Twenty fifteen has been a bloody year. As I write this, we’ve had nearly 300 mass shootings occur since January, according to a Washington Post graphic that went viral. The latest tragedy just took place at a college in Oregon, where the killer took the lives of nine people and injured nine before being killed himself in a shootout with police.
It’s now become a numbingly regular and morbid ritual. The armed perpetrator – usually young, white and male – massacres people in a public place. The media punditry wonders if mental illness is involved. The President makes a statement condemning the killings and demands Congress pass gun control legislation. The National Rifle Association makes a statement saying guns shouldn’t be blamed, and besides, we need more guns to protect us. People hand-wring over what to do — or insist that nothing can be done. And so, no new national laws are passed. The current tragedy recedes into memory, and people go on with their lives. Then the cycle repeats itself with the next massacre.
America is now the mass shooting capital of the world. A University of Alabama study released in August asserts that the combination of extremely high levels of gun ownership, Americans’ obsession with fame, and the gap between Americans’ expectations of themselves and actual achievement creates a uniquely toxic environment for mass shootings. Then add to that the tens of thousands of single instances of gun violence: domestic disputes, robberies, gang warfare, suicide, the killings of unarmed people by law enforcement.
So why do we keep coming back here again and again? States that have stricter gun laws have fewer firearms deaths than those with looser regulation, but guns still cross state lines, making this a national problem. National legislation is needed, but that hasn’t been possible. We need to confront some hard truths. Some on the left like to point to Australia as a model on how stricter gun regulation can be achieved at the national level after a mass shooting. They say that Australia has a similar frontier history and love of guns, but that did not stop the country from enacting stricter gun laws in a speedy 12 (!) days. Yet, they fail to acknowledge that in Australia, everyone is required to vote. Moreover, Australia, unlike the United States, has a parliamentary system, where the party in power (or a coalition of parties) has total control of the government and opposition parties cannot veto legislation. The makeup of the U.S. Congress is among the most mal- apportioned legislative bodies in the world, meaning sparsely populated states – the ones that tend to be rural, majority white and more supportive of looser gun regulation – have greater political power than more populated states with more urban constituencies, like California. How Congress is currently organized hasn’t changed much from 1776. It’s archaic and anti-democratic.
Second, folks need to learn the real history behind the Second Amendment — not the fake one we’re taught as propaganda. The amendment was not generally created to ―protect citizens from the tyranny of the federal government. It was added to guarantee that southern plantation owners could raise ―militias‖ to quell slave revolts without interference from the feds. In other words, the Second Amendment was created to preserve the Union by protecting slavery. That’s not something to be proud about, let alone express endless support for.
Third, Americans need to get real about the disconnect between the high expectations of themselves and actual low social mobility in the U.S. Our national drive to be better than everyone else at everything has created much innovation and wealth beyond belief. At the same time, endless optimism and competition, – but falling short of what is expected – is killing the psyche. Some humility is in order. The reality of economic inequality has made the ―American dream come crashing down to Earth. Many who thought they were immune to hardship by virtue of their privileges or a lifetime of working hard, are finding out how precarious life really is in a country with such a thin safety net.