"Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take 'til he knows
That too many people have died?" - Blowin' in the Wind, Bob Dylan
We've lost so many and learned so little since Dylan sang those words in 1962.
And here we are . . . again. A radicalized couple in San Bernardino; a crazed shooter in Colorado Springs; Charleston; Newtown; out of control police in Chicago, Cleveland, Ferguson, Baltimore, North Charleston . . . our list of shame grows faster than the memories can fade.
Today, December 5th, before I'd finished reading the morning paper, another report: A man masquerading as a federal marshal was stopped on Long Island with enough gun power to wage a small war - 8,300 rounds of ammunition in his suburban home. His lawyer assured the public that he possessed an assault rifle and multiple handguns quite legally. I'm sure he did. Perhaps he was headed to quail hunting or sport shooting at a target range. Or maybe he thought he would be the armed citizen who would stop the next crime. You know . . . a good guy with a gun.
The debate is furious and infuriating. Ted Cruz posed at a gun range to argue that we need more, not fewer, guns. Sales at gun stores skyrocketed once more in response to gun violence. We are a nation armed to the teeth and we're not sated yet. The arguments against gun control are accurate: "It won't work. Criminals and terrorists can always get guns." "It's our 2nd Amendment right." "It's a mental health problem, not a gun problem." All of those things are true - and insane.
The last argument - it's mental health problem - bears further examination.
This is indeed a mental health problem, but not the psychosis, depression or irrational hatred found in the few individuals who commit these atrocities. It is a widespread epidemic of mental illness in a large segment of America. The disease has many manifestations.
It is American Exceptionalism. Individually and collectively, we Americans aren't going to take any guff from anyone. While the dynamics are complex, our regime change adventures in the Middle East have exacerbated, not reduced, radical Islam. We've gradually turned ourselves from beacon of light to international laughingstock. Australia is considering placing the United States on a travel watch list. We are the violent 3rd world country our parents warned us about.
It is "rugged individualism" - the Marlboro man mentality that is deeply ingrained in our culture. Toughness is valuable social currency. Compassion is weakness. Empathy is political correctness.
It is a "stand your ground" machismo, inspiring men like George Zimmerman to protect his neighborhood by vigilante force.
It is the NRA, stoking irrational fear of non-existent intruders so that more loaded weapons can be in America's nightstands.
It is the combination of grandiosity and paranoia that leads to men, and sometimes women, openly carrying handguns in public places, brandishing assault weapons in big box stores and proposing that we arm America's teachers. Grandiosity and paranoia are mental disorders, not political movements.
It is bars full of (mostly) men cheering at television screens where men and women beat each other bloody in a cage. The human response to physical violence should be nausea, not laughter and excitement. This perversion is a mental disorder too.
It is the "settle it on the playground" mentality. It is hyper-competitive youth sports. It is the sales and promotion of increasingly violent video games, that de-sensitize children and represent lethal violence as a solution, not a problem. It is thugs like Trump's boys roughing up people at a political rally - "Maybe he deserved it," says our leading GOP candidate.
With these archetypes permeating our society, is it any wonder that someone feeling aggrieved about virtually anything is inspired to take matters into his own violent hands?
Every time I've written about gun violence I've had several veiled threats of violence in response. I haven't even posted this piece yet, and I still can refer readers to the comments below, confident of the anger 700 words can spark in America.
The angry response to anti-war protests in the 60's was; America - Love it or leave it.
I'm thinking about that.