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Why the US Will Not Solve its Mass Shooting Epidemic

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The United States is not the only developed nation to experience mass shootings, but the sheer frequency with which they have occurred since the 1990s is breath-taking. It is now difficult to even name the shooters of what should count as memorable national tragedies. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are noteworthy for having put school shootings on the map, Adam Lanza perhaps for the sheer horror of his choice to target infants, but who remembers the name of Devin Patrick Kelley who murdered twenty-six people in a Texas church just last year? Perhaps nobody ought to remember their names, but it is a good indicator of the fact that these tragedies are becoming almost routine.

The response is always as routine as the shootings, the endless recriminations between Democrats and Republicans about who is responsible, and what solutions can be found. Liberals will blame the National Rifle Association, the ease with which guns can be purchased, and often even the very concept of public firearms ownership. Conservatives meanwhile respond incredulously that if only more people were armed, these shootings could be stopped by “good guys with guns”, or they attempt to distract from the problem by talking about gang violence in Chicago, or the very true statistic which shows that gun homicides in general have dropped precipitously since the 1991[i]. A lot of hot air is generated by these arguments, but nothing substantive is ever changed to try and prevent the next mass shooting

Both Democrats and Republicans are wrong (something frighteningly common). While it is doubtlessly true that a systematic removal of firearms from circulation, as happened in Australia after the Port Arthur massacre, would all but eradicate mass shootings, it would come at a cost that few in the United States are willing to bear. This is not because of the magical Second Amendment and its promises of fending off a tyrannical government, nor the popularity of hunting as a sport in many states. It is because fundamentally, people believe they have a right to defend themselves if they are attacked, and that the means to defend themselves from potentially armed assailants should be available. There is a reason that if one compares burglaries in the US and the UK, the latter sees a far greater prevalence of so-called ‘hot’ burglaries, that is, home invasions in which the occupant is at home, and these often end lethally[ii]. The advocates of strict gun control are a vocal minority, but a very small one, and hence even during periods of Democratic domination in congress, this has not been a policy avenue that has been pursued. It never will be. Dreams of ending mass shootings the same way Australia and the UK did, are fantasies. Republican solutions however, need far less reasoning to dismiss. While there are cases in which potential shooters have been stopped by armed civilians, carrying a gun casually in America remains a novelty in most places, and shooters need not target ‘gun-free zones’ to have confidence that they won’t be stopped. They can simply select areas where carrying a gun would be unusual.

Mental health is absolutely relevant when talking about mass shootings, and both parties agree that they should talk about it, but never do. The reason for this is obvious. Starting in the 1950s, America went through a ‘de-institutionalization’ process in large part because it was simply too expensive to continue providing psychiatric care and incarceration to all of the mentally ill in the country. Neither party is ever likely to green-light the kind of budget needed to isolate violently unstable individuals from society once again.

And yet, even while we can accurately say that the bug-eyed predators who unload magazines into crowds of people today, would have been safely kept under lock and key for most of the last century, this is not the primary factor to consider. The real driving force behind mass shootings, which neither party can or will address, is culture.

Mass shootings with no discernible political motive are exercises in nihilism. They are the serial killings of the iPhone generation, leaving behind the tedious cat-and-mouse games of yesterday’s monsters for instantaneous fame and notoriety. As we have mentioned, the frequency of these incidents is making that fame harder to get, hence the verified desire of shooters to beat “high scores” set previously[iii]. This is a pure by-product of the dehumanizing and alienating culture of the contemporary United States. While the moralists of the Reagan years warned of doom in the flood of slasher movies, violent video games, and sadistic pornography, they largely missed the point. The only reason that young men would absorb this poison, and indeed why any demand for it exists, is a general lack of interface with communities, families, and moral authorities. They have substituted reality with a toxic fantasy world not out of some misguided preference, but because the real world offers no lodestar, no duties to wider society, and no sense of belonging. It is instead a cold cypher which can only breed resentment. Add that to easily accessible firearms, and you have the reason for virtually every mass shooting of the last thirty years. Politicians and pundits will discuss the means, but never the motive, which is always shrouded by the phrase, “he was just crazy”. Insanity however, provides little explanation of this relatively recent phenomenon.

An American of some renown, Fr. Seraphim Rose, observed that nihilism was “an attitude of dissatisfaction with self, with the world, with society, with God; it knows but one thing: that it will not accept things as they are, but must devote its energies either to changing them or fleeing from them”[iv].Much has already been written on those who flee, the crisis of depression and suicide among young men, but for those who wish to change things as they are, even in terms of the microcosm of their own lives, society encourages transgression and yet leaves no methods by which to achieve it. It is all but impossible to be a rebel in the United States today, because the image of the marginalized, the oppressed, and the transgressive, is a mass market cliché. It’s hard to be a minority fighting the system, when the system itself glorifies minorities fighting the system. One is reminded of the decline of punk rock after corporations realized they could sell the genre’s apparel to an entire generation[v]. What are the malcontents of this new hyper-individualized society to do when nothing will get them the attention they have been conditioned to seek after? The outcasts of today, the fatherless waste of the pleasure principle (a shocking statistic finds twenty-six or the last twenty-seven mass shooters were without fathers[vi]), are not intruders upon American civil society. They are its children. The elites both left and right cannot address this, because through malfeasance or negligence, it is they who have led Americans into this cultural maelstrom, with not a single clue as to how to get them out.

There are, right now, an inestimable number of brooding sociopaths just waiting to enact their gruesome fantasies on the unsuspecting, chasing after the chance to be noticed, the chance to finally appear in a Fox News bulletin. All of the “thoughts and prayers” aren’t going to change that, because the god of television only has ears for his prodigal sons, returning to their surrogate father with the blood of innocents splashed on vacant expressions.

 

[i]Chappell B. Rate Of U.S. Gun Violence Has Fallen Since 1993, Study Says. Npr.org. 2013. Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/05/07/181998015/rate-of-u-s-gun-violence-has-fallen-since-1993-study-says. Accessed May 28, 2018.

[ii]Steyn M. An Englishman's Home is His Dungeon. Telegraph.co.uk. 2004. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/3613417/An-Englishmans-home-is-his-dungeon.html. Accessed May 28, 2018.

[iii]Stanglin D. Report: Conn. Shooter Kept Mass-Murder 'Score Sheet'. Usatoday.com. 2013. Available at: https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/03/18/newtown-sandy-hook-adam-lanza-massacre-school/1996455/. Accessed May 28, 2018.

[iv]Rose S. Nihilism: The Root Of The Revolution Of The Modern Age. Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood; 2009:63.

[v]Clark D. The Post-Subcultures Reader. 1st ed. Oxford: Berg; 2004:223.

[vi]Meckler M. Of 27 Deadliest Mass Shooters, 26 of Them Were Fatherless. Realclearpolitics.com. 2018. Available at: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/2018/02/27/of_27_deadliest_mass_shooters_26_of_them_were_fatherless_435596.html. Accessed May 28, 2018.

Author: K. E. Benois