I don’t generally like to assume anything of someone, because everyone has different ideas of things like justice, fairness, logic, and honor. We often spend a large amount of time debating one another over how more or less we care about things, with the express implication that not talking about it, or not taking up the majority position on something makes us horrible people. For a nation, and a generation, that is defined on tolerance and understanding, we’re not particularly good at either of them. But flaw is what defines humanity, flaw is why we’re human in the first place, and not robots without free will, or destined to jump off a cliff without questioning why.
What happened in Florida on Wednesday can only be described as a tragedy, a tragedy bored out of human darkness, malice, and madness. Seventeen innocent people, who before that day had thought no different of the world, or of what tomorrow might bring, who before that day had thought they’d graduate and have careers, raise families, or do something great, or maybe nothing at all. They were cut down by weapons created and sustained over hundreds of years of innovation, with the near-explicit purpose of ending human life.
Now, there was a reason I chose not to launch into social media tirades about gun control, The Second Amendment, mental health, or other topics the day of, and it’s not because these issues are not important, or should not be discussed, or even out of respect for the victims and their families. I chose to wait to talk about this because our emotional response to something is the highest directly after something happens. A lot of people will say that does not matter or it strengthens the message, but I disagree, because it often puts heavy tunnel vision on what you’re seeing and obfuscates other angles you aren’t considering because you want your thing to be right. I don’t want to be right or wrong, I want to understand what motivates people to commit extreme violence, and why we as a nation are willing to look away at the worst aspects of humanity in exchange for political capital. Essentially, we’re more concerned with winning politically-motivated arguments and battles than we are understanding and stopping human madness. So I feel I have to wait a couple days, observe others, and pull together something more cohesive, more pragmatic, and ask that you give it a fair shake. I want a real conversation, not a hashtag movement online bookended by social gerrymandering.
In order to critique this act, we must first set the stage, and that is the history of firearms and American Culture.
Before supermarkets, delivery, and fast-food, humans had to hunt and gather to survive. Primitive weapons achieved these goals, like spears and daggers, or environmental traps, to catch animals. The American frontier was no exception, and in the early days of the Republic, families hunted to survive. But as weapons such as muskets and canons can also be used to kill enemies, their use in the American Revolutionary War is no exception to the cruelty of man. We saw the British monarchy as a threat to our freedom and democracy, so we took matters into our hands to drive them away. Post-war, many towns and villages insisted we maintain the ability to own and operate firearms in case of a British return, but also against our own government. The founders, as presumably a lot of early settlers, understood that human temptation can turn even the most honorable person astray, such as Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War, a man that had led American forces into many successful battles, but grew frustrated with American politics and the first Continental Congress, and defected shortly after. Throughout early American history, the gun was not only a tool, but a deterrent, and a teaching moment for schoolchildren learning about the tyranny of Britain and of King George III. Taxation without representation is a oft-used slogan in America, and it’s part of our cultural heritage, because the United States of America exists because men fought for, and died for, changing the way we govern ourselves and each other. Unlike other countries where gun culture is not as prevalent, guns played an important role in shaping our nation, and continued to do so through the expansion to the West, The Civil War, and beyond.
Understandably, the world has changed since the revolutionary days. We no longer rely on heads-of-households to possess hunting skills to survive, or militias to defend against foreign invaders, and our system of government, ideally, provides checks-and-balances to curb officials from having absolute power. So what role does a gun play in today’s social landscape?
A BRIEF HISTORY OF GUN CONTROL
While there have been many challenges to the Second Amendment and gun ownership prior to the 20th Century, the first federal bill outlawing the sale of specific firearms was in 1934 with the National Firearms Act. In response to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, the federal government outlawed the sale of Thompson Sub-Machine guns (The “Tommy Gun”) and sawed-off shotguns to civilians. During the bill’s drafting, there were early proposals to include handguns and other weapons as well, particularly due to the ability to conceal them, but ultimately the bill passed with only long-form weapons being outlawed. Although most of this bill would later be defeated in the 1960s by the Supreme Court, parts of it would later become the basis for the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. All of these laws that dealt in the regulation or prohibition of ownership of specific types of firearms were neccesitated by large-scale crime involving weapons, or assassinations particularly in the 1960s with President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Ridge in 1992, and the Waco siege in 1993. It is worth nothing, however, that the Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, and was not renewed. However, AR-15 style weapons were still considered legal under the AWB then, as the bill mostly concerned itself with foreign-made semi-automatic weapons like the TEC-9 and AK-47, weapons that were in wide-use in Middle Eastern conflicts in the 1980’s and 1990’s and were being imported in large quantities to the US.
The commonality of these bills is they all deal with weapons considered to be “deadly”, meaning they can inflict large amounts of damage in a short time span. “The Tommy Gun”, a fully-automatic weapon, was a staple of 20th century American crime, and the favorite weapon of crime bossess and gangs dealing in alcohol following the Prohibition. Today they’re featured in many detective noire series and films that depict that era for being a time when gritty cops squared off against the seedy criminal underground. But after the weapon’s ban and exit from cultural significance, and prior to the 1960’s counterculture and social unrest, there were a couple decades without much of note. Was this because the bills succeeded? Or was this because society learned to live without resorting to gun violence? Certainly, the advance in gun technology, larger magazines, compact design, and other factors made it appealing not only for enthusiasts and sport-shooters, but criminals and deviants as well. The unfortunate aspect of freedoms and rights is that it becomes difficult to gauge who is good and who is bad, who should own guns, and who should not. Any bill or law, even in best-faith, cannot seek to completely eliminate gun violence so long as guns exist.
THE DECLINE OF STRUCTURED VALUES
When people talk about “the good ol’ days”, they often talk about the 1950’s. The middle of the 20th Century is well-regarded by older generations as being the zenith of American culture, American innovation, and American ideals. We had won World War II, liberated Europe from fascism, and cemented our status as a world superpower. We began to rebuild and reshape our economy after The Great Depression. At this time, the “American Dream” was defined as a man and woman, married, with children, a home with a white-picket fence, in a quiet no-crime neighborhood on a cul-de-sac, with a dog, the Bible, and wholesome family values. Sixty-eight years later, a lot has changed. Civil rights, Women’s rights, anti-war protests, and entertainment counterculture defined and reshaped society between 1960 and 1990. Religion’s dominance of social values deteriorated significantly, especially on matters of family, marriage, divorce, and abortion. Globalism and expanded foreign trade changed the American economy and job landscape as more people immigrated to America in search of better jobs and opportunities. With the advent of the internet and personal computers after 1995, society jumped to warp speed as we began to get news from halfway around the globe in an instant, always-connected smartphones and information feeds, social media, and blogs, content creators, and microtransaction-revenue streams.
Today’s average family tends to be a single parent, or a twice or thrice remarried couple with extended families. They live in multi-family homes, or large apartments. They don’t belong to any religion, live in urban or suburban landscapes. They work 50-60 hour weeks to barely pay for their home and utilities, or overtime to send their children to a magnet school. Because there is often no parent whose sole job it is to care for or raise the children, children are often placed in day-care centers or with other family members. This shift in job and parenting dynamics has changed how we raise children, and how children assimilate cultural norms. Sixty years ago, firearm usage was considered a privilege that only older children who had learned the proper handling and usage of them were allowed to partake in, and like their frontier heritage, it was considered a rite-of-passage for boys to learn shooting to become men. Today, firearms are not really neccessary at all to live a normal lifestyle, but can still taught to older children, especially in rural parts of America, or the Boy Scouts of America. Others engage in something safer like Airsoft guns, or paintball guns, either as entertainment, or as a building-block towards the proper handling of the real thing. But culturally, guns have never escaped the American landscape. They’re still seen on television and movies as a means of conflict resolution. Nerf still makes weapons that shoot foam darts, which will not hurt anyone, but unless proper reinforcement is taught, can lead to escalated use of more deadly weaponry. Unlike other countries who may not share our cultural norms with firearms, it occupies a strong place that requires constant reinforcement from other aspects of society to control.
Often, mass shooters came from homes and family situations that lacked any kind of structure. Outcasts, bullied, shamed, degraded, they slowly lose any moral center or conscious they had and slowly devolve into madness. They convince themselves that the only path to redemption, in absence of God, their parents, or any figure they look up to, is to leave this world taking as many people as they can. Most mass shooters commit suicide by their own weapons after killing others, because for them it’s eternal glory, to be remembered even in tragedy and pain. It’s a human darkness that most people do not understand, and are visibly upset by, because they cannot fathom another human taking lives so wanton without any preconceived bias. Unlike most forms of murder or homicide, mass shooters don’t really have hard targets, they don’t seek out specific people. They just fire indiscriminately and land on whomever gets in its path. The shooter in the Hartford Distributors shooting in 2010 was reported to have skipped over shooting women and a person in a wheelchair, saying they were “like him” and didn’t deserve his sense of justice. It’s a rare example of a mass shooting where the targets were chosen somewhat at-random, with conditions. However workplace shootings and school shootings have many differences, and differing motives of the shooters.
THE MENTAL HEALTH DEBATE
When the Virginia Tech massacre happened in 2007, the aftermath sparked an intense debate over mental health, and spurned a new piece of legislation, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to be signed by then-President George W. Bush. The shooter, who had a severe history of mental illness, was admitted to Virginia Tech who did not check his history, and he was able to legally purchase weapons without a check on this history either. Lawmakers saw this as a loophole, but the psychiatry community saw this as a possible vector for the study of violence and mass shootings. It had been fairly thought of that most mass shooters had some kind of mental disorder or illness that contributed to their reasoning to commit wanton excessive violence against random soft targets, but there was no real pattern to it. Pundits and passerbys for years blamed violent media, M-rated video games, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and any number of other factors on the rise of domestic violence, but there was at least nine major school shootings between Columbine in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007 around the world, some involving firearms, and others involving melee weapons such as in China. Even to this day people tend to think that mental health is not a significant factor, placing it far behind the gun itself, and various aspects of popular culture.
Because many shooters use mass shootings as a cover for suicide, it’s difficult for us to really have someone deeply examine their psyche or understand what they are thinking. Besides the Florida suspect and the Kentucky suspect from a month prior this year, Dylann Roof (Charleston Church shooting) and James Holmes (Aurora Colorado theater shooting) were also arrested after their mass-shootings, rather than they commit suicide on scene. In Roof’s case, during his trial, forensic psychiatrist Dr. James Ballenger determined that he may suffer from many documented illnesses, most commonly Autism, but that based on his analysis of Roof’s manifesto and courtroom proceedings, he was mentally fit to stand trial where his defense lawyers had sought him to be found mentally incompetent. Roof’s sociopathic nature was very apparent in not only his decision-making leading to the shooting, but also in his courtroom proceedings where he attempted to deny a trial-by-jury and rejected motions to have him declared mentally-ill. In Roof’s case, while his mental health could be the subject of analysis for many years, he was sentenced to death and put on death row in the federal government’s Terre Haute facility, the same facility that was the end of the road for Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh in the 1990s. Holmes on the other hand, had a myriad of mental issues that made him more difficult to pin the death penalty on. In Roof’s case, jurors took only two hours to convict him of his crimes. In Holmes trial, a number of jurors were dismissed due to discussing case details out of court, among other conflicts. When they failed to agree on the death penalty, he was sentenced to life without parole. Since then he has converted to Islam, and considers his victims “infidels”. It’s a sign of a deep delusion that draws a person like him to warp his thinking in order to rationalize his actions. Back in 2014, a man named Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree in Isla Vista California that left six dead and more injured. The circumstances behind this tragedy were a bit different in that the perpetrator was from a very rich and affluent family, but in his very detailed manifesto, he outlined the circumstances that led to everything he felt, and what motivated him to take out other people with himself. I wrote a very long response to his manifesto at the time, and it’s worth your read if you are truly interested in this topic, because I believe the human component to this to be very much more important that the gun control component of this. An excerpt of what I wrote:
It was a frankly horrifying experience to read. I don’t say this lightly. People who know me know that I often play devil’s advocate, especially with events like this, because I firmly believe that we need to understand any single bit of information people like this have to say. We need to acknowledge these killers as people. I know everyone’s first reaction is to not watch the videos, not read the manifestos, and shut out any mention of his name or family, because we believe copycat killers who thrive on attention will continue the field of tragedy, but the truth is those determined to carry out these acts will do so anyway, and very few, if all, have been copycat incidents. These kids have real problems. Elliot Rodger is one of the first to actually document everything about himself beforehand, including giving us a rare glimpse into why he convinced himself he had to do this. We will all surely disagree with why he did it, as well we should, but it’s an important piece of information to have in order to understand mental health and actually help other people like Elliot, instead of just waiting until it’s too late, and casting another human soul into the dark box because they snapped and went apeshit.
But unfortunately, unlike long ago when people sought out facts and information, looking to build logical conclusions to make sense of what has happened, our bite-size, transient, instant information feed culture leaves little room for people to really dig into why someone like Roof, Holmes, or Rodger would commit these crimes. The media, eager to hold viewership during tragedy, feeds people only the basic bylines. Racially-motivated, domestic terrorist, white supremacist, toxic masculinity. These are all buzzwords used to tag shooters in an effort to dehumanize them, yet at the same time they fetishize their kill counts and the weapons used, inspiring copy-cat killers to begin preparing for their own five months of fame. It’s not completely the media’s fault, they’re trying to report the news minute-by-minute, and because most people don’t wait for the rest of the story to finish coming out, they base their assumptions on that initial report. This makes the mental health debate incredibly hard to qualify in these events because people’s perceptions of mental health vary, especially when a large number of people consider Autism to be a “fake illness” bookended by parents who just don’t control their children enough, or think all mental disorders can just be cured by drugs.
One of my fears as we continue to allow lawmakers to tie more and more gun control laws into mental health issues is that society will start to look for false-positives in people and flag them. It is already assumed that the socially-rejected “loner” is a prime target for causing a mass shooting, and that has expanded to social anxiety, video games, internet usage, and other subgenres that some of these shooters shared prior to their events. That creates a dangerous precedent whereby people begin to witch-hunt one another they suspect of being mentally ill. Because many of these laws are designed to strip your second amendment rights without due process, it in turn violates your fourteenth amendment rights to not have your rights taken without said due process. This is especially contentious with laws to bar people on the No-Fly List from owning firearms, because the criteria for getting on that list is less stringent and subject to abuse by law enforcement.
The fact is, we need a very comprehensive breakdown of mental illness and related issues, and we need to be willing to dive deep in the heart of darkness to understand how to combat it. Too many times, people shy away from the dark side of humanity, the mind of people like Dylan Roof, because it’s too painful, or triggering. That only serves to continue deferring the problem until the next attack, and that is why many people have numbed to the concept of mass shootings every few months in the United States, and why more ill people continue to commit these atrocities. For them, it’s a suicide note left for the world to see after they painfully ignored their indirect cries for help. For others, it’s a desire to carry out their deepest, darkest evils knowing mortality will release them from ever having to stare back at their victims or the families.
THE SCAPEGOAT: THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the longest American organizations involved in firearms training, safety, and lobbying for pro-gun rights in America. Founded in 1871, the organization focused primarily on helping improve rifle marksmanship among soldiers and other firearm training and safety measures, they began lobbying legislators concerned with gun control laws after the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934. Contrary to popular belief, they actually supported both the NFA and the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), taking the position that firearms should be properly licensed and regulated. But after the passage of the GCA, a number of gun rights activists within the organization began to trend the opposite direction. They saw the GCA as a direct threat to Second Amendment rights and encroaching government influence on firearms in America. With Republican influence, the NRA founded the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), where they spent the late 70s through the 1990s building the division within the NRA that handles gun rights organization, lobbying, and funding. For 2017 and 2018, the NRA contributed $233.996 to mostly Republican candidates, the top among them, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) the current speaker of the House. Even though the NRA and the ILA are the same, much of the NRA’s core focus remains on gun safety and training, and support for sport shooting and hunting.
Popular culture has seen the NRA as the great scourge on the gun control debate. After all, as political action committee with significant funding arms, and politicians paid for on their rolls, it’s not hard for someone to connect the dots that they are very much opposed to gun control. However that tends to fall to being a very subjective view, especially as gun control laws currently enforced under the NFA continue to regulate Title II weapons, and ban military-grade weapons to civilians. The NRA also continues to support all current background check and licensing laws, and usually calls for strengthening these versus gun control measures. They unfortunately do not put a lot of effort or lobbying into mental health issues, but it’s not really their wheelhouse.
As a general principle, I don’t support lobbying, so I don’t support the NRA funneling money to lawmakers for any purpose. But the public lambasting of the NRA is particularly irksome to me because they don’t levy the same amount of ire towards Planned Parrenthood, which spent more than the NRA in 2017-2018 on pro-abortion policy towards Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) among others. Although it would be slightly fallacious to compare the two, I find it troubling that many liberals lament over gun deaths in America while hand-waving away aborting human life. Both essentially serve the argument of “cutting down children before they’ve had a chance to live”, but take on different meanings. I do not intend to deep-dive into abortion here, but a channel I used to frequent has a good synopsis of that on Youtube if you’re interested. Another example is labor unions, where the Carpenters & Joiners Union spent over ten million dollars in 2017-2018. In fact, labor unions spent a total of over thirty million dollars in that same time span to majority Democrat and liberal sources. The NRA by contrast has spent twenty-three million dollars since 1990. So if the argument is Republican lawmakers are bought-and-paid-for by NRA lobbyists, you may want to go back and look up just how much lobby money lands on your state senator. It’s a bad argument, really, to suggest that lobby money has any direct correlation to House or Senate bills, we generally assume it does, but we also generally assume our lawmakers will stonewall each other with or without that money. You also have to consider that most of that money simply goes into targeted advertising and their re-election campaigns, which in turn goes to fund aides and staff working on the candidate’s re-election. It’s unlikely much of that money is buying Paul Ryan a Bugatti to drive to work every day.
BAN ALL GUNS: THE REAL LIBERAL AGENDA
For the final section, we’re going to end on purely my opinion and analysis.
I believe that the majority of progressive-liberal-Democrats, some moderates, and even some conservatives, want the Second Amendment repealed, and guns confiscated and banned.
What do I base this on? I base this on Jimmy Kimmel-style posturing, the same kind of posturing media figures, Hollywoo elites, and east/west coast urbanites have been pushing since Virginia Tech, and especially since Sandy Hook. They ignore gun statistics, gun deaths, crime statistics, and other data and suggest that if we only were like Australia, or Europe, or Japan, none of this would be a problem. I could look up statistics, and figures, and charts, to compare gun deaths across the world, but so can you. It would not matter. “Many progressives, however, simply don’t care about restrictions on gun ownership. They don’t view it as an individual right, much less an unalienable one. To them, the Second Amendment is an embarrassment, an American quirk that should be limited and confined as much as possible. To them, gun ownership is a privilege, not a right, and can be heavily regulated and restricted without doing any violence at all to individual liberty.” (A Gun-Control Measure Conservatives Should Consider) This is routinely expressed as “Why do you need to own a gun?” or “Does a gun make you more powerful over me?” or “Guns are a show of toxic male masculinity” when the intersectional feminists get involved, despite the fact that more women, non-whites, and homosexuals are registering and buying firearms in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting and other incidents. You often get people who think that guns should only be in the hands of law enforcement, but it’s the same law enforcement they accuse of shooting innocent black teens. I certainly do not advocate for the shooting of law enforcement officials, but the Second Amendment was designed as a check-and-balance against tyranny, and that can take the form of corrupt police officers and government officials. This does not mean militias should go out hunting down cops, you should always exercise the law to handle these people, but by our Constitution, you have a right to self-defense, and that self-defense can be a gun.
Now, owning and using a gun is a huge responsibility, and personally, I am weary about ever owning one. Most shootings occur because the perpetrator has access to someone else’s guns. Not having them obviously makes it more difficult for them to get it, but not impossible. We cannot continue to insist that our own means of defense is ignorance and apathy. If we know guys like this Florida shooter have been talking for months or years about harm, then every access vector has to be shut down, or they need to be removed from the public for their safety. Banning guns does not solve the problem, they will use a vehicle, a knife, explosives, or some other means to carry out their plan. I find it disingenuous of people who think removing all guns somehow solves the problem, especially in a country where guns have been a part of our culture, and you say “What has changed? We didn’t have this frequency of shooting before!” and that answer is simple. We didn’t have the kind of society back then that we do now, The times have changed, and people, predictably, are stubborn to change.
But even more disingenuous are edgelord liberals who mock “thoughts and prayers”. Look, I am not a religious person, I am fairly agnostic, but I am not an atheist, nor do I particularly like the kind of edgelord internet atheists who shit all over people of faith for exercising their belief. I am not naive enough to believe “thoughts and prayers” will solve anything, or bring any kind of resolution towards the families, but for many people who believe in faith, and believe in God and Heaven, they are simply coping in a different way than everyone else copes. Don’t be shitty. Don’t be that kind of person who mocks other people’s beliefs because they don’t conform to yours, or especially to your political beliefs. Especially if you intend to promote any kind of tolerance and understanding, which honestly, I do tend to mock liberals for, because some do not tolerate anyone that doesn’t conform to their opinions.
But this all coalesces into the current socio-political climate of extreme divisiveness between each other, and it was something that existed before President Trump, who is also a frequent target of poorly-linked Republican or NRA plots to kill children. I’ve linked the Project Gunrunner page to a few people in the last few days to remind them how many innocent Mexicans we have proxy-killed with American firearms as the result of botched proxy gun sales to Mexican cartels in an effort to catch them. Then-President Obama and AG Eric Holder were involved in “Operation Fast and Furious” in 2009-2010, and Holder was subsequently brought up on charges of lying and withholding documentation. This idea that Democrats are squeaky-clean is something unraveling fast in the Muller Trump-Russia investigation, and why people need to read everything and make logical conclusions rather than bandwagoning.
Because in the end, Florida is still a tragedy, and a terrible loss of life by someone with a twisted, dark mind willing and capable of committing evil. We have to earnestly begin to re-examine every aspect and walk of life if we want to stop this, and that is something that requires all of us to do.