Within minutes of the news of the horrific shooting at an elementary school, the voices of inaction started spreading across the social networks:
- “Even if you ban all the guns, people can still be killed with other things!”
- “Why do people start talking about mental health care whenever there’s a violent event?”
- “Now is not the time to talk about political action. People are just starting to mourn this senseless tragedy.”
- “Why does the media put so much attention to these things? It only encourages other people to do this so they’ll become famous!”
- “If only there were more armed citizens, this could be prevented.”
…and so on.
An internet meme is one of the least nuanced ways to discuss anything, but I have to admit that sometimes they raise a good point. Thanks to one failed clownish attempt to take out a jet with a shoe bomb, millions of us are forced to take off our shoes when we go through security at airports. Meanwhile, over 30,000 people are killed by gun violence every year in the U.S., but we can’t even talk about changing any gun regulations?
The air travel security processes that have been imposed on us are a horrific overreaction, don’t reduce the odds of a disaster by a significant amount, and are therefore a colossal waste of time and money. So we shouldn’t duplicate the thinking over there.
But doing nothing after decades of these mass shootings is an even more colossal waste.
The good news is, there are options between the extremes of overreacting and doing nothing.
Will banning assault weapons end violence? Of course not. But think about this: last week, a man went on a rampage and stabbed 22 school children in China, but no one died. Yes, it was a horribly traumatic event. Yes, it is certainly possible to kill someone with a knife, but it is much harder for a single person to inflict deadly wounds on a whole bunch of people in a short time with knives than with an assault rifle. So regulating the sale of certain types of weapons, offering gun buy-back programs, and so forth might save a few thousand lives a year.
Will better mental health options end all violence? No. And the usual argument people make on this point is that most mass shooters have fallen through the cracks of the mental health system. The problem with that argument is that currently, the mental health care system has cracks the size of the Grand Canyon. Nearly everyone falls through the cracks. Let’s get a functioning system together, first, shall we?
The variant on the mental health argument I was quite amused with recently is that, since so few of these shooters survive to be diagnosed, we can’t assume they are mentally ill. One person making this argument insisted that mentally ill people are no more likely than the non-ill to be violent. And as proof said, “Of the 61 mass shooters of the last five years, only 38 exhibited signs of mental illness before the crime, but none had been diagnosed.” Thirty-eight out of sixty-one is 62%. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 26% of the population suffer from a diagnosable mental or mood disorder at any time. So 62% seems at least a bit disproportionate.
The “now is not the time” argument is beyond infuriating. If anything, talking about it after a tragedy is too late, certainly not too soon. And silencing the discussion by saying we’re trying to politicize a tragedy? That is politicizing a tragedy. So, stop being a hippocrit, man up, and debate the issue.
The “media creates these events” argument is very tempting. And in more than a few of the cases there is evidence that the person was trying to make a statement, having left behind videos or notes. But you know who else does that sort of thing? Terrorists. And no sane person believes that the guys who flew those planes into the World Trade Center thinks that if only the news hadn’t revealed their names, that they would have never done it.
The “more guns argument” overlooks a few facts. First, there are already more privately owned guns in this country than there are people. We have no shortage of guns available for citizens to defend themselves. Second, one need look only at incidents such as the Lakewood shoot a couple years ago in my state: four armed cops, all experienced, all having been in shooting situations before hand, were at a cafe when an armed guy walked in and started shooting. He wasn’t even armed with an assault rifle, but none of the officers was able to draw and fire back in time to stop him from killing all four. There are dozens of similar cases, and statistics galore that indicate that just having responsible, trained, armed people there doesn’t put a stop to these crimes. In the majority of the cases, even after a large force of armed police arrive, it’s the shooter killing himself that ends the massacre, not the police killing him.
And all of these leaps to unsupportable conclusions are keeping us from tackling any of the sources of the problems that lead these guys (and they are almost all men, usually young men) to do these things. We aren’t willing to talk about our society’s toxic expectations of what masculinity means. We aren’t willing to discuss the correlations between the economic and romantic frustration that many of these mass murderers express before these things happen, and how many of them form alliances with gun-stockpiling, paranoid communities.
We have to stop leaping to conclusions, stop following our gut reactions, and look at the facts. We have to be willing to start seriously implementing multiple changes. We have to be willing to get past the bumper sticker/internet meme rhetoric and talk about the difficult problems.
Otherwise, the senseless deaths are going to just keep happening.