I held off yesterday on posting about the Las Vegas shooting, perhaps naively thinking that as more facts emerged the event would start to make some sense or at least fit into some kind of larger narrative. Of course this did not occur; the whole thing embodies the concept of “senseless violence,” & I’m truly horrified by the scale of the carnage.
Incidents like these invariably trigger calls for gun control, even when the facts don’t fit the standard narrative of a dangerous madman acquiring an arsenal of weapons through legal channels because of America’s freewheeling gun culture. I don’t think stricter gun control laws are the answer to the mass-shooting problem. The shooter in this case did not acquire his weapons legally - nor have many of the other shooters in recent years. That being said, the fact that there ARE “many other shooters in recent years” points to the fact that there is definitely something wrong with a society that can be counted on to reliably produce these incidents time after time.
I do believe mental illness plays a major part in the problem, though not the kind of mental illness that can be tidied up by bludgeoning neurotransmitters into submission via antidepressants & other dangerous unproven “cures.” It’s more of a cultural sickness, a mass cognitive dissonance induced by a steady stream of messages that we as Americans have it better than everyone else - that we are living the democratic dream, that we can achieve anything we want to in this land of opportunity, etc. - when this narrative runs up against the cold hard reality of living paycheck to paycheck, barely scraping by in a job we hate, paying extortionate rent to a privileged class who thanks to the “free market” is free to charge whatever they want regardless of the average person’s means (let the average person live 5-to-a-room in glorified rabbit warrens, or supplement their meager income renting out their closet on airbnb), unable to buy a house or save for retirement or take a vacation or any of the other hallmarks of what used to comprise the American way of life. If this is the land of opportunity, where’s ours? We feel like whiners if we complain, & losers if we don’t. I’m not surprised people snap. I’m surprised so few do.
I can’t pretend to know why someone would commit such a senseless & horrific act (& as other articles have pointed out, white shooters like the one in Las Vegas somehow always get the benefit of the doubt not given to their nonwhite counterparts) but the undercurrents of resentment, rage, & despair in American society are palpable & bound to end in tragedy especially when automatic weapons are thrown into the mix. Desperate people do not act rationally. The same impulse that has driven an increasingly large segment of the population to medicate themselves into oblivion with opioids and other tranquilizers finds its expression in violence for others. Some turn inwards, others lash out. These are expressions of the same sickness.
As a country mired in an endless war against a nebulous, ever-shifting enemy, our fetishization of military violence only compounds the problem. The military-industrial complex is the only growth industry this nation has left; everything else has been sold off or outsourced to cheaper locales in the rush to globalization. Our defense budget is larger than that of the next ten countries combined. Just this year’s $80 billion increase in the Pentagon budget is enough to make public college free for all Americans. We send what might politely be called “mixed messages” when we dehumanize the residents of the Middle East, murdering civilians with endless drone strikes but calling our actions “nation building” and expecting to be welcomed as liberators by the people of whatever country we’re bombing. We hold ourselves up as a shining light of democracy while funding more than two thirds of the world’s dictatorships and running a pay-to-play political system at home. We wear our hypocrisy as a badge of honor, yet are baffled when any chickens return home to roost.
Should we be proud as a country to have more guns than people? No, it’s absurd. But when one looks at our hyper-militarized occupying army of a police force, the amount of guns owned by ordinary citizens makes a lot more sense. We are under siege. We can’t be blamed for wanting to defend ourselves. Every day, more reports emerge of police abusing their power and the citizens they are tasked with serving and protecting. From the murder of unarmed civilians, including children and the mentally ill; to confiscation of property without a trial or even a charge; to the matter-of-fact slaughter of harmless household pets who show their faces during SWAT raids; to horrific violations of dignity and bodily integrity running the gamut from dehumanizing roadside strip-searches to straight-up rape, the crimes of the police are legion and much more disturbing than those committed by civilians because the police are so rarely prosecuted. Gun control advocates are fooling themselves if they think a disarmed populace would be treated more fairly. The possibility that the civilian a cop is harassing might be armed could be the only thing that saves his or her life. Bullies don’t suddenly stop bullying when their victims stop fighting back. SWAT teams are being used to serve child support papers. The responsibility for de-escalation rests with the police force.
I don’t have an easy solution to this problem, but I think the answer starts with demilitarizing America, both at home & abroad. This constant state of war is literally driving us crazy. It has to end.