The Right to Bear Harm

In 1999 sociologist Barry Glassner published his national bestseller, The Culture of Fear, about the hidden forces that manipulate us in the name of profit. In the wake of Columbine, Glassner noted how the media coverage pulled us away from discussing proven dangers, such as ease of obtaining firearms, and toward distractions like rap music, video games, and trench coats.

In the wake of the latest mass murder in Orlando, this pattern immediately repeated, except rap music became ISIS, video games became jihadists, and trench coats became immigration reform.

As more information surfaces, we'll likely see a much less conspiratorial picture: of one more American youth dealing with mental illness and rage through the prism of conservative fundamentalism.

Sure, it's easy to blame ISIS or Muslim extremists, as they are the targets of the day, but only if you ignore literally every other detail: Omar Mateen was raised in a conservative, homophobic family, and although he was reportedly seen on gay dating apps and bars for more than three years, he still felt the need to disparage the gay lifestyle in the presence of his family. Add a history of emotional volatility, and it doesn't take a psych degree to imagine his shame and self-loathing were taken out on those exhibiting what he hated most in himself. 

Or maybe not.

Maybe his story is even less complex: he grew up being bullied for being overweight and non-Caucasian, in an unforgiving household, in a racist culture, then became a bully himself through domestic violence. He sought professions where he could abuse his authority, like law enforcement and security, and ultimately took out his feelings of powerlessness through mass murder. 

Regardless, his pledge to terrorism reads more like a justification for his vitriol than its inception, especially when he declared allegiance to three competing factions (Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda and ISIS), proving his lack of insight and commitment.

This is the key fault in assumptions about dealing with terrorists - viewing them in Manichean terms of black and white is little more than a short cut for confirming our own biases.

This oversimplified villainy rarely exists in the real world, as it fails to account for what truly inspires those amongst us to act out. In life, there are no obvious bad guys.

Everyone is a good guy from their point of view. It would be ignorant to assume otherwise.

Thus, anytime someone rushes to label immigrants, Muslims, or other marginalized groups in some sweeping generalization, they willingly ignore psychology, sociology, and our culture's own complicated contributions.

After Columbine, Director for the Center for Violence Research and Prevention at Columbia University pointed out 3 common themes of mass shootings:

1. long standing grievance by the perpetrator
2. mental illness
3. access to firearms

Despite finding these same patterns from Sandy Hook to Virginia Tech, from Aurora to San Bernardino, the same questions always emerge: How did this happen? And how do we keep this from happening again?

Despite #3 being the only item we can actually impact, the answer is always, inevitably, dumbfoundingly, more guns.

It should not take a Saturday Night Live skit to illustrate us how ludicrous this would be. Can you imagine a nightclub at 2AM, where hundreds of drunk patrons fumble for their handguns in the dark, in a desperate attempt at vigilante justice?

I can. And it doesn't end well.

So maybe we are asking the wrong question. Maybe we should ask, "Why do we place a higher value on owning firearms than we place on keeping firearms out of the reach of crazy people?"

The answer is quite simple: it's good business.

If hawkish Republicans failed to enact gun control after a schoolhouse of white middle class children were slaughtered, I can't imagine they'll do anything about gays at a club on Latin night. Not when they've spent the majority of their terms trying to deny basic civil rights to gays and citizenship to Hispanics.

I have to wonder exactly what it would take for these congressmen to experience empathy, short of an unhinged shooter gunning down their own offspring, or the offspring of the NRA officials lining their pockets.

Maybe the Orlando massacre hits close to home because my brother lives in Orlando, and he is gay. Maybe it strikes a chord because there truly is no demographic safe in this country from random violence and death - not in school surrounded by peers, not in church surrounded by prayer, not in a club surrounded by friends.

When I spoke to my mother about the incident, her reluctant advice was startling: maybe it was time to get a gun. This is a woman who has never fired a gun in her life - a mother who iced my black eye when my irresponsible father made me fire a rifle at age 7 and neglected to warn me about the recoil.

And yet, witnessing a world grow more unsafe with each massacre, owning a gun now seems like the only viable option.

Forget for a moment that over 60% of gun deaths are suicides, not homicides, and we have the highest suicide rate in the developed world.

Forget that living with a gun actually increases your odds of death, and will more likely result in accidentally shooting a roommate over an intruder.

Forget that a firearm is more likely to get stolen out of an SUV and used to rob a convenience store than be used in an act of heroism.

No, the lesson here is not one of statistics.

It's how this country's leadership has miserably failed us in light of such statistics.

If a mother's only vestige of hope is to do the very thing that makes us less safe, it is a testament to just how corporatized our nation has become, how utterly inept our politicians are, and how capitalism threatens to ruin our very democracy.

Acts like this demonstrate how the American people have been sold out in the name of business, and our representatives do not care if business comes in the form of finance, oil, or human lives.

The only thing that will save innocent lives is to stop treating weapons as a commodity.

Guns are not milk, eggs, or wheat. We do not have a constitutional right to own handguns anymore than we do to own hand grenades or tanks. Any arguments about the second amendment should be silenced with a musket and a reminder of exactly why we have a military, and why such a large portion of our tax dollars go there.

As historian Pamela Haag clearly explained in The Gunning of America, the entire American gun culture is a direct result of our own unfettered capitalism.

When the Colts and the Winchesters ran out of governments to sell arms to, they began to market to civilians. The gun, which was once an agricultural tool in rural America, now began to be sold as a male totem - emotionally tied to masculinity, nationalism, and cultural myth, deliberately constructed for sales and marketing.

Meanwhile, these special interests feminized gun control and marginalized the grieving mothers and wives left to clean up the carnage.

The gun lobby may not have started out as villains, but their insidious propaganda and manipulation of our political system is as close to a Manichean villain as it gets. It's an industry that has been convincing the American people that Obama is going to come for their guns for the sole purpose of selling more guns.

Poor Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester rifles, paid the price for all of the blood shed by her family's legacy. The guilt of inheriting a fortune made from so much death slowly drove her mad.

The modern NRA has no such conscience.

Consider that in Japan, only .06% of citizens own a gun, all of whom attend an all-day class on gun safety, pass a written test, pass a shooting range class, have a mental health evaluation, a drug test, and a background check. And they have to do this every three years. This is why they have less than a dozen gun-related deaths a year.

Consider that Australia has had no mass murders since they confiscated 650,000 firearms and restricted gun control in 1996.

Consider that being killed by a gun in England is as likely as being killed by agricultural machinery in the U.S.

Or that the U.S. has only 4.4% of the world's population, yet owns nearly half of all firearms.

Or that a 13-year old can't buy porn, cigarettes, alcohol, or lottery tickets, but can purchase a firearm.

This is modern advertising at work. How do you sell more product? Create a demand for it. Our gun deaths are merely the cost of doing business.

The NRA realizes this, but they don't care. Nor do our politicians.

And if you think the U.S. has more crime than other nations, think again. As researches Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins examined in Crime is Not the Problem, the U.S. does not have more crime, but we do have more guns, so our crime is more lethal.

The old adage about people killing people, not guns killing people, is far from accurate. But that shouldn't be a surprise since it was scripted by the NRA.

A more accurate rewrite would be: people with access to guns kill people.

But the original message signals a much larger societal problem, one that is already creating a growing divide in public perception that will have far reaching consequences down the line: Americans can no longer distinguish cultural myths, advertising slogans, and PR propaganda from reality.

This is why other countries are dumbfounded when these massacres continue to happen, and we do absolutely nothing to prevent them.

We are too stubborn, arrogant, and insulated to see that every other developed nation has already solved this problem.

The gun myth is of our own making, and we buy into it at our own peril.

Orlando may currently hold the record for the deadliest mass shooting in American history, but we all know it's only a matter of time before that record is broken.

It is often said by other nations that the U.S. can always be counted on to do what's right, but only after we've exhausted every other option.

Well, we've just about exhausted every other option, so maybe it's finally time to do what's right.