America's Mass Shooting Leitmotif

by / Oct. 2, 2015 6am EST

Active shooter drills are to my kids what “duck and cover” was to boomers. 

Fifty years ago, we feared Soviet nuclear armageddon, now we don’t have to be wary of expansionist Leninist communism, but random assholes who can arm themselves to the teeth if they have a working PayPal account. 

Yesterday, it was a mass shooting at an Oregon Community College. Before that it was Charleston, Fort Hood, D.C., Newtown. It’s constant. It’s chronic. 

The United States is unique in the developed world: it guarantees its citizens a right to own and possess firearms. It is also unique insofar as we don’t have one uniform rule across all 50 states, so the ease with which one lunatic can amass his arsenal varies from state to state. So, it’s very difficult to point to the experience of the UK or Australia in order to do something about the public health scourge of gun violence. 

I wrote a piece around the time that New York’s SAFE Act — “Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement” Act - a gun control measure passed in response and in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass murder of 20 innocent first graders. I saw gun enthusiasts and 2nd Amendment absolutists declare the SAFE Act to be the most horrible and egregious infringement on Consitutional rights, ever. I called the piece “Fuck Your Gun” to be provocative. 

The SAFE Act limited gun magazines and implemented universal background checks for any gun transfer in any context. The 2nd Amendment absolutists declared it to be the end of everyone’s Constitutional rights. Meanwhile, here’s a chart of mass shootings in the US since Sandy Hook. Since Sandy Hook, the US has tolerated one school shooting just about every single week

That is a nothing short of a scandal. Thoughts and prayers aren’t working. 

The second amendment. The one that helps enshrine perpetual violence and revolution. Its purpose – clearly stated – was to make sure that our new country, which at the time had no standing army, could protect itself from attacks by Britons, Frenchmen, Spaniards, and whatever Indian tribe or nation from which we were trying wrest control of land.  

You want a gun for hunting? Target practice? Skeet? To ward off robbers or burglars? That’s fine. You should not, however, get to keep a military arsenal. 

Those on the deepest fringes of the right wing – the people who think lunatic Alex Jones is an influential and sane voice about guns – love to bring up the notion that the 2nd Amendment exists to protect you from “tyranny”. No one gets too worked up trying to define what “tyranny” is, or who gets to decide when “tyranny” becomes a clear and present danger. The anti-government Oathkeepers group threatened to murder federal officials executing a lawful court order against anti-gay Kentucky clerk Kim Davis. This crowd loves to cite the Declaration of Independence – a document that was a declaration of war against a monarch who brutally exploited his American colonies. The Declaration, however, ceased to have any legal effect the moment that Britain lost the war and recognized American Independence. 

So, no, proud patriot, you don’t have a right to take up arms against the government. Indeed, Article III, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution makes that sort of thing a very serious crime.  

One more gun control effort, and one more gun fetishist makes some broken, semi-informed analogy about how if the Jews were armed in the 30s, they could have somehow halted their own genocide in the face of a German war machine. One more gun debate, and one more person suggests that our representative democracy – flawed though it might be – is or could oh-so-easily-be the equivalent of Pol Pot’s Cambodia. One more effort to limit the firepower we so casually make available to lunatics, and one more person expresses his idiot fever-dream of single-handedly taking on the FBI or One World Government or ZOG, notwithstanding the fact that the government could – if it wanted to – easily take out your entire neighborhood with an unmanned drone operated by a teenager nursing a Monster Energy Drink in a dank, smelly basement in Northern Virginia. 

One more gun fetishist, one more clumsy analogy made to some other object with a large capacity or capability of doing harm that we are allowed to own, but the primary purpose for which is not “putting holes in things at breakneck speed”. Gas tanks, fast cars, pencils. False arguments backed by the tyranny of the gun lobby. 

And what of tyranny? We’ve had plenty of tyranny in this country, but when the Black Panthers agitated for blacks to arm themselves during the civil rights struggles of the 60s, the NRA was happy to support the Mulford Act, which limited the Panthers’ ability to carry arms and inform black citizens of their Constitutional rights. The NRA supports your right to bear arms, so long as you’re of European descent and not too uppity. 

If you want a gun to “protect yourself” (a statistically, epidemiologically false notion) knock yourself out. But you don’t need to keep a Kalashnikov under your pillow.  Gabby Giffords’ would-be assassin had a 33-round magazine in his possession. He was subdued only as he tried to reload; by that time, six people had been killed

I get that violence is an integral part of American society and history. We’re not like Japan, where the society and infrastructure are such that little kids are still free to travel independently and safely. But I also recognize that you don’t get to own an F-15 or a nuclear missile just because it makes you feel safe or helps you ward off “tyranny”. 

The United States is also exceptional and unique in its willingness to tolerate us being inhuman to each other. Another mass shooting and we simply shrug. 

I am of the controversial opinion that homicidal lunatics shouldn’t have access to military weapons and equipment; shouldn’t be able to waltz around your town with enough firepower to put 11 holes in a first grader. Shouldn’t be able to get so many rounds off in so little time that the first grader’s jaw and hand are disappeared. 

If you like guns, good for you. I don’t want to confiscate your gun. After all, it’s legally impossible to do so unless you commit some crime or threaten violence. 

But the United States is exceptional and unique not only in how tolerant it is of mass shootings, but because homicidal maniacs have the easy ability — if not the right — to amass small arsenals and commit unspeakable horrors. Other countries also have homicidal lunatics, but they can’t easily obtain firearms; a Belgian can’t just pop down to Luxembourg to buy all the guns and ammo he needs to take out a 1st grade classroom. 

Our easy access to guns and our gun culture make our society a particularly violent one; not video games or TV shows – those are safe avenues of expressing the reality of warfare. We love war and conflict. We can’t get enough of it. Somehow, other societies are able to function without it. 

New York now limits your ability to transfer your guns to the angry and insane, and you have to reload more frequently while you’re shooting up whatever it is you’re pointing your gun at. The 2nd Amendment, however, is not absolute. The 1st Amendment isn’t absolute, either. You can’t defame someone or incite riot with your words. Likewise, the 2nd Amendment may guarantee your right to own a firearm, but government can put restrictions on that right.

And what rights to the victims of gun violence have? Did the Sandy Hook parents have a right to have their kids come home from school? Did the victims in Oregon have a right to go to school and then go home? How are those rights less valuable than the right to arm oneself to the teeth? 

We could maybe aspire to be like Honduras, Jamaica or El Salvador – third world nations with massive income inequality where the building blocks of civil society are inept, corrupt, or both. More guns lead to more violence and killings. More guns don’t make a polite society, they simply make an arrogant and armed society – a society where it becomes much easier to bring about permanent retribution for even perceived slights. 

“A society that is relying on guys with guns to stop violence is a sign of a society where institutions have broken down.”

What law would prevent these mass shootings? After all, criminals don’t obey the law. I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that we have a great country filled with smart people who could put something together. But we first have to decide — as a society, as a people — that these mass shootings of innocent people are simply no longer to be tolerated. 


Last night, President Obama challenged the press to publish the statistics comparing American deaths from terrorism — a threat at which we’ve thrown lives and treasure - and gun violence. Here it is: 

American deaths from terrorism are fewer than 100 for every year but 2001.

“We spent over a trillion dollars, and passed countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so” Obama said. “And yet we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?”

More guns means more killing – factually and statistically. This is doubtlessly terrorism, but it’s the kind we have, as a society, decided we can live with. 

We have decided to live with it because we have decided that the right of people to bear unlimited arms without restriction is greater than the right of average people not to be shot.