The perpetrators at least have something resembling an excuse. Although specific medical diagnoses of any given mass shooter fall along a spectrum that may or may not include the frequent, often wrongly used catch-all term, “psychopath,” I strongly doubt that any mental health professional would disagree that all such perpetrators are, by both common and professional understanding, “disordered.”
Whatever compulsions inspire them to commit such heinous acts, it sets them at odds, in a profoundly anti-social way, from most all the rest of their societal peers who reflexively recoil from what they have beheld.
I don’t pretend to understand the precise disorders that drive such behavior (assuming any such understanding is even possible). Nor can I fathom any remedies that the ever-advancing discipline of neuroscience may someday bring to bear to help reduce or eliminate the kind of deviance that inspires such acts.
But here is what I do understand all too well:
Every single politician who has refused to engage in substantive negotiations to better reduce and regulate the rampant proliferation of guns across this country bears responsibility for the carnage that continues under their watch.
In their own way, these elected officials are just as responsible as the perpetrators, precisely because they are not disordered and fit no possible definition of mental illness as most all perpetrators do.
We are the only democracy in the world where guns of even the most lethal firepower are widely available, the great untouchable, the Holy Grail, an ardent communal religion, the ultimate concern for which a portion of our population will give up their very lives and a portion of our political class will sell their very souls…
Theirs is instead a willful moral failing, a cold calculation based solely and cynically on their own political survival. It is about winning primary elections that lopsidedly draw voters with strongly held ideological positions, whipped up by special interest group money and their media outrage machines.
And it is about the campaign contributions that flow to them from those interest groups, and the voters those groups turn out to cast ballots on a maximalist pro-gun agenda.
According to Open Secrets, the non-partisan group that tracks the expenditures and influence of money in U.S politics, gun rights groups spent $13.2 million on federal lobbying efforts in 2022.
That was dwarfed, however, by the nearly $18.8 million those groups also spent through their political action committees to support the campaigns of gun-friendly legislative incumbents and aspirants across the country.
That’s $32 million to make sure there will be no legislative efforts to scale back the easy purchase and use not merely of hunting rifles and pistols for sport and self-defense, but of military grade weapons, unburdened by regulations that the Founders specifically referenced in the Second Amendment’s language of a right to bear ams in conjunction with a “well-regulated militia.”
But all that is to go all rational and wonky when most all of this week, I have sensed from the nation and within myself not so much rational discourse as half-crazed outrage at the utter insanity of where we find ourselves.
Where has reasoned debate and the maddening bromide of “thoughts and prayers” gotten us? Nothing but more mountains of bullet-riddled bodies is the short, accurate and lamentable answer.
So what are we to do, where shall we go now, following year after year and massacre upon massacre of thousands of innocent human beings and fellow citizens sacrificed on an altar of gun fetishism and the continued refusal of legislators to even consider doing one damn thing about it?
Sputtering, it seems, has finally become my dominant mode on the gun issue. It is the last wriggling vestige of my default preference to employ reason when confronted yet again with the lunatic asylum, the rubber room, the hellish, under-worldly evil of this country’s worship of gun rights at the expense of everyone else’s right not to be slaughtered in their schools and shopping malls and workplaces.
We are the only democracy in the world where guns of even the most lethal firepower are widely available, the great untouchable, the Holy Grail, an ardent communal religion, the ultimate concern for which a portion of our population will give up their very lives and a portion of our political class will sell their very souls.
Only here do gun zealots view every new victim as a sad but collateral sacrifice to the only God that matters: the unfettered right and even encouragement for all Americans to arm themselves with weapons of massive, lethal, flesh-tearing destruction.
Driving home the other day, I found myself cursing at the radio, wait, make that at Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s voice on that radio, as he droned on with his brow-furrowed concern:
“There will come a time to ask how a person could do this. There will come a time to discuss and debate policy. But this is not a time for hate, or rage.”
“Not a time?”
If I’d been able to get words rather than mere snarls out of my mouth in that moment, I’d have responded: “At this very time, I am full of hate and rage at these recurrent massacres! Why aren’t you?”
In truth, Lee and his party have spent their time in recent years avidly and systematically pursuing an expansion rather than curtailment of gun rights. From an ABC news report after last week’s Nashville horror:
“Tennessee enacted a law in July of 2021 that allowed the permitless carry of handguns, both concealed and unconcealed, for anyone over the age of 21…Despite calls from local law enforcement, Republican lawmakers are now looking to loosen the state’s gun laws even further…lawmakers have introduced gun-related bills that would allow permit carriers to bring their weapons to college campuses and another that would allow school staff members to carry a handgun.”
So campuses and schools are to become armed fortresses in order to contend with the freelance armed forces we are building as gun ownership continues to skyrocket across the country and heavily armed militias and lone wolves prowl the land, often outgunning police forces in the sheer lethalness of their weaponry.
“Now is not the time?” Then WHEN, Governor Lee?
And with WHAT?
With THIS? From Wikipedia:
“In 2019, with the support of Republican state legislators, Lee loosened Tennessee’s handgun law, allowing ‘concealed-carry-only’ handgun permits to be obtained without requiring applicants to show an ability to fire a weapon.”
Lee, hardly unusual among contemporary politicians, professes a Christian faith. So I find myself conducting a thought experiment of him meeting his maker at life’s end.
How will he respond when asked what he had done to help reduce the suffering and enhance the happiness of those entrusted to his care?
I suspect he would not trumpet having accepted donations from and promoted bills backed by the gun lobby to put more guns of greater power and “permitless carry” into the hands of his flock. But if not, why is he doing so now?
Like my failure to understand why mass shooters do what they do, I no longer understand how Lee (and I use him here only as this week’s example; there are far worse gun lobby apologists) can possibly live with himself as he forestalls any incursions that would better regulate guns and reduce the carnage they cause.
Since he is by no measure or definition insane, I search my mind and see only moral compromise, which complicates and darkens my understanding all the more.
If I were a better man than I am, I’d perhaps pray for his soul, too, but it seems the specter of those dead children and their forever grieving families fills my heart with such sadness that I have nothing left for him, other than an increasingly desperate and familiar refrain:
“FOR GOD’S SAKE, SIR, DO SOMETHING! DO SOMETHING FINALLY AND AT LAST!!”
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As usual, Andy, so eloquent and heartfelt! My question is “ how do these people get here?” What is it in their experience, morality, psychological make up, that allows them to turn their heads and seemingly not care as children especially are being slaughtered? “ I share your outrage!
That is the million dollar question, Karen, to which I wish I had an answer. It seems they are living with themselves just fine, but it completely escapes me how they do it. How do they go home to put their kids on their knee, take them to soccer practice, tuck them in at night, without their thoughts drifting to all those parents who no longer have that profound privilege, but are instead wracked with lifelong grief? How can they not ask themselves what they might do, what is worth trying in the face of nothing working so far, to help reduce these horrors? Do they really think, in their heart of hearts, that arming teachers is as much as they can do, and that free access to weapons of mass carnage is worth all the carnage that ensues? Thanks for ranting along with me here. Not sure I have much else in my quiver at the moment….
Five years ago, following the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, I wrote “It’s Gonna Take More Than a Prayer” to illustrate our nation’s inability to address gun violence in a sensible manner. It’s apparent that the Republican party will never approve any consequential gun control legislation because of its almost congenital tie to the NRA and its gun-toting-at-all-cost constituency. If I updated this poem after each new shooting, it would be revised daily. This kind of tragedy appears to be as eternal as space. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this “so-called Christian and family-values” Republican party would support legislation to have an AK-47 replace the bald eagle as our national symbol.
(August 1, 1966) Bullets sliced through the sticky Austin air. Beneath its Tower blood stained the grass red. Seventeen killed in that senseless nightmare. Its bells knelled a somber dirge to the dead.
(November 3,1966) Horror bathed the Rose-Mar Beauty School slaughter. He forced their faces down while taking aim. He even shot one’s three-month old daughter. “I just wanted to get myself a name.”
(July 12, 1976) Disneyland’s joy failed to muffle the rounds. Cal State Fullerton shivered as the rampage began. In its basement library the bodies were found. Seven lives lost in a five-minute span.
(January 17, 1989) Cleveland School’s playground strewn with spent shells. Five Cambodians died in a shower of one-hundred rounds. Plus thirty-two wounded in this ‘twist of fate’ hell. “God, why did we even flee from the Killing Fields’ mounds.”
BUT IT DOESN’T END THERE. IT’S GONNA TAKE MORE THAN A PRAYER.
(November 1, 1991) Iowa University’s stillness shattered like glass as it fell. He struck quickly like a coiled diamondback rattler. He butchered six in a venomous gunfire swell. “So what? Death? What little does it matter.”
(May 1, 1992) At Lindhurst High a 16-year-old boy died first at the scene, after pushing a terrified girl from the line of fire. The town honored the life of this Good Samaritan teen. No one…no one so young need to die as a martyr.
(October 1, 1997) Bullying at Pearl High School should have been a clue. A rifle stuffed in his trench coat; his anger hidden. “Can you really blame me for what I do? Throughout my life I was ridiculed and beaten.”
(December 1, 1997) At Heath High school in rural Kentucky, Death sparked by a kid’s addiction to Mortal Kombat. Dropping his gun, he fell to one knee, “Kill me, please. I can’t believe I did that.”
BUT IT DOESN’T END THERE. IT’S GONNA TAKE MORE THAN A PRAYER.
(March 24, 1998) At Westside School a Jekyll and Hyde sniper lay in wait, bearing weapons stolen from his grandfather’s home. A fire alarm struck the beat to his death march of hate. Five perished because “I’ve always felt so alone.”
(May 21, 1998) Thurston High’s young innocence stifled. Two dead and twenty-five wounded in seconds’ time. All downed by two pistols and a semi-automatic rifle. Tragically synced to the rhythm of ammo’s chimes.
(April 20, 1999) The gray, granite Rockies shadowed the spree. Snowy peaks melted into a ghoulish gloom. Columbine’s quiet crushed by Doom devotees. Seventeen students slain on that Spring afternoon.
(March 21, 2005) On the Ojibwe Reservation rose his evil quest. Why did Red Lake High’s death toll reach ten? Could it be the fault of a Glock, shotgun and bullet proof vest? Or is it just another sick child gone mad once again?
BUT IT DOESN’T END THERE. IT’S GONNA TAKE MORE THAN A PRAYER.
(October 2, 2006) At West Nickel Mines School amidst Amish Amens, five girls executed in front of a chalkboard. Their blood sprayed the desks crimson, erasing their simple life on a blackened floor.
(April 16, 2007) His cold soul crawled across Virginia Tech’s grounds. Semi-automatic guns exploded into the ultimate nightmare. Thirty-two buried in a barrage of four-hundred rounds. His family sobbed, “We pray for those who died there.”
(February 14, 2008) An assault rifle image across a black shirt, tore Northern Illinois University apart. After the carnage six bodies lay inert, A shotgun in guitar case was his Valentine’s Day card.
(November 30, 2012) After Sandy Hook’s massacre the nation wept and bled. His Bushmaster XM15 sprayed death through two rooms. “Mommy, I’m okay, but all my friends are dead.” The smiles lost were barely six years from the womb.
BUT IT DOESN’T END THERE. IT’S GONNA TAKE MORE THAN A PRAYER. Benton, Grayson and Greenville heard shots. Aztec, Baton Rouge, and Savannah, too. A coffin and a hearse—all is for naught. If in the wake of mass shootings, nothing ensues, we’ve all just become either puppets or fools. Perhaps the seventeen dead at Parkland’s High School will rise up and shout, “Enough is Enough!” and join hands with the living and chant, “Let common sense rule! Let common sense rule!”. “People kill, not guns” we must recant. Then, and only then, can we end this despair.
BUT REMEMBER IT’S GONNA TAKE MORE THAN A PRAYER
That is a grim litany, Robert, and the tragedy is in both how incomplete in actuality it is, and in all that is yet to be added before something meaningful happens to begin turning the tide. I suspect our gun mania and inability to do anything about it will look to future generations as slavery does to us: “How could they…?”
A reminder of what British journalist Dan Hodges said in 2015 about the prospects for meaningful gun control legislation in America: “In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the U.S. gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
It was beyond chilling when I first read it, and I hoped we could/would prove Hodges wrong, but so far nothing that has happened in state legislatures, Congress, or the Supreme Court calls into question the truth of Hodge’s statement. I cling to “so far” because I want to/have to believe that some day decency, courage, and reason will prevail among politicians and judges, and they will enact, then validate gun laws that the vast majority of Americans – both Democrat and Republican – support.
Yeah, David, I think Sandy Hook just broke the back & spirit of countless people, myself included, when zero re-evaluation took place among gun backers and the legislators they owned about just where we had gotten ourselves. It’s been a dark picture ever since. I doubt much can move the needle now unless it becomes a major electoral issue and gun zealot politicians get voted out of office. Short of that, I’d support and attend a modern day March on Washington focused on this issue, which cuts across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines and, as you note, consistently garners majority support from voters. The effort can’t just be relegated to wailing and gnashing of teeth in the aftermath of each shooting.
“Let nothing grieve you beyond measure,” says the song. But each side seems to locked in an ever-increasing existential crisis, and they are the ones with the guns.
I appreciate your post Andrew and the howls into the abyss of of political cowardice- the gun insanity beyond rational explanation. When gun violence passes car crashes as the #1 killer of children our country has become incomprehensible. I also appreciate your link to civil rights and the March on Washington, we need an MLK figure to light a fire and carry the torch.
Grim facts you both cite there, Dennis and Kevin, and judging from the continuing rise of neo-Nazi militias, preppers, and Jan. 6 cultists that one historian recently called a “slow civil war,” I’m none too confident the situation will improve any time soon, and it will require some utter paroxysm before it does.