Another mass murder. Another gun assault. How many dead this time? Who did it? Was it terrorism? Was he from a group we hate? Or one which will embarrass us? Was he Muslim? White Supremacist? Anti-Abortion? A settler? Was he mentally ill? These are some of the questions that jump out at us when we first learn this horrid news.
We also ask about security. Did the FBI or local police do their jobs? Was there anything they let slip through the cracks? Was their a failure that was in their hands that might’ve prevented the tragedy?
Of course, there is always in the back of our minds the scourge of guns in our society. But we’ve learned to suppress that urge because we know that the gun lobby owns Congress. We know the NRA has an even stronger vise on public policy than the Israel Lobby does. So many of us have learned to withhold our outrage at the real cause of these massacres. Because we know nothing can be done.
I’m going to propose something that isn’t very radical, but which seems neglected by the general public: it hardly matters who pulls the trigger or what their motivation is. If the killer is Muslim, some of us will heap blame on Islam and demand to know when and how the religion will reform in order to rid it of this “cancer within.” If the killer opposes abortion we’ll talk about why and how the movement that holds preserving life as its foremost premise, can justify murder. If the killer is a white supremacist we’ll talk about racism and the history of violence that Blacks have suffered in this country for centuries.
Some of our introspection may be worthwhile (though not all). It can never hurt to examine the underlying principles of a religion or society and their unspoken, unconscious patterns of hate or oppression. However, in some circumstances, especially related to Islamist violence, the blame game lapses too easily into Islamophobia.
Similarly, it doesn’t much matter if the police did their job or not. Why didn’t they stop James Holmes or any number of mentally ill mass murderers from getting guns? Did they fail to catch someone who should’ve been rejected during a background check? The truth is that mass murder by assault rifle has become de rigueur in this country. We can nip around the edges of the gun scourge by trimming a law here or there (though the Senate recently and insanely even rejected a 72 hour delay imposed on suspected terrorists before they could buy a gun…an amendment offered by GOP Sen. John Cronyn, ferchrissakes!). But none of this gets at the root cause of the epidemic of mass murder.
The truth is that there are thousands of people who will have a motive to take up guns to make society pay for whatever grudge or imagined sins we’ve committed. And as these assaults become more commonplace, more and more disturbed individuals will contemplate them as reasonable and acceptable responses to whatever savage grievance or emotion they hold.
The way to address this is not to single out Muslims, anti-abortionists, white supremacists or the mentally ill. All of this takes us off on tangents that diverge from the real issue. We must attack the problem at its root. We must restrict access to guns. There are a limited number of Americans who need guns. Most of us know who they are: police, security, military, hunters, sportsmen, etc. The rest of us do not need guns. Having them almost guarantees that many of the rest of us will become targets. If not now, then eventually.
We must extirpate this scourge root and branch. Guns, or at least the way too many of us use them, are a cancer. We must fight against them as LBJ waged war on poverty or as scientists wage war on disease. We must battle the gun lobby and beat it back when it rears its ugly head, as it surely will do. We must vote out of office politicians who hold the country hostage to this epidemic.
But will this happen? Can it happen? The gun lobby serves the same role in this country as the Israel Lobby in terms of maintaining a pathological set of public policies that guarantee either maintenance of the status quo; or even rolling it back to make matters worse. Because of Aipac’s toxic role in U.S. foreign policy it’s virtually impossible for a U.S. president to play a constructive, robust role in resolving the conflict. Similarly, because of the gun lobby, thousands more innocent Americans will die at the hands of savage messiahs seeking vengeance for a thousand and one sins.
In the face of these two toxic lobbies, our country is like Samson bound and humiliated by the Philistines. We are a proud, powerful country transformed into blubbering infants in the face of them.
The inability to address these two critical issues and resolve them for the benefit of all threatens to render fatal judgment on our entire society. Can a nation which can do nothing to save itself from these horrors long survive? Do we deserve to? If we were a species instead of a nation, Darwin would invoke the law of the survival of the fittest to determine our fate. We would have to say that we are not fit. We cannot do the least to ensure the survival of our citizens. We are shaming ourselves as individuals and as a country.
We are taking baby steps. This latest California assault has spurred even more Americans to turn in revulsion. The NY Times published an anti-gun editorial on its front page for the first time in 95 years. I realize the NY Times is not necessarily an arbiter of the mood of the rest of the country. It won’t necessarily change any votes in Congress. But it does tell us that the icebergs are cracking under the weight of these continuing horrors.