El Paso And Dayton
Being of a pacific disposition in possession of a stubbornly gentle soul, I’m not especially well-suited to discuss the topic of mass murder. Harder hearts than mine must pick up where I leave off on this subject, which is, I confess, discouragingly not far along this forbiddingly bumpy road. In the pursuit of chasing and hopefully of grasping this topic, there are too many things that I lack. For one, I haven’t the necessary acumen—the mastery of the infected mind of which our greatest criminal psychologists and clinicians are so fully availed. Yet even they, in many cases, stand bewildered in the shade of so gratuitous an eclipse of pain and death. Their expertise, however, is a vital source of illumination, irrespective of how sparse it might be.
For another, I haven’t the political sagacity needed to appease a majority. Collective opinion and agreement is the foundation upon which this country is built. We are inextricably fated to compromise—however uncordially this might be achieved. Here, we find a problem; excepting perhaps immigration, there is no single issue over which the population is more unwaveringly divided. The control of guns or the liberation of their rights is the fork at which the country splits in two. Surely no expedient within the view of my discernment can gather everyone in agreement in order to solve it. If man is a political animal, I watch him as if in a zoo.
For a third, I haven’t the requisite fortitude—be it intellectual or emotional—to confront this modern American blight. And a blight it is. You might say it’s an affliction, a cancer, indeed a malignancy from which we can’t escape. There is no evident remedy and it responds to medicinal treatment not, nor to that of the spirit. It’s become the source of our national spoliation, the crisis of our moral debasement, and the visible mark of our internal rot. It’s a veritable sickness of which we can’t or won’t be cured. Call it what you will, an epidemic or a pestilence, a blight or a blimp in our historically violent past, the phenomenon of mass murders in America is an obdurate and, so far as I can tell, an ineradicable disease. The past few years attest to its prevalence; the past weekend to its virulence. If it continues as expected, the future will speak to its endurance.
Moribund and dreadful, yet increasingly quotidian and real, it’s a problem at which my naturally delicate inclinations shutter. Yet while I attempt to retreat from the news and to hide, I can’t long persist concealed. Inevitably, it finds me, and I it. In finding it, I see how appalling it is, as do we all (save, perhaps, its fervid perpetrators and those on the internet sites like eight and four “-chan” for whom they seem to perform), but my teary sentiment has a way of clouding the clarity of my judgment and thought. The insobriety, which is a consequence of the sorrow by which I’m continuously filled, prevents me from giving any reasonable insight into how these mass shootings might be reduced or brought to an end. Of course, the presupposition of that foregoing line is that they can be brought to an end.
That is a dubious notion. I’m not so sure that they can be stopped. To be so convinced that they might would be to invite upon oneself a few words of abuse. Such imprecations reserved for those whose minds are entangled in illusion would fall upon him: Quixotic, impractical, unreal, and foolish—all would be proper claimants to the character of so disconnected a person. When one is too hopeful, one is open to contempt. And, if this surfeit of hope persists, one will be ignored as a Pangloss incapable of seeing the truth or as incorrigibly naïve. The former is constituent of his being; the latter, a notion of which he can’t be disabused.
Must we, then, jettison all hope for change? I’ll not yet leap to so despondent a concession. That is a dark and endless pit from which there is no ascent. There might yet be things that we can do—laws that can be legislated, interventions that can be promulgated, and, perhaps most importantly, cultural mores that might be inculcated to reduce the frequency with which these tragedies occur. Though I am, as noted, shockingly unqualified to offer my two-cents as to what these laws, interventions, and cultural intercessions might be, I’ll nevertheless list a few.
From a legislative perspective, the act that would be the most immediately applicable and efficacious would be the so-called “Red Flag” law. Already it’s been instituted in a few states.
In brief, the law would disallow—at the very least, block temporarily—the purchase of a firearm by a person deemed singularly unfit to own so dangerous a device. The figure by whom that decision of the purchaser’s fitness or unfitness is to be made would be of an intimate relation to the potential buyer. A family member, teacher, coach, or priest could interject in the gun purchaser’s behalf and prevent the sale. If there’s any reason to suspect his intentions (I use his, as most gun enthusiasts and mass murderers are of the masculine stock), the sale can be thwarted. A judicial injunction could rescind from the would-be gun owner his right legally to purchase the firearm. He would then, through a dedicated course of clinical and psychological analysis, be deemed by a professional as an appropriate or inappropriate candidate for the future ownership of a gun. If the former, he’d continue to be monitored. If the latter, he’d be completely proscribed. With the retention of all his civil liberties, protected by the solicitous attention of not only the government but those members of his inner-circle by whom he’s surrounded, he’d be made to clear a higher barrier in the purchase of the weapon if there were reasons to suspect his motives.
Of course, this eminently sensible and proactive step does nothing to address the quantity and the types of guns in circulation as we speak. As the figure presently stands, there are nearly five-hundred million guns in America. In contrast, there are roughly two-hundred million fewer citizens by whom they’re owned. The fact that their number is so disproportionately large seems to be a problem beyond which we fundamentally can’t move. I say “fundamentally” because the protection of their ownership is etched in that noblest of all national documents. The Second Amendment to the Constitution—by whose Madisonian verbiage and ambiguity we’re still continually vexed—is equivocally intent on protecting gun ownership rights. The proposed implementation of an Australia-style program of “buying them back”, for example, would be inconceivable on those grounds. Probably, it would be an incitement to resistance and possibly to a second civil war. An amendment to this inviolable Amendment would be needed, but few Republican congressmen would endorse so radical a move.
Alas, short of the usurpation of millions of free Americans’ rights, there appear to be only two logical legislative steps whose path we can follow: to implement the “Red Flag” law as above conceived and to strengthen background checks and mental health screens for those whose goal it is to own a gun. The combination of these two could be done swiftly and universally. All it would require would be Congress’ initiative to act—an exertion to which it’s notoriously averse.
That said, the legislative approach shouldn’t be thought to be the exhaustive one. Laws can only go so far and too often they’re breached. The best-laid plans are destroyed in a moment of lawless fury and, when that results in dead bodies, all those carefully-constructed edicts are for naught. The diminution of gun violence, I believe, calls out not only for the implementation of decrees of the government’s making, but for a reformation of the spirit. The former is a matter of the federal government’s concern. The latter, of personal responsibility and, by extension, the local community in which that person lives.
Too many of the perpetrators of these crimes (be they Islamic jihadist, white supremacist, eco-fascist, far-leftist, or some other “-ist” pledging his dying allegiance some other odious creed) are, whether they acknowledge it or not, frighteningly selfish and nihilistic. The meaning of life and the sanctity of their fellow man or woman are sentiments to which they’ve become dangerously insensate. I hesitate to call them wholly immune to such sentiments, because I think there is no point in life beyond which they can be re-incorporated and enjoyed. But, with haste, they must be introduced and preferably sooner than later in life.
Broken and violent families are unconducive to the fostering and development of a stable young adult (a plurality, perhaps even a majority of mass murderers are of this age). The onus, then, falls upon the backs of the parental generation—but it doesn’t fall there exclusively. The environment in which the mother and father raise their child must be unified and salutary in every possible way, but the ultimate burden rests on the young man himself.
Certain ideas must be embedded and continually stressed. Aside from personal responsibility, sympathy must be essential, respect for life absolutely vital, and communication consistent though not exclusively online. That last part is of absolute import; it’s a thought upon which we might linger for a paragraph. Chat rooms and message boards (the likes of “4chan” and “8chan” of which service providers, freshly aware of their scruples, are now taking note) are not to be a primary escape, but a last refuge of the pathologically unsociable. And even then, those who lack the interlocutor’s art should find in them ready and conversant help. Perhaps this demands they be monitored by some disinterested third party scanning for troublesome souls. So be it. These sites shouldn’t be amalgams of misanthropes and cesspools of malcontents into whose nucleus all sorts of filth can be spilled, stirred, and vomited back into the real world. Man is, by nature, a creature forever in search of society; to be solitary in front of one’s computer in a darkened room is to be the equivalent of a brute. Now a bastion of boyish ostentation and stupidity where noxious memes waft and affected machismo flows, these online worlds are nothing better than realms of artifice and intellectual poverty in which young minds suffocate, etiolate, and quickly wither away.
They must step out into the world, inhale the vigorous breeze, and submerge themselves in the reality of life. By so doing, they’ll interact with people whom they can actually see. They’ll talk not with faceless avatars banging on keys, but with nuanced and enthralling people into whose eyes they can look. They’ll become part of the world, and the world will become part of them. As such, to think injurious thoughts of the one will be tantamount to damaging oneself. Should they remain in their shell, they’ll be rendered callous to their fellow human beings and peripheral to an ever-affable species of which they ought to be grateful to be a part.
With all humility and recognition of the ingenuity I lack, these are my responses to the problem of mass murderers in America. They must be tripartite: legal, personal, and cultural. Some require extraordinary change, others minor tweaking. I’m hopeful, you might even say optimistic, to see these efforts begin.