Look, we all retread the same ground every single time something like this comes up, and it's coming up more and more often. Nobody will ever agree on what needs to be done because I truly don't think there is a solution to this uniquely American problem. More guns are certainly not the answer, and the guns already out there aren't going anywhere either. No buyback problem will ever work. Guns in the US are a cultural problem, period. We go in circles about fixing mental health issues to prevent massacres like this happening but that's not the issue at hand either. Guns are something so ingrained in the collective mindset of Americans that there is absolutely no chance of fixing it. I saw a comment on Reddit earlier that put my exact take into words better than I can.
What if the reason we have a culture of violence is not because people cant see a therapist, but because from the moment they enter school, Lesson One in U.S. History is:
Okay, kids, here's what you gotta know about America. Number one: You're free to say and believe what you want. Number two: Someone, someday, will be out to get you, and you and all your buddies will need guns to kill them. And the people you will need to shoot might be in this very room or in the house next door.
I'm sure everyone is rushing to bring up mental health, but you know what is really disturbing about our conversations about mental health?
Not only are the conversations themselves opportunist (we only talk about it after a shooting), we also bend over backwards to talk about it in the method that most cleanly absolves us of our own responsibility in crafting the uniquely American culture of violence.
We act like mental illness is just this disease that you can "catch" for no reason at all. Like there are just Mental Illness Spores floating around out there and one day you just breathe it in and whoop, you're crazy! You've been cursed and there's nothing we can do except hope you don't find a gun before you get a chance to see the Therapy Wizard!
Sure, depression can be totally arbitrary sometimes. Sometimes it's just senseless and pervasive, and people become depressed even without any good reasons, or sometimes your brain gets twisted because some enzyme made it somewhere it shouldn't have been.
But you know what? A lot of time time, mental health problems happen as a direct response to the values and pressures placed upon people by the society that surrounds them.
When waves of overworked Japanese salarymen commit suicide, we don't just say to ourselves "Oh man, if only Japan had more therapists! If only they had access to better mental health care!" No, we recognize the presence of certain kinds of toxicity in foreign cultures when we see it. We say dude, that culture needs to start rethinking their whole sh*t.
If a woman forced to stay in the home and wear a burka against her will, suddenly committed suicide, I wouldn't just blame the vague specter of mental illness and wish shed gotten to talk to someone about her mother.
It should be the same thing here at home. When we hear about the mental health crisis in poor urban black communities, it's not because they're short on ink blot tests and reclining couches, it's because they need grocery stores, and decent jobs, and cops who don't act like they're enforcing martial law.
When we hear about Puerto Rico having a sudden epidemic in mental health problems after a hurricane, I don't think "Gosh, I really hope those folks get their Xanax shipment soon!" I think "f*ck, of course. They're losing their loved ones to preventable diseases, they don't have power or clean food or medical care, or even the comforting illusion that the rest of the nation considers them full citizens."
No, when a society suffers a mental health crisis, they've usually earned it, and the nature of the crisis usually reflects the values of the society that brought it about. Systems and processes and care facilities can help you identify, quarantine, or heal the crazy. But culture is what synthesizes the crazy in the first place.
And the United States has earned every bit of the epidemic we suffer now. Whether it's radical white terrorism, disaffected schoolkids, or just nutsos with guns, we've earned every one of these shootings, and it can't just be because these people didn't make it to a therapist on time.
It's our values, stupid. It's because we indoctrinate our citizens into thinking that they are deficient if they can't scrape together a successful life out of this crucible of capitalist indifference. We fill the minds of the have-nots with shame and guilt beyond anyone's ability to fully cope with, and we fill the minds of the haves with supremacist fantasies that convince them that it's okay to treat others like dirt, or they deserve to get away with anything if they're rich. We tell foreign children studying their asses off that they haven't earned the right to live in the one place they've known as home, and we tell native-born Americans that their entire way of life is under attack.
But most of all, we worship the fantasy of the gun. Not just the guns. It's the narrative that guns represent.
We've all heard the saying, right? To a man who has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Well, what happens to a nation founded upon the idea that one day, there will necessarily arise a problem that can only be solved if everyone has guns?
If you enshrine that idea into your country's constitution, what will you get, except a society that's always looking for the fabled nail that justifies the ownership of this horrifically dangerous hammer that they've just got sitting there?
I mean, if that royal tyrant that our founding fathers told us to fear just...never appears, we're all kinda just left with our dicks in our hands, right?
Come on, we didn't need the 2nd amendment so we could own a shotgun and protect ourselves from thieves in the night. We could've found some way to allow people to protect themselves without an amendment. No, we have an amendment because our founding fathers, for better or worse, believed in the secular version of an apocalypse prophecy.
And a political apocalypse prophecy needs an enemy, but a functioning nation can't just allow people to freely plan violence against the state, so we gotta make up the enemies, because in order for this to work, the imaginary enemy still has to be domestic and covert (otherwise, the military or police should be able to handle it). So what do you get instead?
There could be Muslims in your community, I say! Muslims! Or it'll probably be those thieving blacks! Mexican rapists! Or the Deep State G-men in the suits! Or Hillary Clinton and the Pizza-Pedos! Or maybe it's just my shifty neighbors! I don't know who yet, but dammit, there's gotta be someone out there that I bought this gun to protect myself from! Or else why would I have it? Why would George Washington warn me that I'd need a gun, if there weren't dangerous people lurking out there?
You can't escape the filter of paranoia that re-colors our political discourse. How could you? It's built into our constitution, and placed pretty high up on the priority list, right behind free speech. But beyond that, there are people who stand to benefit a lot, financially and politically, if they can get into your head and tell you who to be scared of. Is it so crazy so suggest that that paranoid perspective has integrated itself into our conversations about poverty? About race? About labor? About war? About justice?
I'm not saying all our problems would go away if we get rid of guns.
We probably couldn't even if we tried. They're like a native species by now, it'd be like trying to get rid of all the kangaroos in Australia. There'll always be so damn many that we're probably stuck figuring out how to live with them. It's probably baked in. But is it so crazy to say that we may need to have a major reflection about how many guns we need in a household, or how deadly they really need to be, and how we go about acquiring them, or how we talk about what it should mean to own one?
All I'm saying is that we might be suffering from the same issue that you would see in a suicidal Japanese salaryman. The words "Why not just go home after 8 hours?" don't make sense when you're living in the problem. When you're steeped in the cultural norms that push people to the brink, it's hard to step back and see that there are options, that there are entirely different and valid ways for a civilization to be organized. Because somehow, other good countries manage to not be this way. Like I'm pretty sure we're not the only country with bears.
But America seems like it's suffering from a similar kind of myopia.
It's like we've simply never posited the question: What if there isn't as much to fear as we thought? And even if there is that much to fear, what if the sources of those fears are only strengthened when we tell a society that they need to be ready to kill what they're afraid of?
We're all psychologically (if not literally) locked and loaded but with nowhere to go. We've built a cultural identity around being ready for that big threat that never comes.
But we still have to have faith that the threat is out there! Because otherwise, well...that would mean that this whole time...we kinda just allowed our kids to murder each other for no good reason.
So now we're more afraid of that question than we would've been afraid of the imaginary threat.
And we're more dangerous to ourselves than that threat ever could've been.