December 21, 2015
14 dead and 17 wounded in a mass shooting at a holiday party in San Bernardino. More alarming than the butcher’s bill, though, is the indifference with which the American people greeted the news. While active shooters were still at large, while dead bodies were still warm in the conference room, it was business as usual on social media. People, many in California’s southland, were posting silly memes and funny cat videos, travel photos and selfies. It’s not a matter of folks being oblivious or uncaring—it’s that we’re desensitized to it. Mass shootings are the 800-pound, heavily armed and mentally unstable gorilla in the room, and no one wants to acknowledge it out of fear of pissing it off.
Gone are the days when people would crowd around the news reports, watching in rapt astonishment and disbelief as they tried to comprehend the type of mass carnage and gun violence that seemed to only occur in failed states like Somalia. Need proof those days are long gone? America is a country of people that stood by as 20 children got mowed down in Sandy Hook—and then buckled under the weight of the NRA’s rapid-response pro-gun propaganda (The teachers should have been armed!) and political muscle.
But before a permanent malaise sets in, here are some simple facts that illustrate where America is at this juncture in the battle for its national identity.
A daily basis
If I told you that, in 2015, America has experienced one mass shooting per day, I would most certainly be lying—it’s actually more than one a day. For every day of the calendar year so far, there has been more than one incident of four or more people being wounded or killed by a mass shooting in the United States. When you think about gun violence along those stark and sickening lines, it’s no wonder most of us choose to look the other way.
Of terrorism and guns
Reasonable people can argue that all mass shootings are an act of terrorism. It’s certainly a cogent point. But for the moment let’s focus on the type of terrorists people in the U.S. tend to care more about—Islamic extremists in such far-flung places as Iraq and Syria. We’re sure scared of those guys (and gals), so much so that a majority of Americans oppose accepting Syrian refugees into the country. This despite the fact that these people are fleeing the same Islamic extremists America is currently at war with.
But just how much of a threat are radical Muslims within U.S. borders? In the period since the attacks of September 11th, 2001, Islamic militants have carried out seven lethal attacks in the U.S. If initial reports are correct, and the San Bernardino killers were motivated by Islamic fundamentalism, that would make eight attacks. Compare that to the average of 36 people every day who are killed due to gun violence in America, and you have a clear indicator of who—or more aptly, what—the real threat to America is.
So where it concerns mass shootings, religion is secondary (and don’t forget that the Planned Parenthood gunman identifies as a Christian). What’s more important is that, even now, under federal law in the United States, people who find themselves on the FBI’s terror watch list are legally allowed to buy a gun. We only have one group to thank for that pleasure…
The NRA connection
Behind every mass shooting in America is a do-nothing politician offering “thoughts and prayers” to the victims. And behind every do-nothing politician offering these thoughts and prayers is America’s great facilitator of carnage and gun death, the National Rifle Association, and its belligerent mouthpiece Wayne LaPierre. Once a harmless outdoorsman’s club, the NRA has evolved into one of the most powerful political lobbies in America, spending nearly $30 million on campaigns in 2014 alone. After Sandy Hook, when the American public had every reason to put LaPierre’s back to the wall, instead the NRA cleaned up. Membership shot up 62% the following year, and revenue cleared almost a third of $1 billion dollars. The headline couldn’t be clearer or sadder—little kids get slaughtered while cynical NRA executives and craven politicians cash checks.
In the end, the title of this post is dripping with irony. Americans are no more at a tipping point regarding guns than the British are regarding cups of tea. Is there a future where America wakes up from its nightmare of gun violence? This writer would like to believe there is. But there’s no place in that reality for gun fetishists; America has to cure itself of that pathology. There’s no place in a civilized society for the NRA, either. To get to this place of peace, we would first need the courage to come to a very real tipping point.
Image courtesy of the Chicago Tribune