I refuse to write his name because he’s not the point, the is-he-or-isn’t-he faking psychosis mass murderer who destroyed dozens of families last weekend in his quest for selfishness. As much as we want to aim our fingers at him in judgment, this act of violence isn’t about him, just as it wouldn’t be about the lone terrorist who stuffed a bomb into his underwear, or the two disgruntled men who took out the Federal building in Oklahoma City all those Aprils ago. I don’t absolve any of these men of their acts, certainly not, but I can’t abide providing them the public attention they crave and that they receive from so many media outlets.
One wonders where people even get the idea (CSI) to gun down (Call of Duty) large groups of people (The Closer, NCIS) in a twisted sense of justice (Breaking Bad, Dexter) or superhuman power (The X-Men, The Dark Knight). And we could ponder why we see these events as solely the actions of a broken brain (Criminal Minds, Numb3rs, The Silence of the Lambs) are at their core individual episodes and not related in any way to larger systems that have a perverse need to produce violence.
I just don’t know how we get here, where a stream of life-ending bullets descends onto a crowd gathered for a movie, and it takes everyone too long to realize they’re actually under attack. Susanne called this aspect of Friday night’s tragedy particularly sad, and she’s got a good point there. Who are we as a culture that extreme violence is so much of our contemporary entertainment narratives?
Also weird to me is the utter silence around potentially productive conversations we could be having right now but aren’t. The National Rifle Association balked when people were upset about a tweet they posted after the shooting:
Well, they didn’t know about the deaths, sheesh. But soon enough there were calls not to even discuss gun control in light of the legal purchases this latest murderer made in advance of wounding more than 70 people and killing 12. It wasn’t just presumed GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney who said that “now is not the time” to talk about gun control legislation; Dianne Feinstein cautioned against the Obama Administration attempting to win points on the issue, and Senator Feinstein is a long-time gun control advocate.
After the Twin Towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, did anyone say that then was not the time to talk about homeland security? In fact, I’m pretty sure we went in the other direction, banning regular-sized shampoo bottles on carryon luggage, and subjecting Americans to xray machines for even the shortest of puddle jumping flights. Our conservative Republican President expanded the Federal Government in response, and nobody from the NRA or any right-wing organization asked for a waiting period before we jumped to conclusions about who had attacked us and why. In fact, the NRA isn’t exactly familiar with the concept “waiting period.”
So I am suspicious about calling off discussions about assault rifles now. Why is it okay in one instance to respond in the heat of our shock, and not in another? Why is it acceptable to draw stereotypical conclusions when the perpetrator of gross violence is of color but not okay to question what drives some white men to kill 6-year-old children? When are we allowed to interrogate the thick stream of contradiction that floods our collective consciousness after horrific events?
I’ll do my part, as a bleeding heart liberal, to understand the perspective of the other side. I think firing a shotgun at a clay pigeon is terrific fun. It feels exciting to hold a heavy weapon in my arms, propped against my shoulder, hearing the target shatter and crash to the ground, despite the bright orange plugs nuzzled in my ear canals. The click as I pull back and discharge the plastic shell, reloading for the next pull of the launcher. I bet I’d also like firing a handgun at a paper target, because, hello, Mark Harmon makes it look so enticing when he does it. I have radical left friends who insist that they are armed because the progressives need their own weapons for when the revolution rolls around, and I can’t argue with them on that. This shotgun or handgun that I’m talking about, however, is a far cry from an assault rifle with a 100-clip magazine. I am not going to say that all guns are evil, but I don’t buy the line about “people killing people,” either. Hunters who act responsibly are not in the same class as mass murderers, and mass murderers are too well supported by lax gun laws. Of course someone with the means and the intent will find a way to kill scores of people, but does it have to be legal to ready oneself for such an atrocity?
Also, why shouldn’t purchasing four firearms in 60 days set off a red flag to authorities? If I buy too much fertilizer or Sudafed I may be subject to investigation–why are assault rifles any different?
Because fertilizer makers aren’t part of a money-rich lobby, and firearms are. It’s that simple. The NRA, originally a gun club for men after the Civil War to improve their clumsy shooting skills, has evolved into a cornerstone of the extreme right, and if I were a gun owner, I might be more than a little concerned about that. Like I feel about the arch-conservative bishops who are currently ruining American Catholicism, I would shake my head in sadness that my philosophy around responsible gun ownership was overshadowed by people with delusions of grandeur or anger. I might even call for a new way to regulate gun sales and manufacture in the United States, where 25 people a day (on average) die from gunshot wounds.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want a different dialogue this time around who we are as a country and what we value. It’s contradictory, in my opinion, to claim to be pro-life when we’re talking about humans who haven’t been born yet, but be pro assault rifle, when there is very little one can do with such a machine other than taking human life or pretending, in the woods with one’s friends, to take human life. It’s contradictory to tsk tsk the bravado that accompanied the Aurora shooter but write an article about how amazing the men who shielded their girlfriends from the bullets were (yes, they were amazing, but can we not see these as mirror moments of masculinity?). It’s contradictory to bloviate about terrorism when shooters are from the Middle East, but not call it terrorism when the person pulling the trigger is from Colorado. It’s contradictory to claim shock at real world violence yet never question the violence we consume as part of popular culture. And it’s most certainly contradictory to disallow debate about what underpinned this moment last weekend but continue so many already discredited conversations about our country in its place (I’m looking at you, Sheriff Arpaio, Donald Trump, and Mike Hukabee).
At some point, the pendulum of sanity has got to swing back to center, because where we are right now, in this world where a sexual assault survivor is charged with crime for naming her attackers on Twitter, where George Zimmerman gets to spout whatever ridiculousness he wants on national television, and where a trans woman who defended herself from beating and lacerations is sitting in a jail cell for two years–this world is not sustainable.
So let’s start with a discussion about entitlement, masculinity, and the availability of killing machines.