Monday, May 26, 2014

ON THE ISLA VISTA MURDERS AND OUR MALIGNANT GUN CULTURE

Eighteen months ago, shocked and stunned by the horrific murder of 20 young children by a barrage of semiautomatic gunfire, I wrote an angry piece that felt like common sense to me, effectively positing (as many others have) that we, the American people, have proven through our actions that we can't be trusted to maintain a gun ownership society. It's something that we just love to prove, over and over again, don't we? Yet we're now further from gun sanity than we've ever been, and the mass, indiscriminate murder continues. After Newtown, I swore I wouldn't just blog from the sidelines. I participated in vigils; I repeatedly gave extra money to Sandy Hook Promise and Americans for Responsible Solutions; I started using gun issues as a litmus test in my own voting choices; I even found a glimmer of hope when the president took on the NRA and tried to fight the good fight in late 2012/early 2013.

None of it did a thing. The bloodbaths continue. This weekend I got to experience the continuation of my utter hopelessness as I learned about the 7 murders in Isla Vista, at my alma mater of UC-Santa Barbara. I lived in Isla Vista for three years; the streets where these people were murdered are very well known to me, even the Alpha Phi sorority house that was across the street from one of my residences there in the late 1980s. Many of us who are parents rightly worried/still worry about the psychotic mass murder of our children at elementary school, something I never thought about before Sandy Hook. I never worried about someone walking into a movie theater and gunning down the front row – but it sometimes crosses my mind now. And now I'll add my son going to college in eight years – how bad will this all be by then? Is this just something I need to suck up, and factor in as an altogether possible way that my son, my wife or I might die? Horrifically and randomly, at a mall, at school or at work?

Virginia Tech, Isla Vista, Columbine – there'll always be someone who's overwhelmingly sexually frustrated or socially isolated, and yet without guns, these crimes dramatically lessen in impact and scope. People were stabbed, too – I understand that. I'm not ready to outlaw knives, and I am willing to live with those consequences. Yes, there was a misogyny angle this time, and I think it's great to use that as instructive fodder to help address those malignancies in male culture as well. Other gun crimes don't have misogynistic elements. They all have guns, though.

Jesus, enough with the "mental illness" red herring as well. I'm sick of it. Are there really two common denominators in all of these crimes? Mental illness and easy-attained guns? No, I'll submit that there is always one, and one only: GUNS. "Mental illness", while diagnosable, is in the clinical eye of the beholder. There are mentally ill among us now; because they're not carrying guns that were manufactured for the express purpose of killing people (you hope), they aren't now posing an imminent, lightning-fast lethal threat to you and all of the people standing or sitting near you.

Wait, I already wrote about this the last time I chose to follow one of our many atrocities with a blog post:

"….While I absolutely support rapid breakthroughs and discoveries in the science and practice of treating mental health issues, I reject the "early intervention" red herring that's getting so much play by people desperately looking to change the subject. It doesn't take much to imagine how this desired "early intervention" in the lives of the depressed or troubled plays out in practice, vis-a-vis preventing the next massacre. It's too easy for overzealous mental health professionals, backed by the power of the state, to label a sullen teen or a quiet loner a menace to society, and to curtail their freedom of movement accordingly. Better science and non-coercive treatment, yes. More aggressive labeling and ostracism, no. Is it really too much to ask to simply make it impossible for them to buy a gun? And while we're at it, not let you or me buy one either?"

Anyway, it's not happening. When the Santa Barbara cops knocked on the kid's door and came away saying he was polite, articulate and fine, I'm sure he was. They weren't going to put him in a straightjacket, nor would we have wanted them to. I would, however, have been happy if the kid's freedoms had been abridged a little, and when he went to the gun show or gun store to buy the weapons he ultimately used to slay the sorority sisters, they weren't there – because we'd finally sobered up as a society, and outlawed those gun stores and the gun shows, as well as the manufacture of guns designed to kill people (as opposed to deer and ducks).

I work for a Norwegian company these days. Guess what the #1 question is that I get from my co-workers when I'm in Oslo? "What's the deal with the US and its guns??". I tell them it looks as insane from the inside as it does from without, but that even though a majority of my fellow citizens feel that way as well, everything from feckless politicians to testosterone to a sickening gun culture that feeds upon itself is to blame. 


Meanwhile, the mass death continues! I would say don't lose hope, but I've personally lost hope – and I swore that I wouldn't eighteen months ago. Is there a number that's large enough, even larger than "20 kindergartners and first-graders", before we take even the first step toward a sensible gun policy? What do we need to go through first to make changes – or is this just the new normal, as I'd mentioned, and something that we all now just need to deal with, an accepted reality in daily American life?