I’ve sat facing my computer a few times since those school children were massacred, attempting on each pass to write something that expresses anything honest about the slaughter, about this horror show that we call modern, post-millenial America. Elsewhere, I have read the words of people who are so devastated by this event that they cannot think of what to say, or who to blame, or how to bring our country to some better place. As if words or ideas are no longer sufficient or useful against something as elemental to our society and culture as firearms.
For me, this isn’t the problem. For me, the struggle goes to an opposite extreme. Each time I start to write about this tragedy, my head begins to hurt. And too soon, I sense that all of the contempt and bile I feel for America’s continuing worship of the gun will pour out onto the digital page, that any meaningful argument I hope to express will be lost in my low regard for those in my country — leaders and followers alike — who demonstrate such cowardice in the face of the continued bloodletting.
It is all of a piece: The mass murders by damaged citizens allowed easy access to lethal weapons. The absurdist argument that more guns carried everywhere — into schools and malls and theaters and restaurants — will produce safety. The pretense that weapons in the classroom — handguns within reach of children; teachers armed and ready for firefights — is some sort of insightful, plausible solution, rather than evidence of moral bankruptcy and a nation in decline. The stand-your-ground laws adopted in state after state, and a gun lobby that no longer even has the need to hold to its empty credo that guns don’t kill, people do. Now, we are excusing the people as well, eschewing even the personal responsibility that conservatives so often exalt. Now, guns don’t kill and neither do people. Now, shit just happens, with our freshest legalisms simply rationalizing our preference for pride and property over human life.
On television the other evening, I caught a glimpse of a drama in which some future America was overrun by zombies, a thrilling narrative in which survivors could only rely on force of arms to keep the unthinking, unfeeling hordes at bay. And I realized: This isn’t mere entertainment, it’s national consensus. More than that, it’s a well-executed and starkly visual rendering of the collective fear that governs us. We know that they’re out there: The less human. The poor. The godless. The frightening other. And they want what we have, they are going to take what we have, and they understand nothing save for a well-placed bullet. It’s my understanding that the show I encountered is quite popular; in this America, it may even be called populist in its argument — a morality tale that speaks to why we must arm ourselves, and carry those guns with us, and stand our fucking ground; it declares that we can’t rely on collective, utilitarian will to achieve a safe and viable society, that government by the people and for the people is, at this point, an empty catchphrase for fools and weaklings. No, our future is every man for himself, and a gun in every outstretched hand, and if a classroom of six and seven year olds is the requisite cost every now and then, so be it.
The president asked for the flag to fly at half-staff, a symbol of mourning reserved for extraordinary events, for the deaths of heroes and grievous national tragedies. I understand the worthy sentiment, but something in the act itself makes me want to call bullshit: What happened at that elementary school is no longer extraordinary at all. Yes, it is horrifying and, by standards, even remarkable within the context of a daily, or even weekly news cycle. But extraordinary? The national flag is usually brought to half staff for ten days of mourning. Does anyone firmly believe that the United States can, in its current pathology, go anywhere near that long anymore without someone using a gun to take lives of innocents on a wholesale basis? Somewhere, a shopping mall is about to be shot apart. And another school. And then a sporting event or street parade. And somewhere in Florida or any number of other states that now devalue the act of homicide, another young black kid is playing his radio too loud or walking in the wrong subdivision ready to be confronted. Admit it: If the interval for national mourning is a week and a half, America has no business raising its flags ever again.
I know. Too much anger and despair. I should have walked away from the computer, and left this to folks more measured and thoughtful. There are better voices, to be sure. In fact, here’s the best: If you read just one thing more about what kind of society accepts the slaughter of its children as a political and cultural inevitability, let it be Gary Wills. What follows from Mr. Wills is real clarity, and an honest verdict on what has become of the American experiment:
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It’s disappointing to read this post from a person I greatly admire for an unflinching willingness to see what’s on the end of the fork. I expected a more nuanced, evidence-based, and intellectually honest approach, akin to the way Mr. Simon brilliantly saw through the false statistics and politicized aspects of the “war on drugs”. What a very blind spot this is.
That dark page in the lab book of the American Experiment we call Newtown is best summed up by David Bottoms’ poem, “Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump.”
Loaded on beer and whiskey, we ride
to the dump in carloads
to turn our headlights across the wasted field,
freeze the startled eyes of rats against mounds of rubbish.
Shot in the head, they jump only once, lie still
like dead beer cans.
Shot in the gut or rump, they writhe and try to burrow
into garbage, hide in old truck tires,
rusty oil drums, cardboard boxes scattered across the mounds,
or else drag themselves on forelegs across our beams of light
toward the darkness at the edge of the dump.
It’s the light they believe kills.
We drink and load again, let them crawl
for all they’re worth into the darkness we’re headed for.
We have arrived.
[…] shattering my emotional serenity, I went from meditation to reading David Simon’s latest blog post, Newtown, Conn. He wondered what that hot new zombie television show says about us. This isn’t mere […]
“And then a sporting event or a street parade.” Don’t you hate that you are right?
Well, to be clear, Boston had nothing to do with our madness for firearms.
This is entirely incorrect, David.
Consider; in an environment where everyone may be carrying a gun, what kind of tactics does one resort to?
You might want to go to the “Newton, Conn.” entry on this blog site and peruse the comments. The fantasy that arming everyone in a society would lead to less gun deaths and not more was pretty solidly dispatched there, and I’m not inclined to waste much time doing it all again.
Suffice to say that the Western nations that have achieved the lowest rates of firearms deaths by far are those that have NOT armed themselves to the teeth and placed minimal restriction on the ownership and carrying of firearms. Those nations do the opposite.
The sole exception, perhaps, is the state of Israel, which is a unique case in that all Israelis are obliged to serve in the military, therefore the ubiquity of firearms in the culture is accompanied by compulsory firearms training and corresponding military discipline involving the handling of weapons. No such correlation with American gun culture exists. Any moron can buy a weapon and use it as he sees fit, and too frequently, they do. Not only are our homicide by shooting stats the highest in the civilized world, but our accidental deaths by firearms occur at the highest rate in the world. Give everyone a gun and more Americans will shoot themselves and other Americans by accident, guaranteed.
And yet this masturbatory fantasy of the gun-nuts — that if everyone had a gun, some sort of mutually-assured-destruction logic would prevail and peace would reign supreme — endures. Not because it is plausible, but because it satisfies the pathology itself to claim that the disease isn’t really a disease. Elsewhere and on this site, the false trope that mass murders only occur in jurisdictions that prohibit gun ownership or open-carry laws has been ventured. This, too, is a weak-ass lie.
Beginning with Killeen, Texas and extending through mass killings in other gun-friendly states over the last quarter century, the phenomenon of mass murder by firearm has shown itself impervious to intervention on a limited or local scale. Either the gun culture changes nationally or there are no islands of gun safety that can matter. The fallacy of when-everyone-has-and-loves-a-gun-then-peace-is-at-hand is evidenced, most notably, by a certain mass murder at Ft. Hood. You might remember that the fort is a U.S. Army installation. The United States Army is certainly a culture that embraces firearms and provides its personnel with ample weaponry. And still.
Clearly, the answer to my question is not as obvious as I thought it to be when I posted, as I agree entirely with the view expressed in your reply.
What I was trying to point out is that the guntopia so desired by the NRA and its friends does in fact relate to the bombing in Boston. Clearly, that event is not any kind of example of a peaceful society, but it is an example of what we can come to expect with increasing frequency if the population arms itself to the teeth. Instead of a public shoot-out, a bomb or two. Instead of presenting a gun and demanding a wallet, shooting first and grabbing it. What else do we expect, that the criminal element will all of a sudden smarten up, go get a haircut and a real job? We’re talking about the spiral of violence here, and while we may never know if the Boston bombers would otherwise have been Boston shooters, it is only reasonable to expect that this kind of event will take place with greater regularity as guns become more and more prevalent.
One more apology; you were not “entirely incorrect”, rather I should have said “not entirely correct”. Sorry.
I forgot to point at Charlie Brooker’s clever depiction of the media narration/coverage of these events.
So what do you think of Roger Ebert’s observations on the media behavior while reporting these kinds of events. I think he’ saying something quite important about how the media tells the fact. They simply make a very attractive fiction. I’d like to hear your thoughts despite my late comment
Thanks a lot!
Do you get a sense that both sides are talking past each other? They are.
In fact, there is not a lot of incorrect information being spread from either side of the gun control argument. Not much to disagree with if one looks at the claims impassively. The reason for the disaccord is that people are debating different topics entirely. One side looks at violent crime and asks why it has to be so glaringly prevalent in America. The other side looks at threats to their safety and asks how they can best protect themselves.
Different questions will of course lead to different arguments, and different conclusions.
Listen carefuly to the arguments made by the gun control advocates – statistics-laden, making comparisons between nations, talking about social ills. Listen also to gun advocates – arguing weapons specifications, tactical methods, comparisons between neighbouring counties, and anecdotal evidence. These patterns conform to the socialist / libertarian outlooks that have always characterised the left and right.
It is therefore apparent that the problem has never been clearly defined, while everyone has begun to engage in the vitriolic lobbing of their preferred ideological solutions back and forth like a nation of schoolchildren participating in a bench-clearing cafeteria food fight. It’s purpose is unknown, and it can never be expected to resolve anything.
Meanwhile, an unholy number of people continue to get raped, killed, mugged, and assaulted.
Martin, David, and others
It’s helpful to create relatively simple questions which can be used to discuss the issues properly.
1. A legal maxim asserts that hard cases make bad law. Can we expect, therefore that the response to this event will be limited to ensuring that this unusual event is made even less likely to occur in the future? If the foregoing is accepted, will the bulk of the gnashing of teeth be mostly meaningless, meaningless that is to the tens of thousands of people that die in less spectacular gun deaths?
2. A major talking point of the NRA is that the mere existence of a gun in a household may discourage crime, without an actual armed confrontation reported to the police. People living in neighborhoods where the police aren’t readily available or even trusted (i.e ghettos) may feel this way. So which is it:
a) guns in the USA are the last defence against the criminal element
b) guns primarily endanger the gun owner
3. Another major talking point of the NRA is that legal restrictions on guns have little effect on people intent on using guns. In other countries, however, this drives up the cost of illegal guns and at the very least delays the impulse of somebody intent on killing. Do you agree then that legal restrictions can at least restrain even the criminal element? In my experience this question seems to be tied to trusting law enforcement to first of all be on your side and second to be effective.
So the question is: do you trust law enforcement to act on your behalf when violence is required? What do you do when that breaks down?
4. Despite your personal convictions on guns, if you find yourself personally threatened by a major crime figure or a violent boyfriend, will you buy a guy and take lessons?
With regard to your a) or b) choice, it is a false choice.
It is not either/or. It is both, in varying and differing circumstances. Therefore efforts to retain the right to firearms possession by responsible and trained and licensed citizens while at the same moving to restrict or make criminally prohibitive firearms possession by felons, the mentally unstable, those under ex parte orders, etc. seems to be a meaningful response.
The gun-rights hyperbole insists on a singular choice to a) or b) and therein lies the intellectual dishonesty.
Actually David, I agree with you about a narrowly contrived law. The legal maxim’s point is that an unusual (even though horrific) event tends to lead to narrowly applied remedies which accomplish little. And all signs are this is what will happen in this case, if anything. In point of fact little actual action is needed to prevent another case exactly matching Lanza since this case is already very unlikely to recur in this precise form Any more thoughtful analysis will involve simply noting that Lanza’s action concentrates part (not all) of the death toll of every single day in a single building and involve innocent children who cannot be blamed personally (compared to the phrase “known to police” for many gunshot victims, which euphemistically dismisses the event as something the victim brought on himself by lifestyle choice). People who have a more general interest in reducing gun violence will widen the focus to less extreme events, whereas others will — grudgingly — concede — that at least this particular event is too extreme to be tolerate. And therein will lie a meaningless bargain that won’t wave a single life but will make people feel better.
You have simply rephrased the question of the “other side” that I refered to previously, and disregarded the other perspective. Kinda proves my point.
We need a better question that encompasses both concerns.
The Lanza shootings are a grim reminder of the effects of guns, but less publicized events in the US with guns kill many people every day. With the present supply of weapons on the streets, can any conceivable gun-control measure make much of a dent in that? Whatever your answer is, back it up with data. The trouble is the that the NRA has made it next to impossible to collect such data. If you go to other countries where the NRA doesn’t have that influence either the problem doesn’t exist in its acute form (say here in Canada) or it is dismissed as being a totally different social context (e.g. Mexico). So no matter which way you turn you’re denied legitimacy. I think Canada receives the most attention from Americans who seek a parallel society since we’re cuturally very similar but with a far lower-key pattern of gun ownership. That doesn’t mean we don’t have guns here. One cultural distinction is that if you actually use a gun here to confront — or worse yet shoot — an intruder — you are subject to much greater scrutiny by the law. The law of self defence is solid here but you can’t use a gun to merely protect commercial interests (a store owner can’t use a gun to shoot thieves).
In my research, there is no shortage of data available to make informed arguments on the question of gun control, and I don’t see how the NRA has had any influence on the quality or ability to collect that data. However this is not a suitable forum for anything close to an adequate analysis of the numbers. The best we can hope to acheive here is to acknowledge the importance of establishing a solid foundation for discourse, which is presently lacking whertever one looks. This must be acheived by clearly defining the problem at the outset, in a manner that addresses the concern from all perspectives.
Your question; whether any possible gun control measure could acheive a reduction in the number of killings in the US, is a good step towards clarity. The way I would formulate the question is, “Can more restrictive gun laws provide a net benefit to the safety of Americans?”.
In both our questions, we allow some ambiguity as to whether the population in question consists of three hundred million disparate individuals (libertarian view), or one complex society (socialist view). This is significant consideration as either interpretation will lead to opposing conclusions, both of which need to be factored together in order to get the full picture.
On a side note, I would ask that you refrain from referring to the incident by using the shooter’s name, as this validates the notoriety that such people seek in committing these horrendous acts. The town or school name is a more suitable identifier.
[…] David Simon | Newtown, Conn.]. Share:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. ← Previous […]
[…] can find Simon’s blog, and his post on the shooting in Newtown, CT here. Share this:TwitterFacebookMorePrintEmailGoogle +1LinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]
[…] intelligent pieces from other Americans as well. Particularly noteworthy is David Simon’s writings on this topic just before Christmas, on the horrors at Sandy Hook. What I find particularly amazing for both such […]
Let’s implement the same, tough-as-nails anti-gun-possession laws that Norway has. Will that make everyone sending their teenager to summer camp feel — safer?
Let’s make shopping malls, movie theaters, schools and sports stadiums as safe as — airports and airplanes. Metal detectors, body scanners and Trouser Search Administration types hovering everywhere. Make you feel safer?
What about an Illinois-like no concealed carry law? Care to guess how many school-age children were gunned down in Chicago in the past twelve months?
What about focusing on the other common theme of all these recent tragedies — mental health and proper sequestration and treatment of those lacking neither capacity nor justification to carry a weapon for self-defense?
Argument No 1:
1) There was a mass killing in Norway. Therefore American gun laws are no worse. And yet, fact: Three quarters of the incidents of mass killing over the last fifty years have taken place on American soil, where only five percent of the world population resides. Clearly, the rest of the world — apart from your misuse of the anecdotal — is having a better time of it than we are.
Argument No 2:
2) “Let’s embrace security at all public points,” a suggestion that shows the impracticality of attempting to respond to the violence in any security-conscious way. And yet this is a straw man, because no one is arguing that we should endeavor to create a security state at all public places. Indeed, that was the argument of gun-rights advocates with regard to the Newtown shooting. It is not the argument of any gun-control advocates, and certainly not any argument that I have presented. You are arguing into a low, empty wind on that one.
Argument No. 3:
Illinois has attempted a law against carrying concealed weapons, therefore, given the continuing murders in Illinois, gun control can’t work. Serious advocates of gun control would argue that jurisdictional, piecemeal attempts to seriously register, license and restrict guns can’t work for the obvious reason. Either this is a national endeavor, allowing for purchase and ownership of handguns to be regulated not just in one county or one state, but in the nation as a whole — and for penalties to be uniform and meaningful in the nation as a whole — is a necessary predicate. Takoma Park, Maryland also voted to make its jurisdiction a nuclear-free zone. It was a symbolic argument on their part. National policy will dictate our use of nuclear power and nuclear weaponry. And Takoma Park as a suburb of Washington remains as vulnerable to nuclear threat as before its council voted. Either we change our gun culture nationally or we don’t. Your cite of Illinois is off point to this basic truth.
[…] Newtown, Conn. by David Simon The absurdist argument that more guns carried everywhere — into schools and malls and theaters and restaurants — will produce safety. The pretense that weapons in the classroom — handguns within reach of children; teachers armed and ready for firefights — is some sort of insightful, plausible solution, rather than evidence of moral bankruptcy and a nation in decline. […]
I agree about the attention span of the US. Sometime before the last funeral, someone will bitch about having to hear about the funerals. Heaven forbid something pre-empts their evening programming.
David, as I sit here re-reading this magnificent piece of yours, and allow me to say sincerely I have been a worshipper of your work for sometime (“The Wire” and “Homicide” the novel TRULY CHANGED MY LIFE) – I wonder if a major issue here is being glossed over: EDUCATION. When this country chooses not to invest in educating youngsters, or providing youngsters with appropriate mental health outlets this is one the ways in which you create hopeless and deranged teenagers with ambitions for violence and chaos. Gun control is the central part of the debate that deserves to be raging across our nation with mental health another critical component, but truly what of EDUCATION!? Educating out kids about the genuine sancticty of human life – that we are all created equal whether or not you believe we are endowed with those rights from a heavenly creator or not. I think simply educating children – giving them a future full of hope that there lives have the capacity to improve and that they can lead more meaningful fullfilling lives than their parents is the single most critical way to reduce wanton killings such as those at Sandy Hook as well as the nonstop senseless violence that blights street corners across our cities. If the United States spent the $33,000 it spends on every prisoner on its students (to which it spends on average only $11,500) I cannot help but think we would see less senseless tragedies as well as less gun violence.
My heart goes out to the parents and other loved ones of the children killed as well as the town of Newtown. But I can’t help wonder if the national mourning and outrage would have been as intense had they died in West Baltimore or another “zip code that doesn’t matter” (I don’t remember if that quote is from Jay Landsman or Gus). The news value of something happening to a little blonde child (or multiples thereof) seems be something of a perfect score, as Bunk and Lester discussed so vividly in (and okay rather drunkenly) in contrast to the all the missing young African American men in Baltimore before they discovered the bodies in the vacants. But I guess if this does lead to effective action on controlling access to inappropriate weapons (you don’t need a semi-automatic to shoot Bambi period) and insuring that people with mental challenges do not have access to firearms, than I guess I’m glad for all the attention it was given.
By the way, I have always hoped that Poot went and got his GED, worked his way up to manager of the sneaker store and lived his version of happily ever after….even if it meant settling with one woman considering he was dedicated to chasing all of them.
I have never loaded a gun. I have never held a gun. In fact, I have never even seen a gun in real life. My father who was a policeman told me when I was a little boy that guns had one purpose: To kill. They are bad. I was in no doubt about that.
Admittedly, I am from a country with strict gun laws. I was the same age as the children who got shot in Dunblane, Britain’s worst gun atrocity, and I can still remember the feeling that ran through the country at the time. It was unanimous that our gun laws would have to be changed. No one argued against it.
Gun deaths remain low. Well, I say low because I am comparing it to America. One murder is too many. But Britain, with a population of 63 million, has an average of 30-35 gun murders a year. Japan, even lower, barely breaking into double figures. They have a population of 127 million.
It seems sensible to me to make the correlation between strict gun laws and a reduction in gun crime. In a modern, forward looking nation policies should be based upon figures and statistics directed towards creating a more ethical and peaceful society.
So, I just can’t understand America’s deeply engrained love of guns. When I think of all the things I love about American culture, guns are at the bottom. Rich, post-industrial societies all have the same problems. No where in the world is perfect. But for everywhere else, the idea that so many people can be completely armed to the teeth is unfathomable.
Many gun-supporting Americans argue that whilst the death toll might be in the thousands each year, they remain free. They would rather see all these innocent people die than the government restricting their rights to own a gun. They don’t mind the idea of armed teachers. Taking a gun to the shops, to the cinema or to a hospital is only natural for them.
How can that be an expression of freedom?
A hyper-violent, distrusting, paranoid society cannot be free. When going to a movie theater, or to a child’s nativity play, if you have to arm yourself to do to these things, then surely it is the ultimate expression of a deeply dystopian society. The stuff of nightmares.
I don’t understand why a nation on the forefront of science and technology can be so shackled and damaged by an out of date philosophy. It is horrendous that somehow the idea of being American has been corrupted and repackaged into this weird gun-toating ideology that stands as a pariah in western society.
I adore America. I hope it changes in my lifetime. I think it is important not only for people of the United States, but for the world.
I have to say that while I agree with you that your (I live in Canada) gun policies need to change urgently and into something resembling actual policy. I find it quite depressing to hear you join the snobbish and smug liberal ranks in depicting your country as a doomed civilization populated only by sick maniacs and religious crackpots. I’m constantly arguing in defence of your great nation, it’s culture, it’s Constitution and especially it’s people and here you are making the argument that the act of a few sick and depraved individuals is the proper way to judge an entire society!
We here in Canada have very strict regulation regarding guns. We’ve also had our share of maniacs intent on slaughter and sadly, our laws couldn’t stop them. Nor will pat downs and taking your shoes off before boarding a plane or domestic surveillance of your citizenry (and probably ours) stop the next terror motivated atrocity. So while stricter laws make mass murder a bit harder to commit, it can’t prevent it entirely, sadly. When it happens here, though, we don’t get all masochistic. We try to mourn as respectfully as possible and move on. I get that you’ve got a fight on your hands. I just don’t get throwing in the towel so easily.
I guess I’m just finding it hard to deal with so many people here and in your country insisting that stricter gun laws would’ve prevented such an atrocity. And I’m always tired and saddened by the amount of people willing to write off such a great country without even a proper fight. It seems to me that the real crackpots of the GOP are in the minority and yet so many liberals and other normally reasonable and insightful folks such as yourself good sir, have already thrown in the towel. It seems to me that too many of you have simply written off the average American of the working and middle classes as un-reachable intellectually and have simply decided to give up and just watch it burn from higher intellectual ground.Then again, what’s a hoser like me know about anything?
I’m not smug about anything. I’m an American and fully invested in this country’s future, whatever it may prove to be. But yes, I do believe that our democratic processes are no longer utilitarian or even effectively representative, and that capital has routed itself deep into the mechanisms by which the popular will once exerted itself. I believe that even the most common-sense reforms are less and less possible with each election cycle.
You can apply the adjective smug to that assessment. You can assert that it is a liberal argument, if you’d like.
But I disagree with you. I don’t even think I’m being cynical. I believe my stance is that of a practical realist. Unless the hold that capital itself has acquired on our governing processes can be broken, it is hard to imagine that any public goals more ambitious than profit itself can be achieved.
Sorry. I would love to offer something more affirming in your eyes. But given the last thirty years, I think that to do so I would need to be quite dishonest about the facts on the ground.
Does realism imply a throwing in of the towel, as you put it? Well, I know I am fully engaged in argument on issues. And this website is here, de facto. And I spend my time and energies telling stories that address those arguments and issues. Izzy Stone said that sometimes the only arguments worth having are the ones you know you are going to lose. Think about it.
And maybe spend a little less time worrying about who I am — or who you think I am — and addressing instead the content itself.
My apologies on the smug thing. I should have been more clear. What I meant to say was that your piece (not you personally) is the kind of gloomy picture that many smug, insecure, anti-American liberals here point to and say, “see they’re all a bunch blood-thirsty, superstitious, gun nuts !” I should have been more clear. Nothing I’ve read or watched or heard from you has given me the impression of smugness. Not that I could know one way or the other, not having met you. But again, I’m sorry for not making the distinction.
That said, I think I did address the content. And I’m suggesting that as horrific as it all is, perhaps it’s not quite as indicative or symbolic of America as all that your piece as well as the Wills piece seems to me to suggest.
But I know what you mean about engaging in a losing battle for the sake of argument itself. We probably wouldn’t have novels like 1984 without it. Apologies again for the misunderstanding.
Personally, I see myself as just a garden-variety sonofabitch.
I’ve been called that and worse usually by people…
Hey David google is failing me on this and I thought there is a possability you might know considering you covered the crime beat in a city with hundreds of murders using illegaly obtained occure every year. Where do the guns on the street come from? Are they all stolen from law abiding citizens? Or is their another answer to where these cheap hand guns, most accuired illegaly, come from that are shooting up our inner cities every day. I know that the Mexican cartles use guns manufactured in the United States, so I assume that means the guns on our streets are also manufactured here. It blows my mind that the gun manufacurers products are scatered across our streets, and no one has an answer to where the fuck they are coming from or how to slow down the leak of them to the wrong hands.
In Baltimore, by the time I was a reporter, the day of the cheap Saturday Night Special was ending. The semiauto handgun — not cheap, but readily available legally and on the street both — was the prevailing weapon. In that stretch, the police, to keep up with the trend, abandoned .38 revolvers in Baltimore and went to 9mm. Federal agents took on 10mm semiautos.
All of the guns came from reputable, above-the-line manufacturers. Corporate culture there, in every sense.
Some of what was used in crimes involved stolen weapons, some purchased. There was a routine dynamic by which drug crews in Baltimore would use a legal front — someone with no felony convictions — to buy large numbers of weapons from dealers and then turn those over to the crews. If anything came back on a gun used in a crime, the standard response was that the gun had been stolen earlier. On a few occasions, there were wholesale burglaries of local gun shops. And of course, the loopholes in the registration process involving gun shows and private sales made it even more problematic.
In short, it was easy to buy a gun on the street, or for criminals to get guns using fronts or going around formal registration processes. Guns are now ubiquitous in American cities. And the penalties for thwarting any residual registration logic are minimal. It’s easier to traffic in guns than in automobiles, in every sense.
Common sense usually fails the American public in a case like this, but never more so than in this incident. The truth could not be more plainly obvious: Nancy Lanza legally purchased a number of guns and excessive amount of ammunition because she wanted to protect herself. I’m sure her gun collection made her feel very safe — until it was used to murder her in her sleep.
Guns do not afford protection to individuals. The studies showing that gun owners are often killed using their own weapons are published over and over again, and yet somehow, the fantasy that MORE GUNS will prevent mass murders continues to be perpetrated.
Nor is protection from a tyrannical government any kind of justification for the on-going sale of this type of weaponry. Guess what, 2nd Amendment logic only applied in 1776 when the government was across the Atlantic Ocean and had to travel six months on a rickety sailboat to comb through the wilderness and shoot you with a musket that took ten minutes to reload. Nowadays, being that we’re living in a country that possesses the most sophisticated military machine in the history of humanity, it’s preposterous to imagine that any amount of guns one could collect would offer any semblance of protection from the American government. (How many guns did they have at Waco or Ruby Ridge?)
Yet our personal stockpiles of high-powered pseudo-military weapons do afford us the illusion of freedom and power as well as the ability to kill each other off…keeping our populace in a state of fear and paranoia that allows all sorts of questionable legislation a la the Patriot Act to creep through…but I’ll spare you the conspiracy theories.
Well, everybody get prepped for the NRA press conference on Friday by printing out this sadly accurate Tom Tomorrow piece…drink once for every time someone says “if only the teachers/janitors/children had been armed [and presumably had the kind of “Minority Report” technology that would forewarn them of a crime before it happened]”, drink twice for everytime someone claims that gun violence has fallen since the repeal of the assault weapons ban, finish your drink when they call for new NRA members to join the league of responsible weapon owners who are 100% certain that their weapons can never be stolen from them or otherwise accessed by a mentally ill child, neighbor, burglar, etc.
Put down your drink and have some glimmer of hope in humanity if anyone acknowledges even the slightest possibility that reasonable limitations on the purchase of long-range semi-auto weapons or high-volume mag clips might save a few lives, including those of “responsible & legal gun owners” like Nancy Lanza. But I wouldn’t hold my breathe for that one.
It helps to pose questions about the effectiveness of proposed policy changes.
Q. What would the effect be of moderate gun control: allowing people to buy a gun or two but not an arsenal, and requiring proper storage.
A. In the case at hand, Lanza could have circumvented usual storage systems (anything short of a safe), but it might have prevented escalation. We might have a parricide but not the tragedy at hand.
Q. Given that Lanza, by all indications was not a sociopath, contrary to various descriptions or like various other multiple shooters, what are the prospects that he could have been directed into the mental health system in advance of such a drastic action — i.e. without a criminal history and beyond the age where family could override his wishes?
A. It’s part of notions of freedom, not only in the USA, but in other democratic countries, to live with this kind of risk — and only take action after something bad — and sometimes REALLY bad has happened. However, if he had once been subjected to psychotherapy, say by side-effect of trying to buy marijuana, perhaps the result would be more favorable.
Here in Canada, a man sitting on a bus had a psychotic episode on a Greyhound bus and beheaded a fellow passenger — no apparent reason — and the public was — justifiably — outraged when he was held not criminally responsible, and also after a fairly short period of psychiatric treatment elegible for release.
Q. Was his mother’s fascination with guns in part a defence mechanism against her son?
A. Given what happened it seems at least possible,
Q. If he had used her weapons against others, but not against her, would she be arrested?
I’m not so certain that a couple of these assertions are true. First of all, it would be difficult if not impossible to know (short of medical records emerging) whether or not the shooter was a sociopath. It would seem that this was inherantly not the act of a sane person. But you can’t diagnose someone posthumously.
There have also been some reports that Nancy Lanza actually took her son to gun ranges and taught him to shoot — but there has been so much misinformation reported by the media on this incident that I would hesitate to assume this is fact. I don’t see why she would live in a house with him and an assortment of (apparently not very well-secured) artillery if she feared him, but we’ll never know that for sure.
I neglected to emphasize IN PART above. Nancy was clearly caught up in the mystique and culture of guns. The timing may be crucial — perhaps this was before her son’s violent tendencies were known — or if not some degree of cognitive dissonance is clearly involved with a woman who as a matter of public record tried to get her son locked up — despite not having committed a crime — kept weapons around within his grasp. The only rationale I can imagine is she didn’t extend the possible targets of his aggression to herself.
However, if her fascination predates all this, then it’s easier to see that events may have moved too fast for her. All of this is speculative. But my main idea remains. In the absence of competent medical health experts, we are left with what the mother told us, and that SEEMS to separate him from other cases. In another sense, however, there is the alleged effects of the aggressive surrounding culture. Jonathan Kellerman in his book Savage Spawn makes the case — supported by his own field research — that the triggers that create these situations are fully developed long before most children ever play a video game or grasp an ultra-violent TV show or movie. He suggests that by the time a child is 5 a trained observer — or indeed almost anyone who pays attention — can see what’s coming when the sole remaining ingredient — sufficient physical strength and perhaps firepower — is supplied. So ready access to guns escalates the carnage greatly but isn’t the reason for the incident in itself. Even a single handgun — which nobody proposes banning completely — would have allowed him to kill enough people to make headlines.
People often cite the “even a less powerful weapon could cause carnage” argument — and it is true — but I still say, cynically: not as much carnage in as little time.
Police were at this scene in what, 10 minutes, prompting the shooter to commit suicide? What if a few of those minutes had to be spent in reloading? Lives would be spared.
People can also cause carnage with knives, etc., but they cannot do so as thoroughly and quickly. (I’m sure everyone has already heard the comparison to the parallel incident in China on the same day, wherein a mentally ill men attacked 22 children and their teacher with a knife, resulting in multiple injuries but no death.)
Personally, in my pie in the sky fantasy, I would ban handguns as well, but barring that, why not start with the most powerful weapons that allow maximum murders in minimal time, and work back from there. We already have a basis for it…individuals are not allowed to own automatic weapons b/c of the vast scale of carnage they can wreak in seconds. Let’s just keep pushing back the access.
I am also in favor of universal mental health care involving regular screenings from childhood onward.
“Given that Lanza, by all indications was not a sociopath”
How so, Bruce? I haven’t seen very much in news reports that provides strong indications one way or the other about that. But if I had to guess I would probably say that he was. It’s difficult to see how someone could decide to kill as many small children as possible unless that person completely lacks any morals. And I think the best explanation for lacking these morals is that he was a sociopath. I don’t think people with asperger’s typically blame the world for the fact that they have the condition. And they certainly don’t normally associate small children with with this “world” that caused the fact that they have to deal with it. There needs to be something more. Psychopathy seems to fit (for those unaware, psychopath and sociopath mean the same thing regardless of whether you can find some stupid websites that say otherwise). But that’s just speculation.
It was a hypothetical question, and you do not grant the premise. You are quite entitled to refuse to. Nevertheless, the question remains about how much good mental health professionals could have done (without his consent). We are not required to choose between exaggerated anger brought on by Aspergers and sociopathy. HOWEVER Lanza’s mother apparently saw hope for him. As the story unfolds it will be interesting to see if there were typical sociopathical precursors (killing animals, for instance)., As I said in my original posting, we don’t grant the viewpoint of an Asperger person imputing aggression to almost all human interaction, but such persons are not stupid by any means, and capable of transferrance — attributing the problems they earlier suffered at the school to its current students, and wouldn’t necessarily see them as innocent.
Why we ask does anyone kill “innocent” people. The only answers are some approximate variation of the following,
A. They’re evil (sociopathic?) and killing is a pastime
B. For some reason, the targets are not really innocent
C. Due to mental illness, the targets are PERCEIVED as not being innocent.
The main answers advanced for Lanza are category A. Persons in Category A cannot be dealt with until they do something bad. Then the criminal “justice” system gets involved. Its effect is unlikely to be useful, but there’s a chance at least
We all reject Category B. That leaves use with C.
As I have pointed out in another posting, Jonathan Kellerman, in his book Savage Spawn, says that the deviant personalities of persons in Category A are fully formed by age 5. Kellerman doesn’t comment on Category C, since Lanza seems to be the first public shooting in this category (if indeed this a correct classification), but the main point, that VERY early intervention is crucial seems very sound in any case.
In particular despairing over popular culture is beside the point. The problem takes root in the home.
I live in Canada, where guns aren’t so readily available, although possession is not illegal. Certainly, the parent of an autistic child could (in principle) legally obtain one, although not a whole collection, and our laws require storage of guns in locked cabinets so that only the registered user can gain access.
Having said all that, I can still easily imagine an angry autistic child — and that’s what this “man” seems to have been in effect — acting out his aggression. Why the particular targets? Easy. Autism is in part a neurological problem where every interaction of the affected person with others is very painful. So the parent, and people at the school, being those who affected him most, could easily become identified with people that caused him pain. The fact that others don’t see it that way doesn’t matter — he does — he did and his mother knew it and tried to get him help — in the form of imprisonment! She knew that nothing less would control his behaviour given the current state of mental health facilities in Connecticut (and elsewhere). So getting bent out of shape about gun control or gun culture is quite beside the point. This is a tragedy with its origin in failure to provide for violent mental illness — when it has not yet manifested as criminal behaviour. Over in France, a psychiatrist has been given a short prison sentence for failing to alert authorities of the violent — homicidal in fact — proclivities of one of his patients. We have to regard the decision of his mother to engage in gun culture herself — knowing as she did how dangerous her son was — unbelievably unfortunate. No proposed gun control would prevent this situation.
What I don’t know is why we don’t have laws holding people responsible for their weapons (or do we, please correct me if I’m wrong).
For instance if you have a party and people get drunk there and then go drive and kill someone, you are partially liable. In my state (Illinois) a new law is going into effect January 1st that deals with minors and makes it a class 4 felony if the minor drinks in your home and then causes grave harm to someone as a result.
The same should be true for a gun. If someone uses your gun to commit a crime, you should be held liable. And when I say liable, I mean it should be a felony and come with a mandatory jail sentence. Maybe it would be a lesser charge if the weapon was stolen, but you would have to prove that they went to extraordinary means to do that, that it wasn’t just sitting around in the open.
This, of course, should be done in addition to the other reforms that are needed, all of which David and others have mentioned.
There are plenty of laws for murder and manslaughter. That isn’t the hole in the construct.
Albeit it, as I have argued, the stand-your-ground abominations in twenty of our states have now eviscerated some of the personal responsibility inherent in the use of a firearm or other weapon. That much is true. We could certainly take your suggestion and repeal those at the first opportunity.
Amazing how for years the NRA preached that guns were not the responsible element for violence, but that people were, and we should simply punish the people who took life unnecessarily. Then they advocated and sponsored a legal construct that eschewed any responsible by people who choose to value property or real estate or pride and in standing their ground, elect to use lethal force. As I’ve said, guns no longer kill people, and neither do people. Now, incredibly, the NRA’s moral stance has become: Shit happens.
While by heart is absolutely breaking for the victims of this immense tragedy, I still can’t help but be baffled by the logic at play here. What idyllic utopia do we live in where we could ever effectively eliminate gun ownership from our population. You all do realize that there’s already a MASSIVE underground arms trade right here in America and it’s NOT going to stop if we start taking away guns…in fact, it’s only going to grow larger. What’s really ironic to me is that liberal logic dictates that with almost any vice (prostitution, drugs, etc) legalization will lead to better control and accountability, because the fact that they’re outlawed and unregulated is what causes underground economies and black markets to emerge in the first place along with the violence and lawlessness that accompanies them. But then….for some baffling reason, guns are treated completely differently. How does that logic even remotely make sense?? If gun ownership is outlawed, there will undoubtedly be a huge increase in black market gun trade and the violence surround it, just like with drugs or anything else. And do you know who’s going to have guns then?? Just the shady individuals willing to engage in illegal gun trade. It would literally be the greatest criminal opportunity ever! Think about it from a criminal’s perspective: “So…I’ve still got a gun cause I bought it illegally…it can’t be traced because I didn’t buy it legally….no one else has guns except my equally criminal cohorts, and I’m not robbing or attacking them….THIS IS PERFECT!!”
Seriously, if any of you can explain how that situation wouldn’t happen…I’m all ears. I want tragedies like this to end as much as anyone…but trying to outlaw gun ownership is the most unrealistic way I can possibly imagine.
Begin by engaging with the issue as if you are more than a binary-code computer.
No one is arguing about eliminating gun ownership. Regulating gun ownership? Providing as much or more oversight on firearms as we do on, say, motor vehicles as a society? Why not? Just for laughs.
Explain how other Western democracies, by making possession of unlicensed firearms a significant crime that results in significant incarceration, have not been transformed into free-fire zones, and how their murder rates are so small in comparison to our own. The U.K. and Japan have organized criminal elements and they even have a relevant incidence of violent assault. But given the sanctions involved in owning or using an unlicensed firearm in those countries, they don’t have our homicide rate. Nothing close. And you still don’t see any possibilities? Okay. No problem. Let’s start a pool on which state will be the next to have a school or shopping mall shot to pieces. Because you’ve consigned yourself and your society to that inevitability.
John, you are ignoring the effect that criminalizing a product has on its price, i.e. the price goes up, way up. And, important distinctions exist between illegal markets for drugs/prostitution and guns. The most commonly used illegal drugs are, by comparison, cheap to manufacture, easy to conceal and easy to transport. Prostitution requires no capital investment whatsoever, just an agreement between two consenting adults. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and the ammunition that they fire, are another matter altogether. They are far more expensive to manufacture, expensive to transport and difficult to conceal. I’ve never heard of a gun mule smuggling an AK-47 in his rectum.
While there would be a long period of transition, a gun prohibition would result in guns being far more scarce and far more expensive. You are almost certainly right that an illegal gun market would continue to exist, but you ignore that, over time, the cost of guns would become prohibitively expensive for the “common criminal.” You flatter yourself to presume that a criminal who could afford the exorbitant cost of an illegal gun in such a market would use it to steal $20 out of your wallet or to break into your home to steal your 46″ LCD.
If there are fewer guns on the street and fewer bullets, less of us will die from a gun shot. Period. There’s a lot of truth in Chris Rock’s joke about how a bullet should cost $5,000 because there would be no more innocent bystanders.
And when the cost of being unlicensed for possession of a semiautomatic handgun or automatic assault weapon and being caught with that firearm is a mandatory sentence of significance then the risk of a felon or someone subject to an exparte order or someone flagged by mental health professionals is at least proportional to the threat to society.
None of this guarantees the prevention of all shooting deaths. What could?
But all of it makes the over-armament and injudicious armament of our society more problematic. As it is more problematic in any number of civilized, developed societies. All of which operate as democracies and are under no apparent threat of tyranny. Somehow, Great Britain and Canada and the U.K. and two dozen other developed nations manage to mitigate an absolute right bear arms and remain representative governance.
The point is to begin to reduce the over-consumption and easy availability of weapons.
License them. Regulate them. Assure a minimum of safety training. Require insurance, as with vehicles, perhaps. Raise the cost of purchase. And raise the penalties significantly for operating outside of these processes. And see what happens. If the rate of violence isn’t effected significantly, then there is something to argue, perhaps. But until we attempt to do what other countries have done successfully, then what argument are gun-rights advocates making right now? Other than that we value the individual imperative to own a weapon free from all societal scrutiny more than the human lives that actually comprise that society.
Prescription medication, which the killer was probably on at some point, is a way worse problem than guns.
I can’t remember the last time I heard about someone using prescription medicines to take the lives of 28 other people. Or even the last time I remember a homicide with prescription medicine as the murder weapon. And I covered crime in a major American city for a dozen years.
Guns? Yeah. They kill people every goddamn day. hundreds in my city, and thousands in my state and tens of thousands in the country at large. And you want to stumble into this discussion and gibber about prescription drugs?
When it comes to refusing to acknowledge the actual cost of the gun culture in America, there are people who will blurt out damn near any random notion so as to avoid the inevitable. You know what else hasn’t killed as many Americans as guns? Knives. And baseball bats. And tire irons. And fists. Fact is, without firearms it isn’t easy at all to take human life. It’s rather hard, actually. And damn near impossible to take a couple dozen of them in one incident, to be sure.
Prescription drugs? That’s where you want to put the blame here?
Just when I think the internet has taught me all it can about the human capacity for delusion, someone else arrives with something that pushes the envelope ever further. Congratulations on seizing this day.
What he wrote and your quite appropriate response reminds me of one of my favorite quotes that I heard Mark Shields say many years ago: “Stupidity is not a victimless crime.”
Glad to be of service. I don’t own a gun and don’t know why anyone would ever want to own a gun because nothing good ever comes out of using it…ever. It’s probably one of the few things whose use almost always ends in negative consequences. The point I was trying to make was that, in this situation, the killer seems to be mentally ill and I would bet that it was some combination of medications he was on or had been on that caused him to kill little kids. I have a hard time believing a human being would up and do something like this without being on some kind of medication, but I could definitely be wrong.
Who knows, maybe it’s the right time to ban guns. The world would be a better place without them, I’m pretty sure.
Not trying to be an ahole or sarcastic at all in asking this question…how do you think it should be done? Should all guns be banned or only specific kinds? I would bet that you’d only be able to realistically ban certain kinds, but who knows.
One more point on prescription drugs and guns. The gun problem has been around for a lot longer than the prescription drug problem. It would be way easier to stop the production of prescription drugs that cause already unstable people to become completely insane than it would be to ban guns.
I can’t even begin to address this.
Actually, the human capacity for intoxication and substance abuse predates the proliferation of semiautomatic weaponry and multi-round clips. There has always been mental instability, and there have always been those lost to drug abuse and alcohol. The highest rates of morphine use for example, per capita, came in the decades after the Civil War in this country.
In short, people are people. And some of them have the capacity for mental dysfunction and violence, with or without substance abuse.
But only in the present America are semiautomatic handguns with 18 and 19 and 22 bullets in a clip the standard, obtainable armament. Occam’s razor. Shortest distance between two points and all that. Focus, brother, focus.
First off, I’d just like to say I think it’s neat that you’re even willing to come on here and talk with idiots like me and the other posters here for no reason other than the actual argument itself.
And, I’ll add one more final idiotic point. Maybe people don’t want to give up their guns because they represent independence. I DON’T mean the actual gun itself or the use of it, but more the idea of the person being independent of the state. If somebody is a law abiding gun owner, then I can completely see why they don’t understand why what some whacko does has any effect on what they can do.
I remember one time you said something about the problem of the 21st century being people having to figure out how to live together in cities. It seems to me (and this might be stupid) that the whole gun control issue is just another manifestation of that problem. There seem to be people who want to hold on to their guns simply because they represent part of their identity and their independence that they don’t want to give up just because some other people say they should (I’m speaking about “fly over” country here…where I live). So, to them, this debate isn’t about guns at all. It’s about not being told what to do by people that they’ve never met and who they feel don’t understand them or how they live.
If independence requires the meaningless deaths of school children and mall shoppers on a regular basis, then the very value that one might ascribe to liberty has been sullied beyond any real worth.
Fuck some ideologue’s puritanistic belief in platonic liberty. I value the republic. I value the idea of a society in which we pursue those policies and purposes that are to the health and benefit of the commonweal. And I value a process of determining our direction through electoral contests that determine the popular will. At this moment, our electoral process has been exploited by an excess of money and influence, by non-representative voting structures and by gerrymandering. So yes, it’s an open question whether the republican form can any longer approximate a populist or utilitarian sentiment. But that’s an argument for elsewhere.
The point of nationhood is not merely to provide meaningful liberty to the lives of its citizens, but also to create a viable, functional state in which the welfare of all is considered and addressed. These two goals are sometimes in concert, but sometimes in conflict. To the extent that the goals of the society require individuals to relinquish basic and essential human freedoms, those goals must be reconsidered, I agree. But to the extent that someone’s idea of personal liberty requires the certain and constant pain and brutalization of others less fortunate, and to the extent that someone is unwilling to exchange even a modicum of personal independence to benefit the commonweal, I no longer have much use for the term liberty.
This is a republic. Citizenship is not merely a declaration of rights and desires. Responsibility is also a fundamental. And we are responsible not merely for ourselves, but for our fellow citizens and for the health and viability of our nation. The libertarian assertion of liberty and little else has another practical name. It is selfishness. Yes, we all have a right to be selfish. But in the matter of gun control, or taxation, or shared service to the state, we also have a responsibility to be decidedly unselfish. It’s in the negotiation between those two ideals — liberty and responsibility — that a great society can be built. Nothing of value can be achieved at either extreme.
The last two paragraphs of this response should be printed on parchment in Philadelphia next to the Constitution.
“Guns? Yeah. They kill people every goddamn day. hundreds in my city, and thousands in my state and tens of thousands in the country at large. And you want to stumble into this discussion and gibber about prescription drugs?
When it comes to refusing to acknowledge the actual cost of the gun culture in America, there are people who will blurt out damn near any random notion so as to avoid the inevitable. You know what else hasn’t killed as many Americans as guns? Knives. And baseball bats. And tire irons. And fists. Fact is, without firearms it isn’t easy at all to take human life. It’s rather hard, actually”
It’s interesting. I think you could substitute the phrase “illegal drugs” for “guns” and “the drug culture” for “the gun culture” in that passage and it would be just as accurate and convey pretty much the same thing (though obviously, you are right about the absurdity of Jonathan’s suggestion that prescription drugs are comparable). I’m fairly surprised that you are such a strong believer in gun laws given your strong opinions about the ineffectiveness of drug laws and the negative effects that result from them. Why do you think gun laws would be any more successful? If people want guns they will still find ways to get them if they were outlawed and there would be a very large black market where they are manufactured and sold illegally, just like with drugs. And isn’t there some similarities between your condemnation of “the gun culture” and when society uses the war against drugs really as a war against those in the inner-city? You’ve said that’s basically what the drug war is. In many ways, I think the war against guns parallels this by really going after the ways of life of people who live in rural areas. Gun control advocates, of course, are primarily in urban areas.
One difference right off the bat that you ignore entirely:
The abuse of drugs and alcohol damages those who engage in that abuse.
The abuse of firearms kills people — in the most recent case, small children — who never do anything to opt into that abusive and destructive behavior.
Other differences could follow, but that one alone is so profound that there isn’t enough left of your analogy to proceed in any serious fashion.
But that difference, as important as it is, would seem to only be relevant as to the desirability of a certain level of toughness in the drug or gun laws when you assume they do what is intended. I agree that it would be important to take into account the distinction you make in a hypothetical situation where these laws all achieve the desired result. But I think you and I both agree that drug laws are ineffective. So the logical question to ask is wouldn’t gun laws that are similar to the drug laws have pretty much the same result. Wouldn’t the same forces that prevent the drug laws from really reducing drug use also prevent many gun laws from reducing gun use? And wouldn’t this create a similar situation that exists with the drug laws in which there is a huge black market in the manufacture and sale of the product that results in a level of crime that may cause worse effects than the product itself?
I’m not saying it wouldn’t necessarily be of some use to ban semi-automatic weapons since it may make it somewhat less likely that someone Adam Lanza would have that particular weapon available when setting forth on a mass shooting. But I doubt any law more general than that would be effective since people will still find ways to get their hands on weapons, just like they do with drugs. If there is sufficient demand for something there is almost certainly going to be a supply, whether it is legal or not. And it’s more difficult to regulate things that are illegal.
Are laws that require the operators of motor vehicles ineffective? The education, testing and licensing process for all drivers and the registration of all vehicles has succeeded in rationalizing the responsible use of vehicles throughout the world. Why should a lethal weapon require less to own and legally operate?
And in that process, why can’t some basic screening of capability and responsibility for gun ownership be achieved?
Drunk drivers who are convicted repeatedly in one state can try to illegally obtain licensing in another. Some do. But most have their ability to drive impaired until they demonstrate responsible behavior. Is it so inconceivable to imagine a national culture in which the legal sale and ownership of a lethal weapon requires basic requisites of responsibility? Or further, that amid the licensing and registration of gun ownership, sanctions against those possessing firearms could be substantial enough that the risks of obtaining a gun without being licensed for that weapon are substantial and forbidding? Will some criminals get guns anyway? Of course. Will those criminals be liable and vulnerable for mandatory sentencing and significant penalty if they are caught with a proscribed weapon? Now you have given law enforcement an effective weapon, while at the same time allowing citizens who pass background checks, have no felony convictions, and have been trained and licensed in the safe use of a weapon are not impeded in their ownership of a weapon. Nothing of the above differs in any basic way from the manner in which we look at the responsibilities of operating a motor vehicle. Albeit it, with weapons we add a prohibition for anyone with a criminal history.
Much else can of course be undertaken. Discussions about limiting the magazine capacities automatic and semiautomatic handguns are wholly relevant. But even a basic licensing structure would begin a process by which more of the nation’s firearms were registered to trained and licensed owners, accountable to society for basic safety and responsibility issues.
Are there people who drive unregistered cars or drive without a license? Do some people have forged or expired registrations? Of course. But the greater majority of drivers operate under considerable incentive to avoid conflict with the state by obtaining basic driver education, by licensing themselves as drivers and by licensing their vehicles. How are we capable of a basic framework of accountability with motor vehicles, but so incapable of licensing and registering lethal weaponry?
The drug prohibition doesn’t work because it is attempting to legislate human desire out of existence, thereby creating a self-sustaining underground economy. But proper licensing, training and registration of all gun ownership is not trying to prohibit the possession of firearms by the vast majority of users. It is trying to regulate such. This is fundamentally different.
Would criminals resort to an illegal market for guns? Of course, but if responsible gun owners were willing to accept an accountable standard of gun licensing and training, then sanctions against those caught operating outside of that standard could become a meaningful tool for law enforcement. Just as those operating a motor vehicle without license and without accurate registration risks real prosecutorial sanction and penalty in our society, so would those operating outside the legal process with regard to firearms. At which point, a gun possession charge against an unlicensed owner carries real bite as it does in other, more rational countries.
It is decidedly not analogous to a drug prohibition in which there is no legal outlet for the licensed use of banned substances. The drug prohibition isn’t constructed to drive users to a sanctioned and licensed process for the consumption and possession of drugs. It is a blanket prohibition. A legal framework for responsible gun ownership that allows citizens to maintain firearms responsibly while making those operating outside the system vulnerable to real criminal prosecution is an altogether different proposition.
Look at the rates of homicide and gun violence in other developed countries. Look at how three quarters of the mass killings by firearms are American events. Look at how seriously other societies take unlicensed gun ownership and how this results in substantially less tragedy. This isn’t rocket science. We do it with cars, for god’s sake.
Good points. But I think a problem with the analogy to drivers licenses is that, with the exception of drunk drivers, the purpose of the licensing process isn’t really to exclude people who would cause harm. I have never heard of anyone who wasn’t able to pass the requirements necessary for a drivers license and therefore went their life without one. The purpose of licensing requirements is to make sure that drivers have the training to drive responsibility. There can certainly be benefits to this with gun training requirements. And I’m not opposed to them so long as they are reasonable. But I think all of the mass shootings that have happened (as well as nearly all homicides in general) were not the result of people not being aware in how to use a gun responsibly. They were results of a decision to use the gun for an improper purpose.
If gun laws are going to be successful it seems to me that most of the time it is going to be because they successfully excluded certain people from possessing them, such as criminals and the mentally ill. Unlike drivers licenses, there will be a large population of people who won’t be able to meet the requirements and thus will try to own guns illegally. Drunk drivers are not really comparable since they often don’t disagree with the need to prevent them from being on the road. So the question is whether the laws can really be effective very often in preventing someone who really wants a weapon from getting it. I’m skeptical about that. In the Connecticut shootings, for example, the weapons belonged to Lanza’s mother and she would almost certainly have passed any licensing and training requirements that existed. Is it possible that part of that training would have somehow convinced her not to leave the guns within reach of her son? I suppose. But it seems unlikely given that from all reports she was a smart person who one would think would have figured this out on her own if she was going to. And apparently she didn’t.
The failure isn’t in the analogy. The failure is in your unwillingness to imagine a construct that other Western democracies have already achieved.
Amid the selfish libertarian cult that surrounds our current interpretations of the Second Amendment, guns are largely unregulated. They are available to all, regardless of criminality, mental status or demonstrated citizenship and responsibility. And Americans are the most murderous people in the developed world.
Automobiles, which have utility beyond taking life but can be dangerous, too, if improperly handled, are carefully regulated, registered, monitored. Automobile ownership is subject to basic training, to insurance requirements, to rules of the road. You can’t operate a vehicle in certain areas and at certain times. You can’t operate a vehicle at certain hours if you are of a certain age in some states. If you operate a vehicle recklessly, your license can be suspended. There are sanctions that penalize poor drivers financially and in extreme cases, criminally. There are financial incentives to operating a vehicle responsibly.
Our libertarian fetishism and the selfishness of the gun lobby and a minority of gun owners has minimalized any regulation of firearm ownership in America. You take my analogy and apply the standard of regulation that we apply to vehicles and you begin to argue that it would be insufficient to mitigate much of the violence that we endure as a society.
But unlike with motor vehicles, which most adults require in order to successfully navigate productive lives and which are a valued and necessary tool for citizens with a criminal past or with mental health issues, guns could be subject to more careful and considered restriction. And more substantial penalty. Our sanctions against those who obtain and use unregistered vehicles or drive without a state-issued license are moderate, and mostly financial in the form of fines. There are not unlicensed drivers in jail. Even drunk driving is usually punished by license restrictions and probation and increased insurance rates — at least to such point as drivers prove themselves to be repeat offenders. That is the societal sanction for irresponsible use of a motor vehicle.
Is it so impossible to imagine those with felony convictions, or those subject to court orders because of domestic violence ex partes, or those people who have expressed significant violent thoughts to mental health professionals, or others who are not prime candidates for gun ownership — and again, handguns are not of a comparable utility in our society to motor vehicles — being prohibited from the possession of weapons and for the sanctions against such possession being significant and involving mandatory incarceration? Is such a society somehow draconian in your sight? Because possession of an unlicensed firearm in the United Kingdom or Japan, for example, carries with it such penalty that even the criminal element eschews the cult of the gun. And the corresponding murder rate in those societies is miniscule when compared to our own.
Your problem here is that you can only imagine the world that American naivete and selfishness has constructed. National gun control would preserve the rights of responsible owners to maintain firearms but create a new law enforcement logic by which the mere discovery of an unlicensed firearm would result in aggressive sanction. Are you going to continue to tell me that criminals will still get guns? Some will. But the goal isn’t to eliminate gun violence in a country now awash in weapons; the practical goal is to reduce that violence. And many will adjust behavior based on the practical risks of being caught with a gun. They do in other societies, without question.
Your problem is you have to argue away the healthier and more restrictive gun culture in any number of Western democracies. And further, to acknowledge that the U.S. is alone among those democracies in undertaking less regulation, licensing and safety training for firearms than for motor vehicles. For chrissake, we demand that all vehicles carry insurance to provide any innocent party harmed by that vehicle with a means of medical recompense. Guns, no. Not even that.
And of course, everything I just wrote is apostasy to the American cult of the gun. No doubt. But that brings us right back to Gary Wills and to our Moloch. There are societal values that are more important than the unimpeded and rapid possession of a firearm up to and including automatic weapons by just about anyone at anytime. Human life, for starters.
Quoting a relevant tweet (@dannyzucker)
“Scientists are baffled by Canadians’ ability to watch movies and play video games and not shoot each other.”
You’re not of the opinion that I have anywhere suggested that violence in media has any proven causal relationship to actual violence? I do not believe that the concerns about depictions of violence in popular narrative are anything other than an off-point distraction from the fundamental issue of gun control. I never have.
My comments about the television drama were made not to suggest any causal link, but simply and directly to suggest that our choice of popular narratives was reflective of our antisocial, libertarian philsophies, our growing contempt of democratic self-rule, and our gathered fears.
Spot on. (And we’re not even in a brothel)
Assault weapons have to be banned. I can walk into our gun store/range and purchase one of these today. It’s insane.
Reasonable people will not disagree with a word you’ve written here.
The gun show loopholes have to be closed.
It does not comfort me that our president has put Biden in charge of the effort. If memory serves, he was the idiot that authored the Omnibus crime bill that layered more time for non-violent drug users. I have no confidence in him.
Assault weapon is of course an ambiguous term. Most of these mass killings have not involved automatic weapons, but semiautomatics. Meaning, the standard for a moderately-priced handgun in this country is now sufficient armament to kill dozens. When handguns have clips of 18 or 20 bullets and the revolver is no longer the pre-eminent handgun — as has been the case for a couple generations now — then eliminating so-called “assault” weapons is a semantic absurdity.
How about a law requiring handgun manufacturers to limit the magazines of all firearms sold in the U.S. to eight or ten rounds? And to make possession of larger magazines a felony? You still have the problem of quick reloads on semiauto pistols. Capacity and speed of reload is what made the revolver obsolete. But in order to prevent the kind of mass killing in which the U.S. is the world’s preeminent leader — with three-quarters of all such incidents within our borders — something is going to have to be done to reduce the capacity of handgun magazines.
“Assault” rifles are a nice-sounding all-purpose bogeyman. But very few of the mass killings actually involve fully automatic assault weapons. Semiauto is the weapon of choice. And the average handgun is now that — with a clip of anywhere between 15 to 22 rounds. That’s the escalation in our society that is going to have to be addressed.
[…] David Simon says it all […]
most unfortunately, what we are all witnessing on multiple layers and levels and events each day, is the slow yet certain implosion of a very unhealthy society. mass arrogance and ignorance combined results in a powerfully negative force and over time this manifests itself in myriad ways. within u.s. society there has been an increasing disconnect in between self awareness and our interconnectedness and sense of community and togetherness. the shifting (and outrageously displaced/misplaced) values and principles within u.s. society relate directly with what i suggest is extreme capitalistic and militant consciousness (and practice) that manifests itself through a dichotomous oppositional and binary mentality. we see this through fear of the ‘other’, through the paralysis of political dialogue and debate, through the blind followers of 24/7 news propaganda and social networking sites, through the notion that one’s only option to protect oneself/family is through carrying a gun (!), and so forth.
this has been an insidious and dialectic socialization process that very sadly, shows a pervading consciousness and practice within u.s. society that is based on and around fear, ignorance, blame, superficiality, lack of accountability, lack of critical thinking skills, and lack of communication skills, manifested further through the practice and ethos of individualism, materialism, consumerism, fundamentalism, and militarism (all wrapped up nicely in those wonderful sounding themes of “democracy”, “capitalism” and “patriotism”.
with regards to this latest unnecessary and violent event in the u.s., the majority of responses from citizens, government, lobby groups, and the media highlight just how painfully ill this society is and the unfortunate ongoing implosion. how did u.s. society get to this point? we will all have varied deconstructions and reflections on this.
i respectfully thank some of you in the postings above for some well thought out analyses (and venting). this helps my own journey of reflection, analysis and contributions forward. knowing that there are some critically thinking, educated, and compassionate people out there does provide some sense of togetherness in what otherwise is a completely hopeless implosion (nice title for your blog site, by the way, david, well done). i usually make a point not to contribute to such online blog commentary but have chosen to share a few thoughts here. thank you and all the best as you all continue making many small, constructive and positive contributions along the journey. david, thanks for sharing gary wills, “our moloch” piece, as well. spot on. cheers.
“I should have walked away from the computer, and left this to folks more measured and thoughtful.”
Mr. Simon – I wouldn’t be reading your words if I had not been introduced to your writing through “The Wire”, “‘Treme”, and so on. They are valuable words and need to be heard.
Please keep writing and talking.
“More than that, it’s a well-executed and starkly visual rendering of the collective fear that governs us. We know that they’re out there: The less human. The poor. The godless. The frightening other. And they want what we have, they are going to take what we have, and they understand nothing save for a well-placed bullet.”
Spot on Mr. Simon. I believe the libertarianized, cowboy America mentality that pits one against all has quite a bit to do with the types of actions like this shooting, but also the gun enthusiast’s knee-jerk reaction to ask for more arms at a time like this. When we “otherize” everyone and everything, we loose touch with the humanity of those others, and their killing, isolation, and contempt become entirely too easy. That isn’t a society at all.
All I can do is say Thank You. I stared at my computer too, but in the end, words failed me. Thank you for saying what so many of us have tried to verbalize these last few days. We failed miserably as we devolved into some amalgamation of rage and sorrow, and not just for the children we lost on Friday but the ones we lose every day in my city to bleed out on a street corner.
I am confused by America and Americans often, although I have lived here all my life. I grew up in a period of history in which we believed we could change the world. This, however, was not the kind of change we had in mind. I recently had a birthday and upon reflection was stunned by the sense that we seem to have gone backwards, no, it’s probably more like sideways-still discussing things I thought we’d have done with by now if we had any sense and civility: intractable poverty, war on drugs, basic civil rights, medical care, contraception and yes, absolutely, guns.
One FBI consultant on one of the news stations said that allowing a gun like that at all, nevermind all the rounds of ammunition, in a rational society was no more reasonable than saying that everyone could drive a tank with ordinance down a city street with impunity. My great confusion comes in reading comments from people who don’t see the logic in that statement, and it is at that point that I am ashamed of us.
I simply will never understand it, but have lost hope that the changes my generation expected to see by this time in our lives will be seen in my lifetime and that loss of hope and optimism is dreadful.
If there is anything that is infinitely more sick than mentally disabled mass murderer’s carrying out their fantasies, it would definitely be our culture’s expectation of what follows for them and their actions. Regardless of whether or not they are caught and brought to trial or are just killed on the spot either by their own hand or some other, they are guaranteed fame. We as a society act as though we hate people who perpetrate these acts, but we will be damned if we don’t learn every fucking last thing about them and their lives afterwards. If there is any power that would convince a psychopath that homicide on a massive scale would be worth the effort, it is the power of the recognition of the masses. What better way to validate your pain, and as a psychopath you don’t even have to do much work. A quick walk or drive to the local mall or elementary school in this case, a few pulls of the trigger, and the mass media does all the work of making your fucked up existence available in many different formats of in depth examination, from print to television. The classic test is to ask what a single name of one of the victims of this atrocity was, and then when no answer can be given to then ask what the name of the psychopath was. It’s an easy answer, not because of the circumstances, but because right now at this very moment people in the over saturated and necrotic mass media industry are trying to find their next reporting or corresponding position or even making it to anchor, a journey as you very well know has to do with the strength of your portfolio and demo reel. “Thank you New York Times for this consideration of my application, here is my demo reel, most notably with my brilliant emotionally charged (if I do say so myself) correspondence from my trip to Newtown, Connecticut in quicktime video format. In the wake of this tragedy, I believe I gave my best work. I really do look empathetic don’t I?” It’s disgusting. Hundreds and hundreds of voices all broadcast with fake empathy and practiced remorse. All seemingly believing that as long as they make the illusion of caring real enough, they will continue to keep their jobs, and even get better ones.
When we stop guaranteeing psychopaths that we will ALL be ready to listen ONLY after they have committed an atrocity is when these atrocities will diminish.
I agree wholeheartedly. Cable news is perfectly tailored to this type of tragedy because it not only provides melodrama (and presumably ratings) but also takes time away from more substantive discussions (foreign affairs, budget, etc.) on which the average cable news anchor is virtually clueless. This is obviously news and should be covered but the way it’s handled now is to suck every last possible news angle out of it until we’re all saturated with it and it’s lost all meaning. And that’s a real disservice to the country. Factor in the fact that, as you mentioned, it bestows celebrity on a person for committing a heinous act, and the whole situation is enough to make you sick.
What to do about this culture of violence?
Some blame Hollywood.
Our popular culture isn’t blameless in this. I’m as anti-censorship as anybody you’ll find, but the fact is that we now have video games with names like “Bodycount” that seek to bring ever more realistic violence into our homes and in front of our children, simulating what it’s like to be a killer without showing any of the consequences of all that killing. Something like that can’t possibly be helping this problem.
While even one of these incidents is one too many, the old song-and-dance of blaming movie violence or violent video games as somehow being culpable (or in the past Tipper Gore and rock music because she didn’t want to explain to her 12-year-old daughter what a virgin was) for the desensitizing of the culture is a straw man. I don’t support the depiction of violence in movies for the sake of depicting it, but it can be depicted quite differently. The violence in a piece of shit such as Taken is more pointless than in Reservoir Dogs where you remember it being more violent than it actually is because the filmmaking is so much more powerful. How many will swear that they see Michael Madsen cut off the cop’s ear? A lot, but it’s never shown. My point is that as many awful shootings as we’ve endured where young white males who may or may not have followed certain films or played certain games, that’s actually a small percentage compared to the number of people who saw the same film and played the same games and don’t go out killing people in mass slayings. That’s because most people can separate reality from fiction. When I think of the images and incidents that affected me as a child, they all came from the news, not from entertainment. I had nightmares of the images of the masked Palestinian gunmen leaning over the balcony at the Munich Olympics. Hearing about local murders where I lived got to me more than made-up ones. I grew up with the knowledge of our country’s history of assassinations and then as I was springing into adolescence, I got to live through in rather quick succession the assassinations of John Lennon and Anwar Sadat and the attempts on Reagan and Pope John Paul II. These events desensitized me. Living near the Edmond post office massacre got me a little. Ironically, though I live in OKC, on the day of the bombing, which did shock me, I was driving to Dallas to see the restored re-release of The Wild Bunch. 9/11 shook me. I don’t play video games — not since the Atari 2600 at least — but movies never get to me that way. That’s where the failures of our mental health system come in. “He was quiet and kept to himself.” Wouldn’t it be interesting if just once one of these killers were described as outgoing, gregarious and the life of the party? Ain’t gonna happen.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming “the media” in general, and I’m certainly not saying that this is the main factor in a tragedy such as this. As you mention, it’s all about depiction. I (like most others here I assume) was a big fan of “The Wire” and also other HBO shows or movies with heavy violent content. What I’m talking about specifically are first-person shooter video games that don’t just “depict” violence but put a person in a first-person simulation of actually INFLICTING the violence. This is a long cry from the Atari or Nintendo games that we played growing up. There are many other factors that are more at play than this one, and I have no idea whether this particular gunman played these games. But when video games portray gun violence in such a vivid and “realistic” way (minus the consequences of course), it can only further saturate us and numb us to the prevalence of gun violence in this country. That certainly can’t help.
No, whatever it is, it is not video game culture.
If there was some relationship between first person video games and gun violence, then one should expect to be able to a correlation between video game sales and gun violence.
No such correlation exists. See this Washington Post article: http://tinyurl.com/bvy77td
or for a more broad approach, this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uwAo8lcAC4
Besides that, humans have had no problem being violent prior to the existence of mass media.
Agree, personally. I am very uninterested in trying to regulate the imagery and narrative that exists. That may sound self-serving for a writer, but I think it simply practical. Short of yelling fire in a crowded theater, all speech is inherently protected. You can offer age restrictions, as films and video games and pornography currently do. But beyond that, ideas and imagery are beyond our capacity to regulate in a free society. And other western cultures — Europe and Canada, for example — consume their share of violent and provocative imagery and narrative without becoming abattoirs as our society has. Arguing over imagery may feel ennobled and relevant, but it is, practically, an attenuated distraction.
Guns are the actual implements through which the bullets spin, and the bullets are the actual projectiles that end lives.
Let’s begin with the actual, shall we?
I have written in a previous post on this board concerning my belief that the NRA is a dangerously out of control organization and has been for some time. They operate on paranoia and behave as bullies in the public arena. It is because of the NRA that assault weapons are legal, that the high capacity magazines are legal. Back in the 80’s, the NRA pushed for the manufacture of plastic guns that could evade metal detectors and “cop killer” bullets – such geniuses they are. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed on that one.
If you want to make a utilitarian first step towards sanity on this issue, then the best idea would be to transform the NRA into a sick joke – which is what they are – in the minds of the public. In this way perhaps they will lose membership and therefore lose funding and therefore lose political power. The organization cannot be tolerated anymore in its current state.
Unfortunately, I do not see how the gun culture can ever be decoupled from right wing politics and as such they will always find funding whether it be of the Koch variety or from some other libertarian group fighting for their “freedom” to destroy everything in the name of their personal greed. But we should at least try.
I am hopeful that maybe we have reached a tipping point with the majority finally waking up to the destruction that right wing politics and libertarianism has brought to America over the past 30 years. Everything the libertarians touch seems to turn to shit, leaving all of us to pay the price while a few very wealthy people walk off the stage cackling with laughter. Ideologies die hard though, so I am not holding my breath.
Somewhere along the line the conversation shifted from “pro-gun rights” to “pro-gun”, and one of the NRA crowd’s major goals seems to have been to saturate the country with as many firearms as possible (and increasingly deadly ones at that) and to proscribe guns as a placebo to virtually any problem. It’s akin to a pro-choice person wandering the streets randomly telling pregnant women that they should get abortions. And, in my opinion, it weakens whatever legitimate 2nd Amendment arguments are out there.
Mark Ames writes here about the NRA as a political operative. http://www.nsfwcorp.com/dispatch/newtown
[…] killing as a response to problems, a culture that has basically decided that mass shootings are just part of the cost of doing business in America. Unlike many libertarians, I am fine with a ban on […]
Don’t you give the literary stink-eye to that badly written zombie show. I’ll remind you that you are the one person most singularly responsible for broadcasting Avon, Stringer, Omar, and Marlo to our country’s children. Intended or not, the kids saw it and those violent characters are seen as heroes, even now. They don’t seem to idolize Lester.
Maybe that speaks to an underlying problem — something about instant gratification, speaking first and thinking second, insufficient critical thinking skills, an ultra-polarized political system, perpetual foreign war, poor education system, 24/7/365 marketing, increasing obesity rates, capitalism at all cost, environmental damage, unaffordable healthcare, xenophobia, waning privacy, outrageous income gaps and concentration of wealth, media dishonesty, an escalating abortion war waged by two single-issue armies, the wrong heroes, and yeah a bunch of us vs them gun culture.
Influencing those social issues would require a distributed effort, long-term goals, long-term work, lots of time, clear communication, and some saintly people. If only there was a well connected, respected, wealthy, influential, thoughtful person like an author or a journalist or a television writer or producer who could try to get the ball rolling instead of blogging out a bunch of impotent doomsaying.
BTW love your work on The Wire and Treme.
Not sure the country’s children are supposed to be in front of the premium cable channel at that hour, but regardless of that let me ask you, what happened to those characters?
Anyone other than my man Poot, who was non-violent and ended the run selling athletic shoes, did anyone make it out alive or out of prison? Marlo yeah, but even he was denied any catharsis for having briefly held the crown. We depicted a rigged, brutish game and we did so to specific theme and purpose.
As I said elsewhere in the comments, I have no issue with depicting violence. The earliest Greek plays we have depicted violence. The question being posed is what does the violence mean, what does it convey?
Entirely non-violent, except for putting Wallace out of his misery.
You know, it’s funny. I forgot he was the one who did that, primarily because his was the character opposed to the murder. But upon Bodie being unable to finish, he stepped up and gave poor Wallace the coup de grace. In my memory though, Poot was a character who did not reconcile to the cycle of violence. His moment with Wallace was indeed a merciful response to Bodie’s sudden, belated paralysis.
But I stand corrected. I can only plead that it was a decade ago when we wrote those scripts.
Just my humble, but I don’t think Poot’s relatively “happy” ending is a justification for his previous actions in the series, or a justification for violence. Part of the point of THE WIRE is that when violence is systemic and embedded into institutional systems, the outcomes for individuals are often random and unforeseen, and not always based solely upon those individuals’ personal character or merit. This was a righteous statement against the cultural myth that “good people can get out of the ghetto by working hard”, etc.
Stringer Bell never touched a gun, and indeed tried to minimize violence within his organization, but nonetheless he died by the gun. Marlo perpetrated untold, often unnecessary violence and got away because of a series of legal manuevers and coincidences having little to do with him, but everything to do with a fucked-up justice system. The Greeks — arguably the main beneficiaries and overseers of all of the violence on the show — walked away scot-free (as did the criminals at HSBC who laundered 9 billion in Mexican cartel money, and yet will not be prosecuted!) because they had the money and the separation from street-level dealing to do so. None of this is meant to confirm that violence hasn’t destroyed urban America…simply that the outcomes for individuals are influenced by all kinds of other systemic factors.
I said it during the whole “who’s the coolest character on THE WIRE” debacle and I’ll say it again — anybody who looks at any of the characters on THE WIRE as “heroes” rather than tragic figures missed the entire point by viewing the series though a binary “good guy/bad guy” system that is archetypal of American fantasies & entertainment, but not applicable to a show that was attempting to depict real life. (P.S. Lester wasn’t Mr. Morality either, unless you skipped the 5th season.)
I’m not much interested in characters having justified outcomes, I gotta say. Some get what they never deserved, some never get what they deserve — but most — by dint of the human attrition involved in the drug trade — see their lives marginalized or destroyed outright. Again, the systemic is what interested us.
As to Poot, I dunno. I was okay that he finished Wallace at the point he did. The alternative — having a stunned Bodie rush out of that vacant with the gun and have the kid die a slow, tortured death — seems to warrant the action. It’s not about deserving when you write a moment like that. It’s about the human beings involved, isn’t it?
As to Stringer, if you order a murder that someone else undertakes, you are — by law and by any moral definition — a murderer. The conspiracy to commit murder, coupled with any single overt act of planning, is enough in most states to legitimize a charge of first-degree murder.
It is not just government, corrupt, immoral, unethical “leaders” who have failed us. Our religions have lost their way, their soul, if they were ever meant to be in the first place; which i, for one doubt. The one true message of Jesus Christ– LOVE ONE ANOTHER– is dead. And now we may be hopelessly lost with all of our shit….. our cars And phones, and double refrigerators and expensive shoes and fast food and churches and tv preachers and Walmarts.
First, and least importantly, I hope I’m not the only one who watches the zombie show not for the thrill of seeing the Other killed, but for the empathy I feel for the characters at having to make the horrible person-on-person choices that come as part and parcel of the world in which they find themselves. I think it’s a much more liberal show than you seem to take it as; for me, it’s a show mostly about what happens when the gun is the only choice left to you, in much the same way that The Wire was a show about what happens when your culture leaves you with no viable exits.
Much more importantly to me is the real world, and the problem of the genie now being out of the bottle, and the problems that come with trying to tell those who are genuinely afraid of the government that their weapons are being taken away for their own protection.
This shooter took the guns from someone who had legally acquired them. If you allow legal gun ownership, how do you prevent this? If you make gun ownership illegal, how do you prevent the conspiracy theorists from blowing up buildings in protest?
Fingerprint-based trigger locks are a great idea, but how do you meaningfully demand that all existing guns have them?
The guns used in everyday crime are typically not legally registered weapons anyway, and we can’t get them off the streets. Even if we call bullshit on the “you can protect yourself from a shooter with a gun” argument, how do we succeed in this? House to house warrantless searches? How’s that going to play out?
The problem, for me, is that the guns are out there. People have them. People are scared of other people having them. People are scared of the government having more than they do. Just watch what happens when 3D printing meets DIY drone tech in the government-hating section of the country.
What we need is something else, I think, because we can’t regulate our way out of the place we’re in. We need something almost impossible to achieve in a population as large as ours – we need community. We need to feel as if we’re part of a nation which comprises states which comprises counties and towns and neighborhoods and streets.
Which means we need an opportunity for community. And the way things are today (get off my lawn, you kids!), it doesn’t seem like that opportunity is often there. We’re fragmented. We’re terrified that we’re being taken advantage of, that someone has it better. We don’t know if we’ll have jobs next week, so we work 70 hours this week so if anyone gets let go it’s not us. We don’t know how to fix the things we bought, so we buy new things and call it progress, and the GDP goes up, and we’re all sitting alone in our big houses prosperously ignoring all the old things we bought while the new one flashes. We have big green lawns and fences, and we don’t know the names of the neighbors two doors down, and that kid always seemed so normal but his parents didn’t have time to talk to him or didn’t know what to say, just like we don’t have time to talk to our kids or don’t know what to say to them when we do talk, so we talk about TV instead, about grades, about sports and money and the deficit and . . . and when it comes to talking about real things, we let the kids get information from the internet instead of us, because it’s easier. We talk about the bills and not the spending habits that cause them. We talk about the violence and not the alienation behind it.
So is it the guns? Yes, guns kill people. And people with guns kill lots of people. But people with guns don’t kill people they like.
So that brings it back to community. And wondering where you find the time and the energy to make stronger communities, and how to urge others to do the same thing.
I think those are all excellent points, we need a lot more community sensibility in this country; less materialism, more time for our families, better parenting, less mindless TV. We need better mental health counseling, more jobs, and better wages for the people with the jobs. All of those things have helped create the society we live in, a society in which this type of thing takes place.
That said, while I truly hope that we can work to achieve some of the above goals, it’s an ongoing process that will probably begin with incremental progress at best. If, in the meantime, we can save some lives by all agreeing that it would be good public policy to 1. have less guns and 2. keep them out of the hands of truly unstable people, I think that would be a good start.
Jon, thank you for posting this. I think you are exactly right and you’ve articulated an idea that has been bouncing around in my head for quite some time (on both a macro level and a personal level). The problems here in the US and maybe elsewhere are much bigger than can be solved with any particular regulation. I’m not even sure they can be remediated at this point, without something more, without something like you describe.
I’m reminded of the Pink Floyd lyric, “Quiet desperation is the English way.” It seems that here in the US, too many have felt quietly desperate for too long and things are now beginning to boil over. As David notes, there’s almost no chance that we will go ten days without some other tragic, life shattering event. Just today, I read about a murder/suicide of a whole family in Colorado. Not the same scale, but still, these things are far too common. I think if more people felt connected, in a meaningful way, to their community (any community, really), if they had the sense that people cared about them and that we are all in this together, instead of simply being pawns in some rat race where everyone is on their own and where only the best, fittest survive, maybe there would be less senseless, tragic acts carried out by people who feel alone and angry.
I’m not sure how much sense any of this makes. As I said, these ideas are not fully formed. But, what you said really resonated with me in a way that just seems obviously right.
Finally, while I realize it is would not entirely solve these issues, I do believe we would be far better off with less guns in this country and with stricter gun control laws. I hunt, I own two guns. One is arguably an “assault” rifle (a Chinese SKS). I’ll freely admit, I do not need to own this gun and if it was banned, I’d be willing to give it up. In Australia, they had great success with a buy back program, which reduced the number of firearms in their country. I think something like that would be a good start here. There are more guns than people in the US, if their were less, if they were less available, that might at least curb some violence. That’s a good thing and would be a good start.
TL/DR: I agree that we need more sense of community. Some additional gun regulation aimed at reducing the number of guns in the US would probably help too.
So you’ve read Bowling for Columbine?
Haven’t seen the movie…
I’m sorry, DUH, Bowling for Columbine is the Michael Moore doc. Bowling Alone is the book he based that title on: http://bowlingalone.com/
Anna, I have not read that book, but I just purchased it and am going to read it. Like I mentioned, I’m only just starting to flesh out these ideas and thoughts and that book seems like it is right on point. Thank you!
Lots of research on this. I remember when the book came out, there was some to supposedly refute it. But I look around and it seems pretty accurate to me.
…or read the book 🙂
I don’t hear much outrage about upwards of 10,000 traffic deaths a year that are caused by drunk drivers. School, mall, post office, shootings are all a tiny blip on the radar of death and destruction in this country. Until the people who promote a repeal of the 2nd amendment, or a reinterpretation of it, stop and at least admit that actual random gun violence is not a serious problem compared to smoking and drinking, I won’t listen to their arguments.
Worse than gun violence in this country is a complete inability to understand what things are dangerous and what things are not. Air travel was statistically safe before 9-11 and if we had not instigated new regulations and safety protocols at that time would still have been statistically safe after that. If 9-11 happened once a year, you would still be in more danger in your car than in a plane.
Gun are a bit of a problem like many other problems we face. It is not a problem that requires immediate severe action. Immediate severe action could have repercussions beyond what we can anticipate and we need to at least consider that any decision made in the emotional time after a tragedy could be a bad decision.
The shooter used someone else’s guns. The only change to the laws that would have fixed this is to make it so that a normal sane person with no tendency towards crime has no access to guns. That means taking guns that are not being used in crime and not being owned by criminals and destroying them. All of them. Not a single one can be left.
A complete lock down of the school where a person with a gun cannot get in would also have helped. Make the school like a prison and this might be averted.
We should also lock doors at malls and theaters and ask search people at the doors like we do for air travel. This would have helped in recent years too.
Finally, we can institute a curfew and have random police stops where cars are searched for weapons. It would work. it would reduce crime. It would cut down on tragedy. It’s just so hard to know which laws that take away people liberty are fair and just and which ones are not. How do we draw the line if we can’t think rationally because a bunch of kids were killed in such a public way? How can we make a rational decision when we can’t even keep our perspective and at least give equal air time to the other thousands of people who die every year in tragic and senseless ways?
So I ask this; if someone has to walk away from their computer because they are too pissed off to write about this situation, how can they be considered rational enough to make any meaningful observations or useful decisions about this situation?
P.S. My heart goes out to every other parent who lost a child to violence on that same day but got no sympathy from society because it was just their one kid.
I hear plenty of outrage about drunk driving and the resulting carnage. In fact that outrage has over the last thirty years resulted in far more aggressive regulation of alcohol use among drivers and more punitive restriction on people who drink and drive. Exactly the opposite of what has happened with gun laws in this country to our great detriment.
And to continue your embarrassing and contradictory analogy, let’s add this: From the very get-go we require the licensing, education and testing of all those who operate a motor vehicle in America. Semiautomatic firearms? Nope. Anyone can play, regardless.
Think harder before you start to type.
If my anger invalidates my remarks in your sight, then proceed to the essay by Mr. Wills. He is dispassionate and precise about American gun culture, and what he has to say is enough to shame most sensate folk.
I think if you turn on your TV set for an hour during primetime you’ll hear plenty of outrage over drunk driving from just the commercials alone. As for smoking, how is that in any way a societal problem. I don’t smoke, wouldn’t want my kids to smoke, and hope that nobody I care about smokes. But the chances that a person can damage another person (or several) due to cigarette smoking in a way comparable to what they can do with a gun is basically zero. Plus smoking has decreased significantly over the past several decades, so even if it is a serious problem, we’re obviously doing something about it.
Your suggestions about locking doors at theaters and locking down schools and instituting curfews are, as was probably intended, absurd. We’re not going to totally eliminate gun violence, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw our hands up and say “oh well”, and not take any steps to address the problem.
Wait, do I have this right: Because we have not solved entirely traffic fatalities, including those caused by drunk drivers, we should not think about ways to potentially curb gun violence, which is far worse here in the US, than in any of our peer countries. This made sense to you when you thought it and typed it?
On the same day as the Connecticut shooting, a lunatic in China went on a rampage, injury 20, killing none. The difference: He only had a knife. A gun, in the hand of someone who means to do others harm, is very dangerous. A military style assault rifle (like, e.g., a AR-15 with multiple 30 round magazines), in the hands of someone who wants to do harm to others, is, as we’ve just seen, devastating. Maybe it’s time to at least have the discussion about whether we need to have such weapons. Maybe it’s time to at least think about why some believe they need these weapons. Let’s at least get it out in the open. Guns are dangerous; certain guns are more dangerous than others. Gun safety is super important. Maybe people who support gun ownership and gun safety (i.e., almost all gun owners/enthusiasts), could at least start to consider if maybe one piece of reasonable gun safety might not be deciding not to own very dangerous firearms, with military style magazines and ammunition. Why? Because these weapons make us less safe, not more. Period.
I’m happy to admit that the raw numbers aren’t the issue. The issue is — what can we control and how do we wish to control it. Maybe there’s nothing to be done.
When I was a reporter, I argued for years that we might learn something if we followed the example of the Chicago Tribune, which committed to give page-one treatment to every homicide involving a child under, I think, the age of 15. But I wanted to do this with domestic murders. I felt that we were missing some larger picture by treating each domestic homicide as another love story gone wrong. I didn’t think that the result would yield legislation or solutions, but that it would yield insight.
Well, according to the New Yorker, writing in the wake of the NFL player murder-suicide, more than 90 percent of all such cases involve firearms. And, yes, if we eliminated every single such incident in the United States, it would have a very small effect on the overall homicide rate.
But it’s still worth doing, in my opinion.
Worrying about gun violence doesn’t mean we can’t worry about cars and drinking and smoking. We can worry about all those things. People did get angry about drunk-driving and things began to change.
Oh, and although I know it was in another thread and not meant to be critical of The Wire — how many young African-American men have been shooters in mass homicides in public places in the US? I honestly don’t know the answer, but I think it’s pretty darn small. That’s interesting, too.
That’s a great point and hello Mrs. Simon! 🙂
On the article David recommended, someone addressed (in the comments) the issue of why minority men do not seem to do these types of shootings. I think it’s a very good possibility. Here is the comment:
I think the fantasy of going out in a blaze of glory seems to be a predominantly white, male, middle-class-and-up fantasy. Few, like yourself, would ever act on it. Indeed, it most likely requires mental illness to trigger that fantasy into a real act of evil (because I assume you are mentally sound, I am not threatened by your fantasy, but the fantasy itself lends itself to an interesting conversation which you have started). But the fact that public mass shootings are committed overwhelmingly by white, middle-class, often young, men is a topic of discussion only a few serious journalists and bloggers have dared explore. You’ve started that discussion boldly here, but you haven’t taken it far enough in my opinion. Often these mass murderers feel wronged because they did not achieve that success that was promised to them if they performed x, y, and z. There is an entitlement element at play here which may help explain the demographic – white, privileged men – that takes to this sort of violence. I think most other demographics accept defeat as a condition of life – failure happens, try again, or find a short cut (hence the other types of crimes other demographics seem more predisposed to commit). The young white privileged man struggles when he fails because he feels he was owed.
It has also been mentioned that women don’t generally do this type of thing either and surely mental illness is equally prevalent in women. Here’s a piece about that:
Anna, maybe someday there will be a discussion about patriarchy and male entitlement that allows these white guys to take out lots of women and children. It’s no accident that women get killed at higher numbers in these events.
I won’t hold my breath.
As I said in my comment to obamney, there are people talking about this. Is it as many people as are talking about gun control and mental health? No, but I think that’s ok. Gun control and mental health seem easier to tackle than white male patriarchy and male privilege. That doesn’t mean things aren’t progressing in that area. I truly believe that we will get to a more equitable society eventually, in terms of both gender and race and it’s not as if strides haven’t been made already.
I read something recently that a friend of mine wrote about Newtown. He’s a father and a media activist for Free Press (a great org by the way, David and everyone else, check them out). He mentioned that Bill Moyers said praying and hugging your kids won’t help this situation. My friend Josh begged to differ. He wrote that only those who are hopeful can create meaningful change.
Once you lose hope, you lose the ability to work towards the type of society you would like to see. I agree completely. As bleak as things may seem, we cannot give up.
The discussion happens near daily among many smart women (and now, I can happily say, men as well). Perhaps you could befriend a few and join in 🙂 If looking for where to go online, there are many, many sites and blogs. You could start with Feministing for example.
It is definitely a great thing to bring up this dynamic – is it purely coincidence that these killings are done by this demographic? There may be an entitlement element to what you say but I think you’re looking at it a little coldly and I think you should try empathising a little more with these killers.
White males should be the most powerful and succesful, according to what society tells them, but I would guess that these young, white males are not “functional” in that bracket. They may be considered the “ultimate losers” and alienated because they SHOULD be in the most succesful demographic but because our consumer society is not as simple as what the adverts tell us, they are not.
Is this an entitlement thing (“I should have all this success because it’s rightfully mine”) or is it an alienation thing (“I should have all this success but I don’t, what does that make me and where do I fit in?”) or am I just being too simplistic?
I’m kind of reminded of Taxi Driver; on every street in every city is a nobody who wants to be somebody.
Anyway, on the issue of gun control, I live in the England and would say that restrictive gun laws would require a long time commitment, it would be painful in the short term but over decades I imagine the fascination with guns would reduce and the ease of commiting murder would reduce accordingly.
Great discussion by the way.
I don’t think I’m being cold and in case it wasn’t clear, I didn’t write that comment on the New York Review of Books piece. It was another commenter. But I do think she had a good point. Obviously this may not apply to all white males who commit crimes like mass shootings; it’s just one hypothesis.
Your point about alienation is valid as well. I too hope that society will eventually adjust its expectations about what’s considered a productive life. We all know it doesn’t have to mean owning a house, 2.3 children, etc., but nevertheless it’s what many people strive for even if they may not really want it. Those that don’t even attempt to strive for it are all too often labeled all sorts of unpleasant and untrue things. I hope one day this will change.
Not sure what is to be gained from pretending to collectively psychoanalyze a group that is comprised of tens of millions of distinct human beings. The fellow who committed the atrocity at Oikos University was South Korean – is his act instructive of the violent proclivities of South Koreans? He was Christian, so maybe you start opining on the violent tendencies of Christians. Oh but wait, the D.C. snipers weren’t white and they were Muslims, so . . . .
Point is – it’s bullshit. Every demographic is capable of producing an evil lunatic. We should be focusing on how to keep dangerous weapons out of all of their hands, not making arguments based on assumptions about the internal thought processes of millions of people. I’m not sure that it’s racist/sexist to declare that “the young white privileged man struggles when he fails because he feels he was owed,” but it’s simple-minded and unsupported.
You know, veteran homicide detectives all come to realize that unlike civilians and mystery writers, they don’t even need the motive to resolve a murder. From a practical point of view — and being responsible for solving a murder and catching the killer — it’s nice, and possibly helpful, to know a motive. But plenty of murders in American cities are solved by police who have physical evidence or witness statements, or possibly implicating statements by suspects — none of which goes to motivation for the killing. They know that Pee Wee shot Tater on the corner of Fayette and Mount, they have two eyeball witnesses who saw it happen and a ballistics match. It’s enough for a jury.
In the same way, it doesn’t matter why there are sociopathic people who are capable of great, great destruction. I mean, it matters in terms of treating any specific cohort we might identify, which is a meritorious goal unto itself. But as a matter of practical law enforcement, what truly matters if the methodology by which such people are able to kill en masse.
Interrupt that process and lives will be saved directly.
Every argument that doesn’t go to method and process here, that delves into the policy-debate swamp of sociology and pyschology and political ideology is a diversion, a distraction, an abstract means of delaying and preventing actions that will actually interrupt the violence. It’s no wonder that gun-rights advocates reach for that stuff early and often.
I don’t think it’s worthwhile to analyze the motives for every homicide. I think it IS worthwhile to at least consider why most serial killers are men, most mass shooters are men, etc., etc. Actually, it’s not as if people haven’t analyzed this already. Now, what can be done about it? Of course I wouldn’t want to suggest feminizing our boys any further or I’ll have that NRO lunatic after me who wrote that awful piece of garbage 😉
Then I guess you wouldn’t be up for analyzing why these shootings are most always done by men (of any ethnicity or national creed). I agree that we need to deal with the gun problem first and foremost. But there’s nothing wrong with pursuing other avenues.
I think the psychology of this dynamic is fascinating, make no mistake. The overwhelming gender bias in such mass killings, as well as domestic murder-suicides, is not only notable but relevant to all sorts of legitimate discussion.
But now — right now — there is a chance for the nation to do something even modestly intelligent about the proliferation of semiautomatic handguns. And I, for one, will not be distracted. We are not going to cure the American male of all that ails him in the next 40 days before that task force issues recommendations.
But we might implement limits on magazine capacity, or implement the beginnings of a gun registration or licensing process that isn’t rife with loopholes. Or not. I guarantee that if we start looking beyond the guns at the amorphous and unresolvable sociological factors, we will lose this opportunity as well.
Realpolitik is about prioritization. The guns, the guns.
I agree completely. Ahhh, realpolitik. If only our current elected officials were well-practiced in it.
Your wife was the one who initially brought up the gender issue when she wrote in her comment:
“Oh, and although I know it was in another thread and not meant to be critical of The Wire — how many young African-American men have been shooters in mass homicides in public places in the US? I honestly don’t know the answer, but I think it’s pretty darn small. That’s interesting, too.”
I was only responding to that. The primary issue that needs to be acted upon is absolutely the guns.
David’s argument is the important one; there is nothing that the NRA crowd would like more than to divert the national discussion away from guns and to one about “white male profiling” or some other distraction.
And, the pyschological dynamic is interesting, but discussions about it should be empiric and conducted with some intellectual rigor. Rank, off-the-cuff assertions about entire demographic groups only serve to alienate people who might otherwise be sympathetic to your argument.
Perhaps we can put it this way:
We will always have angry and mentally ill people (although we should of course work to avoid this).
Once this has manifested itself, then what? Here in Canada the scale of potential destructiveness is limited. For that gun control is responsible. In urban centres, gun control is not a controversial issue here.
The use of guns for self-protection lost its glamour because of an incident many years ago involving a drug-store owner in Alberta shooting a robber. Details of the case are foggy but the basic idea was that that response was considered excessive and not necessary to preserve the owner’s life instead of merely to maintain his commercial interests. That drug store owner narrowly escaped legal penalty. I expect many Americans would be aghast at our notion of who’s the greater evil in that situation.
Easy there. I’m not suggesting myself or anyone commenting here is qualified to analyze why men commit these atrocities and women generally don’t. I’m just saying it should at some point be looked at. And I’ve already said (more than once) that dealing with the gun problem is more pressing than anything else. They weren’t even my “rank, off-the-cuff assertions,” as I am at pains to point out. It was the commenter on Gary Wills’ piece. Thus it’s her argument, not mine. I only thought it had some merit and that’s why I quoted it here. That’s the extent of it. Geez, you’re like a reader who thinks I’m a die-hard supporter of a politician just because I quote her in my story 🙂
[…] behind The Wire, Treme, and Generation Kill, tries to tackle the tragic Newtown slayings in a post at his blog. There’s a lot of anger in the piece—rightfully so—but I find Simon’s most […]
[…] Simon comments on the Newtown […]
The link to Gary Willis isn’t working for me, so consider my comments in that light.
I’ve always sort of viewed the whole vampire/zombie fascination as a metaphor for the relentless consumption of our “economy”. On some level, we humans are aware that we are killing the planet that gives us life, destroying our air, water, soil, and yet none of us have come up with any way to stop the destruction. We fantasize instead. It gives us momentary distraction/relief.
I own a handgun, purchased in the last year. Not because I’m afraid of the “other” but because I’ve become afraid of our government. When President Obama signed the NDAA, it was a gentle, nice and legal declaration of war on anyone who doesn’t think the same way as our government does. That scared the shit out of me. I don’t belong to the NRA (and the vast majority of gun owners don’t, btw) and I don’t agree with them about much. I think it’s telling that they’ve gone silent since Sandy Hook.
We will ban (actually re-ban) assault weapons. I’m pretty confident that will happen. Maybe even the “monster clips” as well. Might tinker with background checks. That will be the end of it.
We will not reform our mental health care “system” that so many of us with mentally ill people in our lives know is a total bullshit system that solves nothing. Our attitude will remain: Fuck ’em.
The thing about America is that we built it on stolen land. We exterminated the First Nations or moved them out of our way and that original sin is going to haunt us until we do something about it. And we never will.
Crocodile tears from the Kill List President mean nothing to me. It’s just more bullshit.
This “fear” of our government always boggles my mind when used as an excuse to own firearms. While the governments is perfectly capable of overstepping its grounds in terms of what it does, if it ever got to the point that it were so evil that the masses had to take up arms against it, what chance do you think you’d have if they thought you were such a threat they sent a drone your way? We always want to give our government the power to execute absolute evil at the same time we remain convinced that it is completely incompetent. It reminds me of the the 9/11 Truthers who believe that the Bush Administration would be calculating enough to plan and carry off the attacks on 9/11 but didn’t possess the ability to hide WMDs in Iraq to discover.
What do you mean? There are something like 300 million weapons in private hands in this country. “If it ever got to the point that it were so evil….” is here, buddy. Read the NDAA. Read what your government can do to you.
Then do some googling, pal. Look up, for instance, Katherine Olejnik and Matthew Kyle Duran. They are in prison INDEFINITELY. Big ass “threats” there.
Some 30,000 drones flew over US airspace last year.
I’m very very afraid. Does my little handgun keep me safe? Oh hell no. But maybe I take one of them when they take me.
I think NDAA is probably the worst policy Obama has advocated for and I don’t agree with indefinite detention. Not one little bit.
However, I believe your response to this is over the top paranoid. Nobody is coming for you. Nobody is going to detain you indefinitely or put you in a FEMA concentration camp. Maybe you need to go out and talk to some people, maybe order up a movie on pay per view (preferably a comedy) and order a pizza or something. I mean seriously, lighten up Francis. And maybe turn off the Alex Jones Infowars for a few weeks just to see if your worldview can return to some semblance of reality.
You know nothing about me, MJ. Not one thing.
There is a reason these massacres happen in America. And sure, our gun laws are insane and have a lot to do with it, but they are not the whole story.
I believe our culture breeds this type of mental illness in young men.
Do you think it is just a coincidence that this young man shot his mother four times in the head before taking on kids? And that, on both the right and left, people are blaming his mother for his actions?
We are talking about violence, gun violence in particular, and mass murder specifically.
As a female, I went against every grain in my being when I purchased a handgun and every moment in the gun shop and on the range is agony. I even gave my 10 shot semi automatic .22 gauge handgun a cute name to try to make it less repulsive to me.
You denigrate my fear so blithely, you must be a man. Another entitled white guy who has absolutely no idea that your reality is quite different from others.
Read Mr. Simon’s post again and note his discussion of “otherness”.
You should get out more, maybe talk to some people of color and women, to see if your worldview can come back to some semblance of reality.
Married to a Thai woman and currently living with a Thai family for 6 years now.
So there’s that.
Being called a racist in so many words when I never stated anything that could even be remotely construed as racist makes me wonder about your critical thinking skills.
You stated you are scared because of NDAA.
“I’m very very afraid. Does my little handgun keep me safe? Oh hell no. But maybe I take one of them when they take me.”
That’s your quote. And it reeks of over the top paranoia. Tell me I’m wrong. Or maybe you should have stated your feelings with different words?
Does our society breed mental illness in young men? Interesting theory. I would like to see if any peer reviewed studies have been conducted comparing mental illness in America with other cultures.
But think about this for a minute: There is no doubt that it is an advantageous to be a sociopath in a capitalist structure. The lack of empathy and the viewing of people as mere objects can really help a person climb those ladders. Ruthlessness works in corporate America and I am convinced that many of our corporate leaders are in fact sociopaths.
Over time, genetics will dictate that the percentage of sociopaths in the population of a hyper capitalist society will increase in comparison to societies that are more equal and less materialistic.
So maybe we are reaping what you sew in regards to mental illness here in America. Just a thought.
You’re making exactly my point.
That ruthlessness pays off in politics and government as well as corporate America.
Since Citizens United, it has become increasingly clear that the politicians work for the sociopaths running America’ corporations.
They are the government.
Ask any Latino about ICE. Ask any person of color about the police, for that matter. Last time I checked, police departments were part of the government.
Maybe I am paranoid. But I didn’t call you a racist. I called you a white man. I was right about that.
Seems the argument about who is who has gotten more advantage over content here. You all might want to let that part of go. Just my two cents.
[…] Read the whole thing here. […]
Does anybody really believe that an armed (presumably untrained) teacher is going to be able to deter an active shooter once the shooting has already started? Personally I feel like it’s all the more likely to just result in a higher bodycount.
One other thing that is interesting to note: The same day that this tragedy took place a disturbed man broke into a school in China and stabbed nearly two dozen students. A tragedy for sure, but every victim is expected to survive. We went to war in Iraq 10 years ago under the premise that a despot was more dangerous with a nuclear bomb, can’t we also agree that a mentally ill person is a lot more dangerous with a deadly fire arm?
Even if the teacher is armed and trained, who is to say that they could still shoot another human being (even a murderous psychopath) in front of a group of children?
If I were teaching first graders and someone kicked in my door with a weapon, first I’d have to reach for the gun. Obviously, in a class full of kids, you can’t leave a weapon sitting on your desk, so it would likely have to be locked up somewhere. So now I’m fumbling for a key. Let’s say I’ve practiced this and get the lock open in five seconds. That still gives the shooter plenty of time to take me out. Then I have to steady the weapon, aim and fire, hoping that the shooter doesn’t have a chance to get in between me and the children at the time, or else I’m shooting in the direction of my students.
Taking all these assumptions as given, I then have to be prepared, at moments notice on any day of the week, to be willing to take another human life without thinking twice. Even second thoughts would equal death. So I have to perform superhuman feats of speed to get the weapon out quickly enough, I have to be superhumanly lucky that none of my students are in my line of fire, and I have to have superhuman will to be able to take a life at the drop of a hat. All three of these things have to come together in a matter of seconds for me and my students to have even a slim chance of survival.
And this is the brilliant option that gun-supporters have praised? Fucking joke.
You make a good point with the stabbing in China. However, if the Connecticut shooter wasn’t using an automatic weapon, there’s a chance more lives could have been spared. The only way he was hurting anyone was with a weapon. Live still would have been lost, but at least taking automatic weapons out of the equation gives victims a chance at survival. If that kid had anything besides a gun, we wouldn’t be talking about him today. Even with a knife or a baseball bat, that little pipsqueak could easily have been tackled and subdued. I’d reckon most women could overpower him.
Reminds me of Bunk laying into Omar: “I know you remember the neighborhood, how it was. We had some bad boys, for real. Wasn’t about guns so much as knowing what to do with your hands… As rough as that neighborhood could be, we had us a community. Nobody, no victim, who didn’t matter. And now all we got is bodies, and predatory motherfuckers like you…Makes me sick, motherfucker, how far we done fell.”
A thoughtful piece of expression, as always. As you indicate, I believe the author of ‘Kevin’ herself was one of those struck numb for worthy words of expression at the weekend when approached by N number of papers here in the UK for an opinion. But I can imagine one such rhetorical retort when asked to explain how one feels immediately following such an event, like Kermit sticking the microphone in the interviewee’s face, “How the fuck do you think I feel?”
There are two familiar and fundamental questions in my mind:
1. How do you reduce the likelihood or prevent such incidents from recurring in the future? Gun law reformation has to be key, of that there can be no reasonable doubt. What actions can be taken within the boundaries of the legal rights of citizens enshrined in your constitution? A reinstated ban on assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons must be achievable, surely. I mean, 50 rounds a minute? WTF? It would appear that the open-ended, and perhaps overly simplistic, “right to bear arms” has simply gone viral in its interpretation and market-driven implementation, without recourse to sanity or any of the foundational principles of social relations. Perhaps with the passage of over 200 years it might now seem sensible (nae, essential) to consider that Amendment more than worthy of re-evaluation and consideration – perhaps by adding in the predicate that was missed from its influencial source – the Declarion of Rights of 1688, part of the British Constitution, “That the Subjects … may have Arms for their Defence , suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law”.
Perhaps institutions, government, and policy might never succeed outright, without individual and collective action coming from citizens themselves, organized in communities whose focus has to be underpinned by a respect and appreciation of the common good. How do we get there? Don’t know, but it feels like we are entering a new era of ideas and ideology. Many, many articulate and thoughtful voices exist, as this blog/site attests, but getting those voices heard and understood is another challenge for the future, especially if using the print and TV media conduits to reach people. My feeling is that the media does not just influence or steer culture in a particular direction, it creates culture, with its insidious throwaway entertainment angle – a cancerous commentary which permeates its being.
2. How do you the reduce the likelihood of such wanton malicious acts of destruction, whether one or more persons are labeled as innocent victims? How do you reduce the likelihood of people becoming imbalanced, unhinged, crazy, mentally unstable, ? The discourse on this is surely the main territory – the territory of the mind – to be explored long term in any post-industrial society. There needs to be, in my view, a decoupling of market economics from the market society that has been created as a result, with a re-focused emphasis on re-teaching people, children, the fundamentals of how to be good, how to do the right thing, how to approach empathy and respect, how to think, period. And how to think differently, fundamentally, about money in the everyday: you can’t spend what you don’t have. We don’t need the Dalai Lama preaching to the converted to achieve this level of understanding of humankind’s potential.
Sorry, I digress. I don’t want to elaborate further, venturing off-piste and off-topic perhaps in what is a sensitive subject area that I agree has to rightly focus in the short term on the devastation being writ large in the everyday by the readily available and accessible nature of guns and ammo – on supermarket shelves, which might be considered, especially to an outside observer, as another sad example of a perverse reality that has been normalized into a culture where the long term destructive and damaging effects are being played out on the canvas of America today and viewed around the World through TV media desperate to convey real-time stories to us first, served up like pizza fresh from the oven.
I’m glad you didn’t walk away from your computer. I’m glad you let your anger and disgust fly in the face of all the BS we’re hearing about more guns being the answer. Rage on. Your voice and those in agreement need to be heard.
There’s a line in a John O’Donohue poem called A Blessing — “May the flame of anger free you from falsity.” I think your words often, but especially here, are doing just that. The problem is, what do we do about it? You know that we will have some sort of gun ban come out of this, that we’ll wash our hands and pat ourselves on the back and say, DONE. Until next time. Guns are without a doubt a problem, but not the only one. As you said, our fear, our willingness to make people into a less human other, these are big problems that no public policy can fix.
So what to do? How do we begin to make those kinds of huge non-band aid changes? We start by looking at ourselves, how we contribute to the problem. What we can do right now, today, to change it. We have to realize it’s not “those people,” it’s us. I am most frustrated by the people who say that since we can’t figure out how to end every single murder forever and ever, we shouldn’t even try to reduce a lunatic’s capacity to inflict massive damage in minutes. As of a 100% reduction or a 0% reduction are our only options.
The enormity is not lost on me, nor am I doe-eyed naive. I’m starting to think that leaving this country and starting over with a select group is our only option.
But thanks for the flame of anger. We need to stay focused.
Katie Ford Hall
My sense is people are not angry, they are in despair, because it happened one more time. The average person fears to admit they know it will happen again, and again and again. There have been approx 80 school shootings since 1970. So there will be more.
The culture of the gun is paid for in murdering innocent children. One can longer hide behind the “gang thing”, “racial thing”, “drug thing” or its a “mental Illness thing”.
The gun is as addictive as drugs, in a society that glorifies violence.
It might be of some interest to note that The Walking Dead has for a while now been developing the theme of Humans vs. Humans post civilization. The zombies being just a catalyst of the conditions the show’s characters find themselves in.
Also of note is the use of Zombie’s as effective stand-ins for humans in video games, gun targets and the gun culture in general.
Since we’re on the subject, I wonder if you have any thoughts on your portrayal of firearms in The Wire.
I’m not sure I buy semantics as a means of explaining away the fact that a popular narrative is rooted in the justifiable genocide of those who are carefully defined as less than human, or other-than-human, but who nonetheless have common origin with regard to species.
You may be aware of the German pre-war propdganda that depicted Jews as subhuman, as rat-like, unfeeling creatures who feasted on the blood of Christian babies. Google Julius Streicher and admire the efficacy of such storytelling. Or even American depictions of the Japanese as subhuman and sadistic simians during the wartime years. Or certainly, the underpinings of slavery and disenfranchisement that argued that niggers weren’t like you or me, that they didn’t feel what we felt, or understand what we understand. Hate and fear manifest themselves in our narratives, just as our better natures do. All storytelling has the political potential to validate our best hopes and our worst and ugliest fears. During the cold war, body-snatching aliens were obvious stand-ins for our fear of communist infiltration, just as irradiated monsters became part of our film culture as a contemplation of nuclear fallout. Calling someone non-human, or depicting them as such to create comfortable space to indulge in genocidal fantasy doesn’t entirely obviate the purpose or validation that results from the fantasy itself. Hidden threads of racism, nationalism and classism within narrative are a long historical tradition.
Now, in these times of libertarian, don’t-tread-on-me righteousness, we have a popular television drama ownin which government and greater society — along with all of their protection and sanction and rule-of-law — is no longer manifest. And it comes down to the gun dropping those who no longer feel as we feel, or think as we think, or believe as we believe. Call them zombies. Launder the genocidal impulse. You note the proliferation of zombies and aliens in our filmic and video-game shoot-em-ups, the sanitization of violence through the marginalization of the targeted other. In this dystopic time of stand-your-ground and a gun-in-every-teacher’s-desk and I-built-it-myself, I don’t find that even remotely coincidental. Sorry.
We aren’t on the subject of The Wire, actually. But if you think there is some relevant comparison to be made, I would simply note that I have no problem with narratives — prose, television, film, haiku, whatever — that depict violence. Such has been a theme of human expression since the Greeks began writing our first plays. It isn’t the depiction of violence or firearms or gunfire that concerns me. It’s what implications result or do not result from the violence and firearms and gunfire within our narratives.
In the Wire, notably, a good guy never shot a bad guy. We weren’t actually interested in good guys and bad guys, or any moral justifications for violence. We were interested in politics and sociology and economics — in systems and insititutional dynamic. As a result, those who lived by the gun sometimes died by the gun — or sometimes not. Sometimes they just left tragedy and waste in their wake. And when human beings were victims of violence it wasn’t the ballet of Peckinpah, much as I love me The Wild Bunch. It was instead, more often than not, the quick, brutish execution of those who had become economically or politically expendable within the context of the story. Meaning that the costs of unregulated capitalism were made apparent within our examination of the drug trade, while the improbability of using violence to regulate social order was made manifest by our refusing to allow a cop to ever shoot a criminal in the entire run of the series. The only time one tried, he ended up shooting another police officer.
We weren’t interested in gratifying viewers with violence, and certainly, we saw no argument for violence as catharsis or a means by which society could restore or save itself.
Not to defend The Walking Dead, which until the most recent handful of episodes always made me ask myself when an episode ended why I was wasting my time watching but has experienced a huge leap qualitywise of late, but one crucial plot aspect is that whatever turns human into zombies is present in EVERYONE, no matter how they die. So when a character dies of a natural cause, they have to kill that person before he or she “turns.” Also, while guns are efficient, they do their best to off the zombies with other implements as the sound of the gunfire tend to attract more of the “walkers.”
I understand that there is a narrative logic by which the genocidal requirements of survival are made essential and necessary. I understand that it is kill or be killed. I understand all of that.
Do you understand that however sanitized, however laundered, there is something deeply disturbing in our appetite for narratives in which the unthinking, unfeeling sub-or-no-longer-human population must be put down by force of arms? That we must, to drive a phrase home, pick up a gun and stand our ground? Or is the mitigation of science-fiction sufficient to ignore all of that and simply be entertained? Perhaps so.
I understand where you are coming from but there also is the element of real emotional regret that happens when they have to put down a friend or loved one or, as in some cases, characters have kept their loved ones chained, unable to separate from them even though their humanity is gone in hopes that somehow something will cure them. The show actually has grown more complex and less simplistic in this last few episodes from where it started. It still doesn’t live up to the best of what TV has to offer, but it’s become more interesting.
You’ve misapprehended me I think.
I have no doubt that the drama discussed is well executed and with its merits. And I certainly don’t think a television drama — or any storytelling — is causal to the pathology that overwhelmed that school. That would be ridiculous. At worst it could be argued that the reflected arguments contained in the drama are those that prevent us as a society from regulating the instruments of mass violence.
I think that the drama is precisely indicative of our pathology and its popularity reflects not only its own merits, but an American ethos that has sadly incorporated violence not only as a means of personal catharsis, but of societal salvation.
We’re only safe when all of us are cocked and loaded with one in the chamber, and eyefucking the guy next door.
I would say that I think you’ve taken The Walkind Dead to be something it’s not. There are racists and gun lovers and cops and prisoners and maniacs in the storyline too. It’s not a case of humans versus a deliberately Untermensched other, more a case of revealing the distinct ugliness that is available to us at all times. Zombies are a stand-in for death, the best and worst characters fall to them suddenly, and they
are by no means the scariest Other in the storyline at all. Parallels are constantly drawn between groups of survivors and groups of the dead to remind of the closeness, not to enforce the distance.
It’s certainly true that the show takes a fairly individualist, there-goes-the-government approach and definitely it’s a world where people teach their ten-year-olds how to shoot – which is not particularly present – but anything that can be easily compared to the shit peddled by Streicher it is not.
I just felt like that allusion was rather unfair. Apologies if this detracts from your initial post, which I very strongly agree with. Your words, as always, are incisive and accurate, and have a precious ring of honesty to them.
As I’ve said elsewhere in the comments I am sure the show has its nuances and merits. It certainly seems from my limited exposure to be a fairly well-executed drama.
But I am saying that its overall theme is precisely indicative of an ugly national ethos with which we need to reckon, given that it depicts a failed nation-state in which a dehumanized other can only be addressed through a validation of the culture of violence. That’s a fun scenario as far as it goes. But I didn’t get the sense that the drama was in any way critiquing the America that Mr. Wills so brilliantly describes. At best, the show seems to be reflective of our pathology. And that’s why I commented on it.
Fair enough. I agree that it is certainly reflects the ease with which suspicion is cast on others.
I am also struck by the ways in which any perpetrator in such massacres is immediately combed for something to make him ‘not of us’, which in this case has led to several odd headlines regarding Asperger’s / autism. Certainly, the ease with which one can be pushed across the line is not out of place in the show.
Thanks for this, David. Your zombie comments are almost so obvious they’re ridiculous.
It sometimes seems as if our culture is willing these events into existence with the power of our entertainment. How shocking is an event like this when we create stories about children that hunt each other to the death on national television that become a national phenomenon? And yes, we create them. The oddly coincidental fact that Suzanne Collins happens to reside in Sandy Hook, CT is of less importance than the preposterous idea that harrowingly violent entertainment is created by a sole few loonies in LA. These stories reflect our collective conscious, we all play our part in creating the zombies that won’t listen to reason or the aliens that only respond to violence. This is our story. Violence and fear are our themes. It comes as no surprise that there’s such an over saturation of maudlin narratives in a culture that incesently repeats the notion that it places very little value on life. What’s the point in challenging ourselves, moving past this adolescent, uninitiated arrested development, when we can just have a good cry, coddle our egos and wait for the end to come?
But hey, at least some of us can try and sleep at night, repeating to oursleves that we never believed the hype or took the blue pill or drank the koolaid… we always knew who the bad guys really were.
“Each time I start to write about this tragedy, my head begins to hurt. And too soon, I sense that all of the contempt and bile I feel for America’s continuing worship of the gun will pour out onto the digital page, that any meaningful argument I hope to express will be lost in my low regard for those in my country — leaders and followers alike — who demonstrate such cowardice in the face of the continued bloodletting.”
As usual, yours is an eloquent and blunt assessment of the situation.
Fact remains, the three basic human emotions continue to be greed, fear, and greed. The gun business is a multi-billion-dollar one and the endless security means and methods, systems and organizations that stem from it account for billions more. Toss in man’s natural aversion to change of any sort and our society’s current particular fixation with willful ignorance and self-imposed bliss (see Huxley, Aldous), and nothing, I believe, not one damn thing will change as a result of Newtown, Connecticut.
Well, the bank accounts of more than a few will grow, and, eventually, Wayne LaPierre (once an offensive defense strategy is hashed) will gain a lot of air time. Otherwise, expect the status quo.
A little background on my end. Spent about 21 years in journalism. Hate to call it the business that it is; instead, prefer to view it as both a craft and a passion. Radio, for starters. Television for a brief time. But mostly print. And Internet. (Not blogging.) No Paid Pundit shtick runs through these veins. Upstate New York, for the most part. Some time in the Big Apple. Made it to a network. Got canned at least twice, once for being a punk and another time for caring way, way too damn much about the publication and the readers.
Broke into the game in Syracuse at the ripe old age of 19 while still in school. This coming Friday, December 21, marks the 24th anniversary of Pan American Flight 103. My 911. The Most Beautiful Woman I Have Ever Seen sat among the 259 people, passengers and crew, on that plane; she, they, and 11 residents of Lockerbee, Scotland all died in that act of terrorism. But my cynicism flourished.
I played a role – a small role – on a news team that covered Pan Am 103 in Syracuse. A news team ran by a man who pounded in a simple mantra: Get It Right – NOT First. So we waited. We saw others in the various mediums air and print incorrect information. Reminded me a great deal of Newtown, when just how many networks and newspapers named the wrong brother as the shooter? Attached all sorts of incorrect data to the shooter’s dead mother? In general, humiliated themselves and the very craft of journalism with their petulant addiction to be first.
My boss in Syracuse waited. We busted our butts. We got it right. The Who. The What. The Where. The When. Even The Why. Through it all, I felt nothing. Complete numbness. A shock so deep that I’d not wish it on man’s worst enemy. A pain so acute that it almost embarrasses me to type it on this screen nearly a quarter-century later.
But for me, it became only more profound.
On Sunday, Jan. 15, 1989, I did a small story at a petting zoo inside the Center of Progress Building at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. Some 2,000 children, all wide-eyed and mostly wonderful, and members of their family filled the building, amazed at the site of the somewhat emaciated elephants and rather scraggly giraffes that some entrepreneur had brought to the middle of the part of New York state known as the Snow Belt in the middle of winter. I recall kids wowed by everything from llamas to ordinary cattle, a laughing, crying, screaming, yelling, whining, pining, sometimes even boring maze of innocence and experiment.
Two nights later, Jan. 17, I walked into work to find out that a man had walked onto an elementary school playground in Stockton, Calif. earlier in the day, pulled out an assault rifle, and opened fire. Five kids died that day at the Cleveland Elementary School. Another 29 children and a teacher sustained wounds. Most of the kids were Asian immigrants, Cambodian and Vietnamese, if memory serves.
In three minutes, the shooter, later identified as Patrick Purdy, an unemployed welder with a history of drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness, sprayed those kids, that teacher, and the playground with 106 rounds of ammunition with a Type 56 assault rifle, otherwise known as the Chinese version of a Russian-made AK-47. Then Purdy yanked out a pistol and, in the words of Proposition Joe, capped his own ass. For good.
That night, for my once and only time as a journalist, I broke all the rules of objectivity and professionalism, I’m sad to admit. Out went the word “allegedly” in my stories. In its place, I inserted words like “worthless”, “senseless”, “meaningless”, “foolish”, “gutless”, and I can’t even remember what else. Feelings of powerlessness and rage overwhelmed me. Images of those kids at the petting zoo, of the Most Beautiful Woman In The World and 269 other men and women, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, angels and jerks, bastards and bitches, dominated those hours. Journalism seemed little more than a Fool’s Errand, a pathetic method to tell others about the acts of crazed governments and ailing, addicted, or just plain asinine gunmen lighting up the playgrounds of children and ending the innocence and treasures of childhood in three lousy minutes – little more than the time it took to deliver a radio newscast before the commercial, winning lottery numbers, and the weather.
The pain of that night and of the month prior stayed with me a long, long time. I probably allowed my internal agony to cost me a job and damage my long-term career prospects in the years that followed. Even worse, I offended more than a few people and distanced myself from others just as much. One of those others, a great mentor of my youth and an even better man of the Old School, died about a week ago. Twelve years had passed since our last conversation. During that talk, I’ll never forget him saying, “If you need anything, just call.” Foolishly, stubbornly, and definitely mindlessly, I never did.
Somehow my passion for journalism and a story told well and told accurately lingered, unwilling to disappear or be cast aside by another career path. In the past two decades, I’ve covered four or five fatal shootouts. Even had a wild shooter, operating from the second story of a house in a small, tree-lined village, clip a tree behind when I was standing. Wisely, I retreated. Our police reporter then appeared, fully lit and rather eager to take the assignment. All yours, I told him, chuckling and wondering whether the gunman or the cheap whiskey would put him down. He survived. Wretched all over his car, I was later told. After the state police talked with the gunman throughout the night but were unable to convince him to surrender, one of their snipers ended his life.
I’ve seen, either directly or indirectly, the school shootings at Pearl River, Paducah, Jonesboro, and Columbine during the LaPierre-adored “jackbooted government thugs” of the Clinton ’90s. I’ve witnessed gunmen shoot a Congresswoman in Arizona, a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, and a movie theater in Aurora during the LaPierre-loved “Obama’s-gonna-take-your-gun” 2008 and 2012 elections.
Hell, even Newtown didn’t slow down the rampage.
This past Saturday, one day after Newtown, a 38-year-old man, Jason Letts walked into St. Vincent’s Hospital in Birmingham, Ala. and shot two hospital employees and a security guard. Two police officers later shot and killed Letts, who, according to reports, had been upset about the care (or lack thereof) that his wife was receiving at the hospital.
Here’s the really frustrating part. Yes, even more frustrating than a man walking into a hospital – like a school, a place of safety, of healing, of life. When I checked out the story about Letts on http://www.al.com, the website for the local rag in Birmingham, I found that the Letts’s shooting had been the 19th story on gun violence reported by the website in the Birmingham area between Nov. 30 and Dec. 15. Yes, Alabama, the land of Red State America, of senators Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and Richard Shelby, of Southern Baptists and Born Again Christians, of supposed mid-America (albeit in the Deep South), of SEC and high school football, has had 19 gun violence stories in a 16-day period. Nineteen.
So 28 died in Liberal Connecticut. A day later, four died in Conservative Alabama. On it goes.
Even more maddening, on Dec. 15, the Letts’s story hadn’t drawn the most reader comments on the http://www.al.com website. Neither had the Newtown shooting. In fact, both stories failed to crack the top two. Instead, readers, by more than a 2-to-1 margin, had written more comments, at that point in time, on a story with the following headline:
NFL analyst Ron Jaworski: ‘I’m not a Saban guy, because I don’t like liars’
Yup, http://www.al.com readers, by more than a 2-to-1 gap, had more to type about a cable television sports analyst’s comments about the coach of the state’s leading college football team than they did about Newtown, Letts shooting up a Birmingham hospital, or 19 acts of gun violence in 16 days. Care for a double of self-imposed bliss, anyone?
That’s America, at least a part of America, on the cusp of 2013. We show more interest in a he-said v. he-said spat between a pundit and a football coach than we do about one of our own shooting up a hospital or gunning down 20 children, six adults, his own mother, and himself at a school and in his own home. We’d rather focus on not focusing, on ignoring what’s in front of our eyes, on claiming it’ll never happen here, or on believing that if it does, more guns-walls-security-police-parenting-churches-mental-health-care or fewer regulations-union-employees-free-rides-welfare-dollars-laws-candy-asses will prevent or end events like these.
So we’ll sell another 4 million guns this year and 4 million more in 2013 in this country of some 320 million people and an estimated 300 million existing guns. We’ll probably see people pitch Kevlar vests for kids from Tommy Hilfiger or Levi or Glenn Beck or security guards from Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, for our public schools. We’ll see New York Times’ bestsellers from the parents of the victims of Newtown, from the pundits right and left, and from the well-paid think tanks hacks of freedom and control. The lobbyists will continue to score. The cable and Sunday morning network staged cockfights will continue merrily on. Hey, ‘Bama meets Notre Dame on Jan. 7 for the National Championship. That’s gotta help, right?
Best I can suggest, cynical sort that I am, is that we, you and I, and everyone who reads these words remember the small triumphs among us. I can think of no greater victory than that of the life of Donnie Andrews. Three days ago, much to my shock and dismay, I saw Donnie’s obituary.
And then I smiled as I realized where I saw the poignant story of Donnie’s life and of his death.
The New York Times.
Can you or Ed Burns admit without a smile that 20 years ago you’d ever have thought Donnie Andrews might wind up in The New York Times? And not merely as a news story, but as a tale of accomplishment, of recognition for a life well-lived. Donnie Andrews life, and death, reminded me so very well of man’s amazing spirit and ability to grow into a person and a message seemingly beyond all recognition of his past, his pain, and his perils. So, David, I am damn proud that, together with Ed, you introduced me and so many others to Donnie Andrews.
Donnie lived. Now Donnie had died. And I did live to see, type, and say shit about it.
This truly touched me, written with such eloquence.
I grew up in Syracuse as an academia brat, and was still in high school when Lockerbie happened, but a lot of those kids were in my mother’s program at SU, and it was horrifying. I can’t believe it’s been 24 years.
I also saw Donnie’s obit the other day, just as I finished re-reading “The Corner.” David, I hope Fran is holding up, what an awful year for her. Some stranger in TX wishes her well.
Mark–peace, I’m glad you made it.
Jason and Kelly,
Thank you both very, very much.
In your fourth paragraph you ALMOST nailed exactly how I and most of the people that I know feel about this issue. You said:
“On television the other evening, I caught a glimpse of a drama in which some future America was overrun by zombies, a thrilling narrative in which survivors could only rely on force of arms to keep the unthinking, unfeeling hordes at bay. And I realized: This isn’t mere entertainment, it’s national consensus. More than that, it’s a well-executed and starkly visual rendering of the collective fear that governs us. We know that they’re out there: The less human. The poor. The godless. The frightening other. And they want what we have, they are going to take what we have, and they understand nothing save for a well-placed bullet. It’s my understanding that the show I encountered is quite popular; in this America, it may even be populist in its argument — a morality tale that speaks to why we must arm ourselves, and carry those guns with us, and stand our fucking ground; it declares that we can’t rely on collective, utilitarian will to achieve a safe and viable society…”
You really got it. I mean, you nailed me, and I’m not being sarcastic. This is exactly how I feel. I believe this is why The Walking Dead is such a popular show, because THEY are out there and they will take and take and take and leave those of us who work hard for dead if they could. In this world there are earners, and there are takers. Those that work hard for what they have must rely on ourselves to protect it, and not the government. So, you correctly understand my point of view up to the end of this quote. You then go on to make a statement I don’t agree with:
“…that government by the people and for the people is, at this point, an empty catchphrase for fools and weaklings. No, our future is every man for himself, and a gun in every outstretched hand, and if a classroom of six and seven year olds is the requisite cost every now and then, so be it.”
This is a complete over-simplification of most opinions on this matter. No one that I know of is of the opinion that “for the people and by the people” is an empty catchphrase. We will die for that phrase. We simply will not standby while insincere politicians use tragedies like this to infringe upon our rights. And no one believes that we should just wince and bear these terrible tragedies as casualties of war. We are horrified by them. We lost sleep at the thought of dropping our 1st graders to a school that might be terrorized by a madman. We just believe that taking away all guns will make us less secure, not more.
I just wanted to send you a quick response because I think you have something there. The beginning of cooperation is understanding each other, and I think you are getting close.
Regrettably, I must tell you that we are nowhere close to agreement. I do not believe in your false dichotomies of earners and takers, in your embittered and venal resentments of the perceived other. That you openly confess that a show about zombies approximates in your mind the relationship between yourself and fellow human beings and fellow citizens is an astonishing admission. Take a longer moment, and reflect on that appalling sentiment.
I am neither insincere nor a politician. I seek no personal advantage in saying that any society that places less value on real human lives than on the abstract right to carry any level of armament in any conceivable circumstance, and to employ those lethal weapons not merely to defend one’s self, but to protect mere property — this is a society in grave and certain decline.
Gary Wills has your number, brother. You are no devotee of true liberty, of responsible citizenship under a republic, or of any righteous cause worthy of real, humanist respect. You are simply worshipping a modern Moloch. Sorry.
I cannot imagine anything more correct than these are three paragraphs. When one truly believes “that a show about zombies approximates in your mind the relationship between yourself and fellow human beings and fellow citizens,” and this belief leads them to the belief that therefore, they need to be armed to protect their own, instead of the belief that they need to re-examine their belief system, worldview, and quite possibly their understanding of the social compact here in this (supposedly) civilized society, well . . . . we have a real problem. A deep, systemic problem. That so many seem to hold such beliefs, leads me to question whether things can get better. It also makes me incredibly sad. I’m not sure I want to be part of this. As the Walking Dead also shows, when you view the world like it’s the zombie apocalypse, it doesn’t just end up being you (and your small group) against the zombies. It ends up being you (and your small group) against the zombies yes, but also against every single other person not in your group. All that matters is the safety of you and those you love and trust. Anyone outside that small circle is just as big a threat as the zombies. I fundamentally reject this worldview, but unfortunately, many, possibly including Mr. Napier above, have already embraced it, and it didn’t even take an actual zombie apocalypse, sadly.
We also get the government we deserve. Let’s face it — by and large voters are idiots. While Daniel Inoyue accomplished many great things in service to his country, what did the voters expect would happen when they kept sending an aging man back to the Senate for six-year terms? The same thing that happened in South Carolina when voters sent a well-past 90 Strom Thurmond back for another six-year term and West Virginia voters did the same with a 90-year-old Robert Byrd, both of whom already were so infirmed that they spent most of their time in hospitals while unelected staff did all their work, only to wheel them out for important votes. The other day I heard someone debate whether N.J. Sen. Frank Lautenberg would run again in 2014 since he will be 90. Voters recognize a name, check the box. I used to be against term limits, thinking they essentially were undemocratic, but the voters aren’t wise enough to kick out the incumbents and the incumbent party truly is the only one that matters in Congress. I always say that any time an incumbent in Congress leaves office, an angel gets his wings. They get to used to the perks, exempt themselves from laws that apply to everyone else, provide themselves with the best health care plans that they’d never let their constituents have. For several years, people on Social Security received no cost-of-living adjustment, but that didn’t stop Congress from giving themselves one each year. Of course, the most-recent amendment to the Constitution forbid any pay raises for Congress during their own session, but I guess COLAs don’t count as a raise.
No alternative but to write angry and despairing. Glad you did. You also articulated the lingering disquiet I’ve had for that genre of TV show about the unthinking hordes quelled by gunfire.
The day before this massacre I happened to be visiting Port Arthur – a place that already had a terrible and brutal convict history before it became the site of a mass shooting that left 35 people dead. Woke up the next day to hear about Newtown and just knew all the families of those names I’d read on the memorial wall out at Port Arthur would be feeling ripped apart once again.
That massacre at Port Arthur was a tipping point and led to gun reform here in Australia. I wish I felt confident that Sandy Hook would be “the one” that leads to change for you. I wish.
Given your record on the subject, as shown in “Homicide” (the first couple seasons, the really good ones) and “The Wire,” I wouldn’t expect anything less from you than this post.
My own reaction is something like yours, with a personal connection of having a “disturbed” brother who self-medicated the voices in his head with alcohol and drugs, and then played with his 23 guns in that state. And one night, when I was trying to help him deal with his demons, he pulled out a double-barreled shotgun, aimed it at me and pulled both triggers – and then discovered I had found the gun and unloaded it. The police came, he spent 96 hours in a mental ward (after I spent most of the next morning arguing with the “mental health professional” that he hadn’t acted as he had because he was drunk but because he was crazy, and that he was indeed a danger to himself and others). 30 days after he got out of the mental health ward, he went to court and got a restraining order against me, at which the judge wouldn’t let me give my “non-expert hearsay testimony” about my brother’s long history of looniness, and then they gave him back the 23 guns they had confiscated that night. That’s how the system works.
Whatever we do, the system is so broken I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know I am perfectly willing to take the opportunity presented by the deaths of 20 upper class beautiful white children and use it to beat the idiots over the head and try for some sort of change. Had there been some way to get my brother into involuntary treatment, he wouldn’t have been dead these pat 13 years by crazed suicide. Had there been some way to keep the guns out of his hands, the police in Glendale wouldn’t have been on a first-name basis with him on his “acting out” nights (one cop said to me “if he wasn’t white, he’d have been dead the first time” – a helluva note and a true sad statement).
Even 75% of NRA members are in favor of doing some normal rational things that would keep these guns out of the hands of these kinds of people. So the whackjobs running the NRA can indeed be beaten.
I’ve seen what an assault rifle can do – up close and personal when I was in Vietnam. I’ve never touched a gun since that day. These families will never ever in the entire rest of their lives have a “Merry Christmas.” This time, something does have to be done.
Not all the kids were white. But it’s a valid point nonetheless. Would people care as much if this happened on the South Side of Chicago? Nope. Speaking of which, we have an epidemic of gun violence in Chicago, but no one really cares because it happens mainly in “those neighborhoods.” Where the zombies live, to extend David’s metaphor.
I definitely understand your questioning of the Sandy Hook massacre as “extraordinary.” While not denying either its tragedy or its horror, it has annoyed me for years as slaughter after slaughter such as this one happens to see TV talking heads try to feign shock at such thing happening. Really? As a friend of mine once said (and I don’t even recall about which horrific event he referred), how many times can our nation lose our innocence? Still, that being said, something does feel different this time in the reactions of people of all political stripes. Being a cynic, I remain skeptical that anything concrete can be accomplished but the faces of 20 dead 6 and 7-year-olds seem to have broken through to a lot of them (unless they are a world-class moron such as Victoria Jackson or belong to the Westboro Baptist Church — there’s a place that deserves a Waco-like conflagration if ever someplace did). I’ve managed to learn some facts that even I didn’t know. Since MLK and RFK’s assassinations in 1968, more than 1 million people in the U.S. have died because of guns. Though there are only a couple of weeks left, this year is coming close to being the first where deaths by guns outnumber deaths in car accidents. The most surprising fact to me was that back in the 1920s and 1930s, the NRA led the way in trying to get laws against weapons such as machine guns and the like because of their use by gangsters such as Al Capone. Now, they fight to keep them legal, working to undo laws that many decades before they helped to create.
I agree that we have begun to sound like a broken record as a nation when the talking heads keep calling these tragedies “unthinkable” when the last one was usually no more than a year or two ago. But I think you are right in that something is definitely different this time, in terms of our reaction to it and I deeply hope that it plays out differently. The ages of the slaughtered children and the timing of it all…tell me you haven’t thought about there already being presents under the trees of those little kids that they were looking forward to opening, maybe the time of year shouldn’t matter but it really does. There is nothing as pure in this nation as that wide eyed child’s innocence and patience in waiting for Christas, in a demographic that still believes in Santa and is too young to even understand why this happened, but old enough to feel horror. My wife and I talk about everything troubling that happens in the news usually, we haven’t spoken a word about this one; I don’t think any of us have come to grips with this yet. I feel like a coward for having a hard time even thinking or talking about it when some families are actually having to deal with this as reality right now. There is this feeling of ‘no, not again’ as I look at the links and don’t click on them, skipping off to some virtual sand to stick my head in. This is the first I’ve even commented other than my knee jerk (and now practiced thanks to the other tragedies of this kind) statement to my coworker friends: “I just wish I could tell people.. if you ever feel the need to shoot a bunch of kids, point the gun at yourself instead and pull the trigger, I promise you the real problem will be solved.” It’s cowboyish and rehearsed and fake; I’m not proud of it but it lets me keep on the tough guy mask and get back to work when I really just want to cry when I think about it all. Back to what is different though… the timing yes, but obviously the ages of the children that were slain. In a not as obvious way though, there were other things to blame in the recent tragedies that maybe kept us a little bit sane. In Aurora, we could blame it on a crazy person taking a movie too seriously, clearly insane. The victims were of no particular demographic, in some ways this makes it easier to take as there are plane crashes or bus crashes or earthquakes somewhere in the world where it is the same, no one spared but no one particular face or categorized group of faces to attach to the tragedy. For Columbine, they were young too but there was a part of it that you don’t talk about publicly that for some or most of us helped keep us sane (or delusional) on a national level, that maybe these kids were bullied just a bit too hard, we all know that high school is a hellhole when you don’t belong, made worse by truly cruel kids. We could secretly hang on to some dark shred of hope that maye in some twisted way justice was served… even if it was total bullshit, (and it was) it could help you sleep at night. There were video games to blame, cops who should have done more, outlets for our shock and horror and rage and dismay that brought some fake form of catharsis. At Virginia Tech, at least the victims had hopefully known most of what life had to offer, had hopefully been in love before and hopefully had known at least some adult happiness. They were gunned down way, way too young of course, but we could blame how much pressure there is to succeed in school, and that it was a foreigner that did it. My point is that there were other things to reflect on or blame other than ourselves.. Nothing that helped any of these tragedies if you were actually there or directly affected I’d bet but I think these things helped our nation cope with the tragedy even if it was sort of ‘cheating’. (and looking back it was definitely cheating ourselves out of the deep reflection needed) The school shooting was also no longer a new phenomenon unfortunately. This time though….It is undeniably different. What else is there to blame but our own culture that worships guns and violence and explosions and this fearful extreme right we have that thinks when soldiers slaughter muslim civilians during war like at Haditha, they should be given a medal, not court martialed..people that oversimplify everything that can be. These people (on both sides) that seem to think as everything as black and white because gray is too darn complicated, people on both sides that break things down into intellectually manageable blocks and view things as libs and dems vs repugs and ‘the religious right’ rather than deconstruct the issues. There are so many people that think even talking about gun control is just the first step into ‘ the liberals taking them all away’ though which will of course happen ‘over their dead bodies’ or when we ‘pry them from their cold dead hands’. I don’t want to make this political, but the gun culture’s political leanings are no secret either…but then there I go making this a left vs right thing when it shouldn’t be after just complaining about oversimplifying such things. Maybe we could go down the road of working toward making mental health treatment affordable and available to all, dump heaps of money into recognizing early warning signs or genetic markers for those liable to snap like this but that’s not going to help anyone actually cope with this, is it? It’s not enough for me, is it for any of you? That’s not the knee jerk reaction that I actually think we need this time around, we need to feel like this was not for nothing this time, the tragedy is too horrific, the ages of the deceased way way too young. We need the “Sandy Hook Law” whatever that ends up being…that is our way… (like it or not).. to put a tragedy or victim’s name on some new legislation moving forward that will hopefully prevent such a thing from happening in the future. That is what this legislative society of ours does when faced with the latest version of “unthinkable.” The law will be as tough of a gun law that it can be while still actually passing through the machine known as congress; no more, no less. I’m not championing the idea, it is what it is…even though what it is..is a hollow excuse for actually dealing with the core of the issue, which is that we’re more than just a bit fucked up as a society. I think it’s what will have to happen for now though. The measure of self reflection as a nation that we truly need, will likely have to wait for some tragedy that I hope I am not around to see, as I cannot imagine the scope of what the new definition of “unthinkable” will have to become for us to take that collective long hard look in the mirror.