With America on the heels of another devastating school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida, citizens and pundits alike are once again exchanging barbs as to how to solve what appears to be an epidemic of school violence. On both sides of the political aisle, you can hear the same broken record that plays almost verbatim after every mass shooting as to what action must be taken to prevent another similar tragedy.
This article, I hope, will provide a little bit of a different perspective that might helpfully allow us to look at this issue with clearer eyes in the interest of finding a way to reduce these tragedies.
Exposure vs Frequency
With every new school shooting, one of the rallying cries is always something to the effect of, “How bad does the violence have to get before we enact common-sense legislation to prevent more deaths?”
Whether or not it’s intentional, this sort of statement is extremely misleading. Why? Because data from multiple sources indicates that school violence is lower overall today than it was in the 90’s.
In other words, it has gotten better, not worse. However, it appears that a higher proportion of the violence comes in the form of mass casualty events, i.e. Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Parkland-style assaults wherein an individual or small group attempts to take as many lives as possible. For obvious reasons, these events dominate the news cycle every time they occur.
Smaller acts of violence, even those ending in death, are not going to attract the same amount of coverage. So even though violence is less frequent, we are being more exposed to it. The point is that it’s mass school shootings that are more frequent, not violence overall, and it’s an important point to understand.
It’s very easy to assume that higher exposure to something means it’s occurring more often, but this is a fallacy. For another example that demonstrates this, consider for a moment the perverts of the New York City subway system. There is no reason to believe there are substantially more subway gropers and masturbators today than there were in the 1970’s, 1980’s, or 1990’s, but due to the profileration of cellphone cameras, citizen-observers of the offenders can now catch and expose them in far greater numbers. This phenomenon applies to literally every issue that can be captured visually more easily today than it could before, either by professional reporters or citizens.
Does “Common-Sense Legislation” Exist?
Since violence is down overall in schools, the mass shooting issue should be approached in a way that focuses on preventing this particular type of tragedy.
So, if there is “common-sense legislation” that could help do this, such legislation should be obvious. But when politicians say this, it’s usually to mean that guns should be further restricted, either through stricter background checks, “mental health” screenings, outright confiscation, or other forms of gun control.
Seems like common sense that such measures would help reduce mass shootings, right? The fact is, we already have background checks for many types of gun purchases. And many of these school shooters had no criminal record to speak of, meaning they would have passed the background check regardless. As for mental health screenings, this is most certainly an important idea. However, with scores of Americans on antidepressants, who exactly would more intensive mental health screenings prevent from getting a gun?
Civil libertarians are rightfully wary of this as a slippery slope…just as post-Stalinist Russia used mental health as an excuse to lock up political dissidents, mental health restrictions beyond what already exist could easily be weaponized from keeping anyone who has ever visited a therapist from getting a gun. Therefore, it’s necessary to maintain a strict and specific guideline on what qualifies as a mental health issue that should prevent someone from owning a firearm. Currently, federal law prohibits anyone who has been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility from buying a gun. It also prohibits anyone deemed mentally incompetent from buying a gun. We could make these restrictions far scricter. But would they prevent more tragedy?
The answer relates to the issue of the black market, which many on the left choose to ignore. Liberal thought commonly uses the black market argument to show the futility of drug prohibition: illegalizing drugs obviously doesn’t stop any criminal who wants them from getting them. However, in the case of guns, this logic is absent. They advocate for making them illegal, or illegal for more people, ignoring the fact that there are more guns in the US than there are people, and that there is a thriving black market for weapons of all kinds that ensure any such legislation will fail spectacularly at preventing violence.
Conservatives correctly assert that such restrictions only make it harder for law-abiding citizens to arm themselves. Whether or not you agree that law-abiding citizens should have easy access to guns, it’s a fact that restricting them further wouldn’t have any material effect on the number of mass shootings that occur.
The sad fact is, when I lived near the Bronx, I could have taken a bunch of cash out of the bank, made one phone call to a sketchy guy I knew (an aspiring rapper who nicknamed himself after a fearsome and powerful land mammal), and obtained an illegal fully-automatic firearm and a live hand grenade in about two hours if I wanted to, regardless of what laws existed on the books “prohibiting” me from doing so. This being the case, restrictions beyond what already exist will prove completely useless in reducing the ability of violent, murderous psychos from obtaining the weapons they need to slaughter people. They will not reduce the number of mass shootings one iota, and serve only for citizens and politicians to pat themselves on the back foir “standing up” and “doing something” to stop the violence.
The Elephant in the Room: American Militarism & Violence Worship
When people talk about why America seems to have so many young men who become school shooters, you almost never hear anything about the psychological effects that American militarism, never-ending war, and violence worship from the executive branch to Hollywood movies that pervades American culture and history might have on our psyches.
We can jabber all day about gun confiscation or arming teachers, but the fact no one wants to admit is that American is a brutally violent empire in severe decline. And when empires collapse, both the State and the people become more violent as the decay accelerates.
I don’t think we should restrict the content in movies to make them less violent. But when you’ve been at war your entire life and you’re taught from a young age to worship militarism, it affects the collective consciousness in unmeasurable ways. Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz himself is said to have worshipped militarism, and why not? We’re all taught to worship it from elementray school onward, perhaps because not doing so would give us too much time to consider the human cost of creating and maintaining the ultraviolent, anti-human, corporatist global empire funded by our tax dollars.
The answer to school shootings is difficult to face, for it will make you feel utterly powerless: until we become a nation that leads by an example of peace, and abandon our imperial amibitions, mentally unstable individuals will continue following the example of anti-human, ultraviolence set by our government. Just as the Soviet government created a population of opportunistic paranoiacs, forced to survive through under the table deals, manipulations, and turning in their neighbors for imagined crimes, our empire will continue to produce psychopaths and cult leaders in the image of the kleptocratic, murderous American empire.
We’re shocked to our core when a student opens fire and kills 25 of his classmates, but social media is mostly silent when an American drone slaughters two dozen women and children in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia, or elsewhere. Perhaps if we took those lives half as seriously as the ones lost in school shootings, our government would be forced to reduce our bloody footprint in other parts of the world. Perhaps we would pay more attention to calls of “gun control” from a government that didn’t insist on loading up violent jihadis in the Middle East with enough guns, bombs, and CIA training to make Rambo crap his pants.
As it is now, no one wants to get real in terms of demanding consistency of morality from the state. We’re content to oversimplify and compartmentalize. This gun good and necessary, those guns bad. But only a diseased mind would advocate for an ultraviolent empire to have a monopoly on gun ownership…yet, that’s exactly what the left proposes with every new shooting. No true solution will ever be proposed or enacted until those factors change.
That means that “common sense legislation” is really nothing but masturbatory back-patting and band-aids. The solution lies in changing fundamentally our attitudes toward our place in the world as a destructive empire, and our attitudes toward ourselves. And fundamental change takes time, and it requires that we swallow some very bitter pills in the process.
Empires collapse far more quickly than the speed of the process of reform, and violence increases when empires die — one can only hope that when ours turns to dust, we as a people will be able to create a more virtuous system in its place. Then, and only then, will the madness finally end. Not because fewer people have guns, but because fewer people are compelled to the same murderous madness their government has made routine.