Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mass Shootings: Cause and Effect

What is it about mass shootings that bring out the silliest observations in news organizations? Yes, the shooters are always 'troubled' or 'seemingly normal.' That covers just about everyone. And we will, of course, get the obligatory, 'We cannot talk about the politics of these shootings, yet. It is just too recent and we need to mourn the loss of life,' all the while the same station (say, a Fox 'News') will subsequently air a story later that evening about how more guns might prevent crime. This is what we call discourse on guns in this country.

What is not discussed, at least in the aftermath of shootings in the US, is why we permit people (in many cases, never before criminals) to have such easy access to semiautomatic, military-style assault weapons to commit their crimes? Yes, I understand some gun folk will assert that these weapons are already out there and always will be. By that same logic, there has and will always be child pornography. That does not mean it is something which is a social good, should remain unrestricted or unbanned, even with the understanding that it cannot be perfectly prohibited in a society filled with narcissistic sociopaths who equate having an AR-15 to Madison's conceptualization of a gun, back in the day when they were muskets that took a fortnight to reload.

Notice, however, after mass shootings in Australia and Germany (countries with a tradition of gun ownership [contrary to the claims of the NRA who like to portray this as indigenous to the US or maybe Switzerland on a good day]), they further restricted access to the weapons that were used to mechanize the killings. The US is the only country on earth where people respond to mass shootings by saying that the solution is to arm kids, teachers, and bystanders to increase the chance of having more successful shootouts. If there is one issue that really separates the US from just about every country I have ever traveled, it is gun control, because people throughout this world have a hard time understanding our mentality on the issue.

For the longest time, I rationalized that it was because we had a Second Amendment, but the Second Amendment never became a political issue until the last few decades, before which it was given as much attention as the Third Amendment receives today (and has for the past 220 years). In fact, when the NRA started in the 19th century, it was a hunting club. I also used to think that maybe because we are a younger country and one founded under the gun (in our revolution and westward expansion), that this might explain our mindset on the issue. However, Canada and Australia have similar histories to the US, and even though they are still very much gun-oriented polities when compared to Japan, I have never met anyone from those countries who correlate walking the streets with a 50-cal with free expression.

Worse, the people who think that treading the streets with military weapons tend to be some of the most violent and hateful folk I have ever encountered in political debate, even worse than the anti-choice Christians or the baseball fans who think steroids are modern day tic tacs. I have only been obliquely threatened with death on three occasions in my life, and on two of them it was with people who thought I was the next Hitler for thinking semiautomatic weapons should be banned. Never mind that I own guns, was taught how to use them growing up, and actually see nothing wrong with gun ownership, or the use of such weapons in life-threatening situations. No, taking away the 'right' to freely purchase and own armor-piercing bullets or insisting on background checks at gun shows is the new totalitarianism to many of these people.

What interests me, other than the fact our body politic is filled with crazy people, is how do they get themselves to this point? We sometimes forget that the Second Amendment was not incorporated until this last year and only partly so (on municipal handgun bans). It was common in crime-ridden cities and towns historically in this country for law enforcement to ban people from possessing firearms. In fact, states restricted gun ownership all of the time, because the Second Amendment was only meant to apply to the federal government. Why was it not an issue until now? Is it simply a white right anger and fear of a government that they formally thought anyone was a terrorist for not supporting for the past eight years? Is it something much deeper, like a feeling of a loss of independence on the part of people in this country? To me, these are the kinds of questions that these stories should be delving into after these tragedies.

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