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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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nightmare/chaos image by Sheldon Wood, West Yorkshire, England https://www.flickr.com/photos/shelbob/
Capitol graveyard by Jon Sonderman https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnsonderman/
Gun protest by ep_jhu, Washington, D.C. https://www.flickr.com/photos/ep_jhu/