Another week, another under-the-radar lunatic goes on a killing spree with his AR-15, and another round of recriminations from gun control advocates leveled at Congress for not passing stricter gun laws, at the NRA for existing at all, and at law-abiding gun owners for not saying “enough” and remorsefully schlepping their weapons to the local police station to give them up.
Gun ownership advocates, as usual, managed to throw off this guilt and continue to insist that putting more guns in more places, carried by trained individuals, will deter the maniacs or at least minimize the carnage. Each group cites statistics supporting its position, bringing to mind the old saw about statistics being used the same way a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination.
We do have a lot of guns – a recent NY Times article alleges that Americans own some 300 million – four out of every ten private firearms in the world. We also have a lot of anonymous, deeply troubled individuals who are one fight with the in-laws away from going postal. No law of God or man can be expected to keep all of society’s crackpots away from all those lovely, deadly weapons, and the gun argument is distracting us from another discussion that we desperately need to have.
Crazy people killing other people – not just with guns, but with rental trucks, homemade bombs or box cutters – is a relatively new phenomenon here. The U.S. has always had a surplus of firearms and lunatics-in-waiting, but the growing number of high-casualty events seems correlated with our growing fascination with – and tolerance of – brutal, graphic conflict in every form of our entertainment, from TV and movies to the internet to video games to sports, even music. Today, more than ever, potential assassins are at risk of having their worst impulses constantly reinforced whenever they tune in or log on. Less violence soaked cultures (including a fairly recent version of our own) have suffered fewer, and smaller, mass-casualty incidents, no matter how many guns (or rental trucks) their citizens have access to. But today America has normalized violence to the point where a crazed assailant has to kill at least a dozen innocent people in order to get noticed.
Focusing on guns as either the root of, or the counter to, this savagery is a cop-out. Those 300 million weapons are an effect, not the cause, of the culture we have allowed to evolve; a world in which “fake” violence is so pervasive that it has become background static. Whenever some tortured soul decides to embrace the real thing, we seldom pause to consider his motivation. We are too busy arguing about his methodology.
We have to start recognizing the fake violence that surrounds us for the empathy suppressant that it is and seeing real violence as the insidious cultural sickness that it is. Until we do there will be more – and given the glorifying publicity lavished on them by the media, worse – incidents of mass murder in our future. If we really want to stop the bleeding, the discussion has to go beyond the “how” and the “who”. We need to look in the mirror and ask, “why?”
*Rehumanize Yourself – Sting and The Police