In reaction to the horrific mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, this weekend, many people on both sides have been engaged in the same game of slogan-shouting and cliche-spewing that always follows these kinds of things. One side says guns are the problem. The other retorts that mental illness is the real culprit. Both agree that extremist ideologies are partially to blame, but they disagree on which extremist ideology is most to blame. Round and round we go. Nothing is accomplished. Nothing changes. And lost in the fog of talking points is the hard reality of these tragedies — the fact that actual, real people are dying.
It is indeed an epidemic. Mass shootings are still exceedingly rare, but the fact remains that 20 of the 27 deadliest mass shootings in American history have happened in the last 15 years. Since the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, this country has seen 9 of the 13 deadliest shootings in its history. The worst one ever was two years ago. The second worst was the year before that. It’s true that the media tries to grossly (in multiple senses of the word) inflate mass shooting statistics by counting gang violence in the total, but the numbers are still extraordinary even without being manipulated to prove a political point. For some reason, shootings like El Paso and Dayton are way, way more common today than they were 20 years ago or anytime previous. That is not debatable. The only debatable question is why.
As for that question, we never get close to answering it because we are determined to focus the conversation around guns, mental illness, and extremism. Yes, guns obviously are part of the picture. But our existing laws, if enforced, would have prevented many of these slaughters already. We don’t need more laws. We need, rather, to utilize the ones that are already on the books. The Dayton shooter apparently was caught keeping a hit list of classmates he wanted to kill in high school. I think we can all agree that people with hit lists shouldn’t be able to obtain firearms. But that, again, is a matter for better enforcement, not additional laws. Besides, there have always been guns in this country. There have not always been this many mass shootings. . .
At bottom, the answer is that we have become a country filled with numb, detached, and desensitized people. Mass shootings are the ultimate manifestation of that detachment. Our reaction to them — rhetorically slinging dead bodies at each other to score points in a political argument — is a slightly less severe but very much related manifestation. A survivor of the El Paso shooting reports that the shooter casually smirked before unloading on a crowd of innocent people. This echoes many other reports from many similar shootings. The killer is always smirking like he’s slightly amused, or else he’s blank-faced and emotionless. Rarely do you get a picture of someone running around enraged and screaming. We call these acts of “hate,” but they are much more acts of brutal, murderous indifference. These are empty, numb, detached people slaughtering their fellow humans because they are bored and frustrated with their meaningless lives. (Read more from “It’s Not Guns or Mental Illness. the Problem Is Deeper Than That.” HERE)