The shooting in Las Vegas has once again ignited America’s all-too-routine scream-preaching about the role of guns in our society. Like with almost every other issue detrimental to our ability to democratically function, we’ve broken ourselves into two camps largely split among partisan lines and all we’re going to do is scream, rant, and rave to one another about statistics and constitutional interpretations until we all pass out from anger. Then, we’ll forget about this one, the conversation will be relegated to the middle of the paper and “recommended reading for you” sections of Internet publications, and when the next mass shooting rolls around, we’ll resume and pull these stories and editorials back to the front page.
Us Americans are fairly predictable on these matters, and as I’m sure you may have guessed from the headline and the opening paragraph, this is a post about the role of guns in our society. Yep, we’re pretty fucking predictable.
For the sake of full disclosure, if I could snap my fingers and make reality bend to my will, guns would not exist. I actually believe that a disarmed society has a better chance at being a thriving one than an armed society, based on the evidence I’ve seen from other nations that have enacted strict gun control laws. That’s not to say that these nations are utopian or that violent crime doesn’t exist in them, but residing in these nations doesn’t come with a caveat that people may get mowed down with a military-grade rifle when attending a country music show, going to the movies, or even sending their kids to school. The reality is that these things happen with stunning regularity in the United States and rarely happen, if at all, in nearly every other developed nation. No matter where one stands on the gun control debate, that fact cannot be refuted. The frequency and severity of mass shootings experienced in the United States is uniquely a problem of the United States.
But what of it, right? Obviously the people who orchestrate these acts are deranged, mentally ill, or dare I say, evil, right? Well no. They’re not, at least not all of them. Even though Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) seems to think that the best way to combat these acts of violence is to commit to “mental health reform” — which upon itself is a noble pursuit because the mentally ill in this country are treated like dog shit (case in point, mental illness as a common scapegoat for mass shootings) — the fact remains that research indicates only about three to five percent of all acts of violence are perpetrated by the mentally ill. In reality, the mentally ill are a regularly victimized class of people, a vulnerable demographic more likely to be on the receiving end of violence than actually orchestrating it themselves. Also, more often than not, the mentally ill engage their anger and occasional violence inward, more likely to hurt themselves than others as not to pass their own burdens off to anyone else. This is another fact that cannot be refuted. The mentally ill do not, as far as evidence holds, exhibit violent tendencies at the same rate as those who are not mentally ill. The opposite is actually true.
So why do we continue to engage the same tired talking points every time someone yells “hold my beer” after watching coverage of a “worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history?” Because we, for whatever reason, feel the need to add a degree of understanding to these events that morphs them into something easy for us to digest. It’s easier to process 58 dead, 500+ injured after being sprayed with assault rifle rounds from a high hotel balcony if we can call the shooter “evil” and spend a few days fighting with each other about guns. It also takes away from the fact that such acts of violence are entirely random. There is no rhyme or reason to them. While we clamor to put motive in the mouth of a homicidal individual who is, at the end of the event, more often dead than alive, we ignore what is staring us in the face: the shooter did it because they wanted to.
These are our habits. This is how we grieve. But this grieving process is one that does more harm than good. It exacerbates schisms that already exist, like throwing gas on a continuously burning sociological pyre that we eventually grow tired of watching until the flames suddenly and thunderously intensify.
But we’re not going to change, despite the severity of this one, just like we didn’t change despite the severity of the last one. The same tired routine is going to play out. We’re going to fight. We’re going to yell. We’re going to engage in conspiracy theories. Congress is going to get down on its collective knees and suck the NRA’s glock until it shoots rounds at the next group of unfortunate souls who will find themselves a part of the next “worst mass shooting in modern US history.” Why? Because this is America, where the rights of people to stroke their AR-15s trumps safety. We’re the land of not getting things done, the land of “well, that’s good enough.” As conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly said, getting mowed down in a mass shooting is “the price of freedom.”
But this is only the “price of freedom” because, to us, it is impossible to accept that truly being free requires certain freedoms to be impotent. Thoughts and prayers are not, and never have been, enough.
Featured image by USAF Tech. Sgt. Jerome S. Tayborn.