I probably need not link to the stories of recent mass shootings in America, they have been well covered. In the interest of providing readers with the maximum of information, though, the moribund list:
- Three police were killed and a fourth severly injured in Oakland, CA after a traffic stop of a parolee
- In Washington state five children were killed by their father who subsequently committed suicide
- A gunman killed 13 people at a Binghamton, NY immigration center before turning the gun on himself
- Another three police were ambushed and killed by a young man in Pittsburgh, PA
These events all took place inside of the last two weeks. After reading the basic facts of each story with the callousness that only an American who has grown up with Columbine, Virginia Tech, and numerous church and office shootings can—body count, shooter profile, police response—I would skip to the comments section. The armchair pundits divide into two camps.
The first group intones, “When will this country wake up and realize that when there are no more guns there will be no more shootings!” The second chimes, “If only one of those poor souls had a piece, they could have saved them all.” I should like for them all to be silent.
The problem is that we either do as I did and skim over the story unsympathetically, or we use it to galvanize our preconceived notions about firearms. The first group of mostly suburban, idealistic individuals hates guns because they have never seen, held, or used them, let alone had occasion to. The steady stream of gun violence that occurs in America, the country with the most guns per capita in the world, is enough to scare them away from guns forever. In an article about the fact that the most recent shooters had acquired their weapons legally the head of a gun control group remarks, “I think the gun lobby wants to take away any stigma to gun ownership. I think they feel emboldened, like who’s going to stop them?” Of course the gun lobby wants to take away the stigma of owning guns. In fact, there should be no stigma for owning guns peacefully, just as libertarian activists envision there being no stigma for marijuana use or euthanasia.
Yet on the other side the enmity reaches fanatic levels. Largely rural and suspicious, they preach of the coming calamitous end times when FEMA takes control of the population and confiscates their guns under the command of gun-grabbing limousine-liberals. They congregate to swap guns an ammunition, books about the evils of the Fed, and various other conspiracy theories. While anti-gun activists have an abstract fear of dying at the hands of a crazed gunman, the opposition has a real fear of losing property to the will of the government. This is why a gun buying boom and ammunition shortage accompanied the ascent of a Democratic administration. They fear losing something that in part constitutes a way of life as a consequence of any change to the law. I believe this is why the NRA is so successful in making guns into a leverage issue, because gun owners see threats everywhere. If they didn’t they probably wouldn’t own guns; handguns at least.
My bias? Financial and family circumstances permitting, I will keep a gun in my house because I believe it is legitimate to use deadly force in self-defense in cases of home invasion. However, I dislike the outright paranoia of the gun-owning right, though. Their lionization of gun-toting “heroes” who open fire in public to stop petty robbery is disgusting. A cheering section for a man who kills two to stop the robbery of his absent neighbor’s television, or for a man who opens fire in a Burger King to stop a thief, is patently ridiculous. More absurd still are those who remark on how a gun owner would have stopped the mass shootings. That is an indefensible position, since no one knows how trained, prepared, or scared their imaginary civilian avenger would be.
The gun issue clouds our response to these tragic mass shootings. In a society where gun ownership is a constitutional right there is no way to remove law abiding citizens’ access to firearms. Even with intensive training of the kind I support (the “well-regulated” kind), mass shootings will occur. The problem is that people who buy guns in a normal state are subject to the Sturm und Drang of the mind. Thus we should find a human solution for a human problem. Most of the shooters share at least one of the following characteristics: mentally ill, marginalized, unemployed, or frustrated. The book Bowling Alone makes the case that Americans have become increasingly disconnected from our family, friends and neighbors.
I believe it is exactly this disconnect, not guns, that bring men to the point of killing their fellow Americans. The mass shooting is a way for them to give significance to their invisibility, even if for the worse. As Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech, Jiverly Wong of Binghamton, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine, and Richard Poplawski of Pittsburgh demonstrated, the shootings are as much about image as they are murder. Donning black and sometimes body armor, these men used popular guns like Glocks or AK-47s. They actualized revenge fantasies where they were the hero and the villain.
We must stop the blood lust before it reaches this phase. I foresee more gun control under the Obama administration, much of it needed. I do not expect it to end the phenomenon of mass shootings with legally acquired guns. Reaching out, providing care and assistance, and helping one another is the real solution. Pointing fingers helps us to avoid our collective responsibility and makes us feel better, but it does not save lives.
-Michael E. van Landingham