to gun violence.

That is what Woodard would call New Netherlands, the Dutch-founded colony that takes up parts of New Jersey up into New York state – but not upstate New York. Safest place in America. Comparable to Switzerland.

Actually, the regions Florida and Texas belong to, what is the Deep South, they have per capita firearm death rates three to four times higher than New York City’s. The Deep South is the most deadly of the large regions at 15.6 deaths per 100,000 residents, followed by Appalachia at 13.5.

The death rate of New Netherland, that is the New York City area, is 3.8.

So, 15.6 gun deaths per 100,000 people in the Deep South.

3.8 in New York City.

Someone living in the most rural counties of South Carolina is more than three times as likely to be killed by gunshot than someone living in equally rural counties of New York’s Adirondacks or the impoverished rural counties north of Mexico.

The article is well worth a read and I will put a link to it in the show notes so you can read it all.

As you can see, there’s huge differences in when and how guns are used between these regional cultures. You can lump them into that big North/South paradigm that we talk about.

In the South, guns are much more likely to come out than they are in the North. And it is a Republican and Democrat thing, in the sense that the Republican Party is the party of the South, and the Democrats are the party of the North.

But it is not a Republican-Democrat thing necessarily when we talk about the politics within a state. Are the people who vote Republican more likely to use guns than the Democrats? No, that’s more about where their state is located inside this cultural geography.

The upshot is that culture, handed down generation by generation, whether the people there were born there or migrated, is the driving force determining how and when guns are used. The culture — the songs of the nation of which Andrew Fletcher spoke — determine the laws.

In those places where personal honor is primary, then guns come into play to settle disputes of honor. Where community is ranked higher than the individual, guns stay in the proverbial holster longer.

Here’s where we’re going for the bulk of this post, though: population.

We heard earlier that in the Deep South and Greater Appalachia, that’s where guns are used the most. It’s where they have the highest gun death rate. Woodard just happens to mention that his team has also broken down those cultural regions by population. How many people live in these constructs?

This is fantastic because you and I don’t have the time. I do not have the Excel spreadsheet handy to list every county in the United States and then assign it to a particular cultural region, and then go gather the gun death rates by county, smooth those into the regional county counts and – not my bailiwick. Probably not yours.

But Woodard and his folks did it, and in doing so, they had to come up with population counts.

The Compass of Power is about more than rehashing Woodard’s “American Nations.” My theory is that American politics are a battle between these colonial cultures, AND that battle is defined by shifts in population.

The center of American power moves around as the people in America move from place to place, thus dragging the Compass of Power towards one regional culture or another.

For a century, most Americans lived in that broad cultural alliance known as the North. That includes New York City, that includes the Yankees of New England, Massachusetts, Michigan, and it includes the Midlands, which was started by the Quakers in Pennsylvania and stretches way out into the Midwest.

We not only have the population count of each of these places, but a brief summary from the man himself, Colin Woodard.

Here are each of the major regions, as described by Woodard, but rearranged in order of population:

Greater Appalachia (pop. 59 million)

Settlers overwhelmingly from war-ravaged Northern Ireland, Northern England and Scottish lowlands were deeply committed to personal sovereignty and intensely suspicious of external authority.

Yankeedom (pop. 55.8 million)

Founded by Puritans who sought to perfect earthly society through social engineering, individual denial for common good, and the assimilation of outsiders. The common good – ensured by popular government – took precedence over individual liberty when the two were in conflict.

Deep South (pop. 43.5 million)

Established by English Barbadian slave lords who championed classical republicanism modeled on slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was the privilege of the few and subjugation and enslavement the natural lot of the many.

The Midlands (pop. 37.7 million)

Founded by English Quakers, who believed in humans’ inherent goodness and welcomed people of many nations and creeds. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class; ethnic and ideological purity never a priority; government seen as an unwelcome intrusion.

El Norte (pop. 33.3 million)

Borderlands of Spanish-American empire, so far from Mexico City and Madrid that it developed its own characteristics: independent, self-sufficient, adaptable and work-centered. Often sought to break away from Mexico to become independent buffer state, annexed into U.S. instead.

Far West (pop. 28.7 million)

Extreme environment stopped eastern cultures in their path, so settlement largely controlled by distant corporations or federal government via deployment of railroads, dams, irrigation and mines; exploited as an internal colony, with lasting resentments.

New Netherland (pop. 18.8 million)

Dutch-founded and retains characteristics of 17th century Amsterdam: a global commercial trading culture, materialistic, multicultural and committed to tolerance and the freedom of inquiry and conscience.

Left Coast (pop. 17.9 million)

Founded by New Englanders (who came by ship) and farmers, prospectors and fur traders from the lower Midwest (by wagon), it’s a fecund hybrid of Yankee utopianism and the Appalachian emphasis on self-expression and exploration.

Tidewater (pop. 12.6 million)

Founded by lesser sons of landed gentry seeking to recreate the semi-feudal manorial society of English countryside. Conservative with strong respect for authority and tradition, this culture is rapidly eroding because of its small physical size and the massive federal presence around D.C. and Hampton Roads.

Who’s first in that list? The Appalachians!

Look, for 60 years, the population of the United States has been moving south and between that broad cultural coalition we think of as the North and the South, that’s where you find Appalachians. They run from western Pennsylvania and then on a sort of southwest track all the way into north Texas.

That big swath has a lot of people in it. It’s also where people leaving the North would end up before they got to the Deep South.

We’ve been talking about the Appalachians frequently. I’ve been remarking that every episode we have to talk about the Appalachians, the Scotch Irish. Well, it turns out there’s a quantifiable reason for that. They are the number one cultural group in the United States. There’s more of them than anybody else. A plurality of Americans are Appalachians.

Culturally, these are the borderlanders, the Ulster Scotts. Remember that England and Scotland and Ireland were at war for a very long time. It wasn’t until that middle ground between when the British started the American colonies and the American colonies broke away and became independent that the United Kingdom was formed. Scotland, England, Ireland became one nation.

When that happened, there was no longer a use for keeping lots of people on the border ready to fight at any moment. So the folks who were in those areas, the, the borderlands of Scotland and England, the folks over in Northern Ireland, suddenly faced a lot of taxes. The landlord said you had to get going and they headed for North America.

They were the redheaded stepchildren of British culture, and they became the redheaded stepchildren of American culture. I’d like to demonstrate sort of the, the high regard with which folks <laugh> viewed the Appalachians and their kin with a quote from TM Divine’s, “The Scottish Clearances,” which covers that period of dispossession from 1600 to 1900.

Towards the end he summarizes some of the what at the time would’ve been thought of as racial attitudes towards the Celtic people of Scotland and Ireland.

“Schemes of compulsory immigration were introduced to transport the redundant population across the seas to Canada and Australia, from there never to return. There can be little doubt that racist dogma also scarred the history of this period. The correspondence of relief officials, government servants, trustees of estates and opinion columns in some Scottish newspapers abound with references to the lazy, feckless and inadequate Celts.”

T.M. Devine

There you go. Although Scottish immigration was directed away from the US after the War of 1776, the soon-to-be Appalachians had already established themselves in the United States. They are known as hillbillies, as rednecks – which was a reference to Scottish partisans, neckwear, an actual red neckerchief – and for their poverty. I’m not gonna get into the whole history here because we’re gonna talk about population, but it’s a continuing theme throughout history. When people from Southern English culture, which would be the Puritans of the United States, walk in and see the kind of living conditions that were evident in Scotland 250 years ago or evident in Appalachia today, they are always gobsmacked.

The Yankees themselves, that is, the descendants of the parliamentarians in England, live in the North and they have set the standard for what is a premier American and a premier American business. They have the Ivy League schools like Harvard. They were the first “tycoons” and “millionaires.” Literally the words had to be invented to explain who these people were in the Yankee North. Big names in American business from the 20th Century like Ford, GM, IBM, GE – those are Yankee businesses.

The smaller Northern regions also punch above their weight, culturally.

The Left Coast where I live now, which stretches from around San Francisco all the way north into southern Alaska, is one of the smaller regions in terms of population. And has all the tech companies. The entire internet is run by that cultural group. That includes Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter. Even if Elon Musk owns it, Twitter is a left coast company. Also, AirBnB.

Similarly, New York City, that New Netherlands character we heard about earlier? That’s the home of Wall Street, where all the money is. It’s where every TV network is based. It’s where every book publisher is. It’s where Broadway is. And Hollywood is an offshoot of the Broadway culture of New York City. They have a very loud voice.

What does Appalachia have?

They’ve got country music and bourbon.

But it’s coming up!

And so are its neighbors in the Southern coalition. Woodard’s lab crunched the population numbers from 2010 to 2020 to see what is going on in terms of growth. And the results are very consistent with everything we’ve been saying here on the Compass of Power. The South is growing like gangbusters and the North is not, tipping the center of power away from the liberal coalition of the North.

Here are the fastest growing regions in the United States according to that analysis.

Number one, the Spanish Caribbean, which is Southern Florida. When we were talking about who was against Kevin McCarthy becoming Speaker of the House, we mentioned a couple Republicans from this section. That’s kind of in the Miami area, and it’s literally off the map compared to the rest of the United States. It has 8.2 million people in it, strongly influenced by the Spanish culture that dominates the Caribbean, less than the Deep South culture that we see in places like Mississippi and Alabama.

Second to them is the Far West. (What Colin Woodard calls the Far West, I call the Dry West because it’s not as far west as the West coast, for Pete’s sake.) But we’re talking Utah, Colorado, Wyoming. Those places where the land, the sea, the sky are mostly run by corporations or the federal government. It’s going up fast. 10.4% increase from 2010 to 2020, now has 30.3 million people in it.

Left Coast is number three. That’s where we just talked about. The West coast. The tech people.

Deep South after them. Then Tidewater, then Greater Appalachia, which by the way, it says that the population of greater Appalachia in this breakdown is 61.5 million. Slight discrepancy from what was in that recent article (59 million).

But from there you are getting to more moderate growth. Greater Appalachia had 7.9% growth from ‘10 to ‘20.

What do we notice about that list of the fastest growing areas? Southern Florida, the Dry West, Deep South, Tidewater, Appalachia — that’s the entire Southern coalition.

Everything we think of as being Dixieland, the Confederacy, the “South” in the United States, that conservative area that is the heartland of the Republican party today, it’s all in the top tier of growth for the United States.

The only part of Liberal America, of what we would call the Northern side coalition, that is growing rapidly is the Left Coast. That is why left coast politics, Facebook politics, Twitter politics, Gavin Newsom, governor of California, former mayor of San Francisco – that style of liberalism — is becoming ascendant because it is the only part of the liberal coalition that’s adding people rapidly.

After we get past that part, we have those who are growing at a steady place. A steady clip would include Greater Polynesia, aka Hawaii, El Norte, which is that Southwest region that’s part of the original Spanish colonialism in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Southern California.

After that First Nation, which is a very, very small bit. They only have 59,000 people. But that is the vast swath of Northern Canada that is actually still under mostly tribal control.

Then who’s not growing at all, comparitively? We’re talking in the 3% category, which is a third of how fast the South is growing. In that category we’re talking about the Midlands, which is Middle America, Iowa, Pennsylvania, bit.

New France, which is actually part of the Southern Coalition — New Orleans – but it’s very small, 2.7 million people.

And then Yankeedom, Yankeedom comes in dead last.

So that original part, I’m trying to call up a stereotypical image here, but recall a factory worker who built cars in Detroit. That type of American, the guy who had a pension, who worked in a large factory, who grew up somewhere in Ohio — that part of America’s not growing nearly as fast as the people who own stores or hotels in Southern Florida.

What I hope you’re taking away from this is that there are big differences in these broad regional cultures, even though we don’t talk about them in our national news.

One of those differences is gun violence. It is how people view the use of guns, when it is appropriate to lash out, when it’s not appropriate.

I’m not saying anybody thinks it’s appropriate to go on a shooting spree. I’m saying that in a society where it is generally more acceptable to defend your honor with lethal means, then in that society, the people who are on the far edge of normalcy are going to lash out more often.

That is what Woodard found. There’s a markedly higher rate of gun deaths in the Southern Coalition, in Appalachia and in the Deep South.

What I want to add to Woodard’s point is, that is the part of America that’s growing. That’s where American politics is headed.

I sincerely believe there’s no one who’s happy with this rash of seemingly randomized killings and just atrocities when it comes to attacking schools. Nobody likes that. But to approach the problem from a Yankee perspective or the perspective of New York City is not a path likely to succeed.

To take solutions that work where gun violence is as rare as it is in Switzerland, and apply it where most Americans are moving, which is the South? It’s not gonna work. At least not as well as something more indigenous to the South.

We need a solution that will work inside the cultures that are more comfortable with guns. That’s my point.

Now we may come back to this. I will argue that I don’t care where you are from — you could be living in the roughest, toughest, most warrior like culture on earth — if your children are randomly being attacked, eventually you’re gonna change things.

So, I am in no way saying that people in Appalachia are comfortable with this trend. Some of them are really active, and we talked about the legislators in Tennessee who were protesting on the Tennessee House floor. They got in a lot of trouble from the dominant Republicans cause they, the majority, didn’t want to hear that.

Well, those people are still fired up. I guarantee you also that some Republicans in the South are very concerned about it.

The question is, how are we nationally, or regionally, or at the state level, going to negotiate an answer to gun violence that is culturally appropriate? Meaning appropriate within the context of these regional cultures we’ve talked about today.

I don’t know the answer. I’m just trying to reframe it for you today, so that when we next hear about the big debate about gun control or gun violence or shootings, maybe you can think in the back of your head, well, that is a totally different problem in some parts of the country than it is in others.

And really, even though they don’t control Hollywood or the news media, even though Appalachia doesn’t have a lot of voice in American politics in terms of the debate, it has a big voice in terms of the number of people who live there and cast votes.

One response to “To address shootings, acknowledge Americans are moving to gun-friendly places”

  1. […] in different parts of the United States see guns differently. We’ve talked about this in previous episodes if you do want more of an […]


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