Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Missing Link on Gun Violence

The term 'Senseless Tragedy' should never be applied to mass shootings. Its a crass capitulation to willful ignorance; a weak attempt to confront brutal reality. Mass shootings are never senseless. There is always a reason, always a force that drives men into madness- to take the lives of their fellow citizens. With every tragic mass shooting, an attempt should be made to delve into the dark minds of these killers, to find out what really drove them. But this never seems to happen. Instead, people express "shock", "horror" and "outrage", that "something must be done." Then begins the same old song and dance. The left impulsively calls for more gun control. The right reacts with insane rhetoric. And then....nothing happens.

Perhaps a new approach is needed. Perhaps we should actually take a look at what conditions in modern America, whether economic, social, or otherwise, lead men to these horrifying actions. A common reaction is to blame violence in TV, movies and video games. But this violence exists in media all over the world-- this factor needs to be ruled out, or at least moved to the back burner for now.

So what do some of the perpetrators of the worst mass shooting in recent years have in common? A quick glance reveals a stunningly obvious similarity. With one exception, the killers at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newtown, Isla Vista, Charleston, and Roseburg were all white, suburban, 20-something males. They were not raised in urban areas, or around street violence. They didnt necessarily have genetic mental health issues, and had no previous criminal records. These were not your typical murderers. But they were driven to sociopathy nonetheless.

However, the vast majority of gun deaths in our country dont come from mass shootings. They come from the day in, day out homicides that occur regularly in the towns and cities across America. It's a well established fact that financial stress is the number one contributor to domestic violence and divorce, which, in turn, becomes a breeding ground for gun violence.

At this point, it is nearly pointless to try and regulate the tools that lead to these shootings. The fact that Americans collectively own around 300 million guns means it will be impossible to substantively reduce their availability. And while clip limits and universal background checks may make some difference, critics of those methods accurately point out that many of the mass shooters would not have been stopped by these methods anyway.

The gun issue is beyond politically contentious. For decades, Republicans have refused to budge an inch -if the Sandy Hook horror couldn't get congressional Republicans to move on guns, absolutely nothing will. It seems to me that Democrats have already wasted enough political capital on this intractable mess . The power of the NRA's grassroots network in keeping Congress scared is the envy of all lobbying organizations in Washington. It's easy for Democrats to attack powerful business interests, because they dont actually have a large, natural constituency. But guns, unlike any other personal possession, hold a unique psychological grip over the millions of Americans who make up the NRA's membership.

At this point in the trajectory of this issue, it seems to make much mores sense to address the underlying social and economic conditions that lead young men to such acts of violence.

40 years of brutal neoliberalism has drained the country of its vitality. Maybe by destroying the middle class, wiping out upward mobility, eliminating blue-collar jobs, busting unions, neoliberalism has gutted the country and left nothing but misery in its wake.

In so many communities throughout the country, anger boils just below the surface. As humans, we thrive on potential. It is the potential of improving ones lot in life that gets most people up in the morning. The American dream of working hard and having a secure, comfortable life is more than enough for most people. And when that potential is cut off, by making jobs unavailable, by making college too expensive, by forcing people to work multiple low paying wage jobs, anger naturally ensues. When taking on debt becomes necessary to meet basic needs, when an emergency room visit costs $2500, and a years worth of medication costs more than a car, people lose hope. The dreary by-products of neoliberalism grind everyone down- some to complacency, some to exhaustion, and others, tragically, to horrifying violence.

As social animals, our states of mind are mostly relative. That's why saying that the poor/middle class in America are better off than the poor in other countries is a useless argument.  The fact that we had a middle class, and then lost it, is much more painful than if we had never had a one at all. Falling out of the middle class hurts a hell of a lot more than climbing up to it.

So what happens when a 20-something male looks into his future and sees nothing but drudgery? When the energy and hormones, which spring naturally at this age, cannot be directed towards productive paths forward, they are instead directed inward.  Social estrangement is obviously nothing new, but it can usually be assuaged by focusing on the future, on a career, or on a family. But when these channels for personal success are also blocked off, the pressure builds into internalized rage. This rage can become all-consuming. And when ubiquitous social media makes it easy to see how well other people are doing, the rage can explode outward in violent expressions.

Contrary to the NRA's inane talking point about " a good guy with a gun vs a bad guy with a gun", there is no such thing as good guys and bad guys. Just as all of us humans are capable of acts of compassion, all of us humans are capable of descending into violence. Unfortunately, the crushing reality of modern American life often leads to the latter.

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