Another day; another mass shooting. This week, San Jose was the site where a resentful, ex-employee opened fire on his coworkers, something that’s become far too common in our country. It illustrated, once again, that we never know what hides beneath the surface of anyone. We rarely notice the anger, depression, resentment, embedded racism or religious bias behind a neighborhood teen’s grin or that ‘harmless’ crank’s frown. And we seldom can predict what eventually propels a person to grab a gun and take target practice on unsuspecting other humans — until it’s too late.
You just don’t know.
From El Paso to Dayton, Newtown to Orlando, mass shootings are part of the American gun culture. In 2020 alone, 611 mass shooting events occurred in a year when a pandemic was raging. They say the flip side of anger is fear and COVID-19 certainly was a year for that. Even so, it’s hard to imagine such calculated, heinous acts of violence incited bye the scared and afraid. Yet, terrorists are definitely frightened, just not in the way you think. You see, for them the bogeyman is not something that goes bump in the night but fear of poverty, of being passed over or being unseen or unloved. It’s also the ‘tired, hungry, and poor’ bogeymen that giant green lady in the NY harbor welcomes — the ‘other’. And, because not everyone who is prejudiced, scared or feeling helpless becomes a mass shooter, mental illness if often the root cause. After all, no one who purposefully commits mass murder is in their ‘right mind’.
I’m often afraid, too, and I know I’m not alone. I’m afraid, not of immigrants but of ‘shadow’ Americans, of homies who are religious fanatics and sycophant politicians, who’ve rained hateful diatribes like confetti grenades. I’m afraid of walking into a Dairy Queen or a shopping mall to see cocky, right-to-carry assault rifles worn ‘just because’ . Or people claiming to be patriots, ‘good guys with guns’, who wave the flag with one hand, just ready to be triggered. That scares me.
I have grandsons – 5 of them. I know all about the sometimes crazy video games (though my kids keep tight rein on what the nuggets can play). But to blame mass shootings on those games is both absurd and short-sighted. When I was a kid, my brothers played with cap guns and toy rifles, pretending to be soldiers, cops or bad guys. To my knowledge, my remaining brother never grew an interest in shooting up a theater.
I believe that, most likely, some level of mental illness renders every perpetrator unequipped to process hateful rhetoric or deep-seated hurt and resentment with less than deadly actions. But I also believe, that we all should be more aware of people needing help, of words and actions that are often cries for help. If identified, maybe those people could be treated before catastrophes happen – that is if mental health budgets have not been slashed.
One night, I read one of Brad Meltzer’s kid biographies to my youngest grandboy and his innocent observation renewed me. Having read about Einstein, Walt Disney and Washington, he chose Rosa Parks that night and when I finished reading, I asked what he thought. This big blue-eyed, 7 year old kid said ‘I don’t understand why people are so mean. Just because other people’s skin is a different color, they’re still people.” Out of the mouths of babes.
Yet, some little boys, just like that impossibly sweet grandson who likes pink and thinks every fuzzy stuffed thing is ‘adohable’, grow up to be domestic terrorists, haters of the ‘other’. They somehow missed the memo that we are ALL immigrants, that skin tone is an accident of birth and they could have just as easily been born an ‘other’. They didn’t get the message that, just as we want to be accepted, we need to accept others.
So, what messages have been sewn in the mind of that kid next door that causes them to become troubled outliers, lonely sitting ducks for the dark reaches of dangerous websites like 8chan, wacko conspiracy theories and torch bearing marches? How do those who lost jobs, marriages or dreams become so disenfranchised, so alone, so adrift that they see no other way than to grab a gun and open fire? Yet, they all fly under the radar, sitting unsuspectingly near us at church, in the movies, or at school until we see their faces on the news.
Sometimes, finding welcome from fringe hate groups, they become operatives with a mission. They believe that lost jobs, poverty and displacement is caused by the ‘other’, who becomes the perfect scapegoat. It’s always easier to blame than acknowledge simple truths that education, robots, AI and yes, people, are part of a changing world. I don’t know the answer but I know we need to do better – and we can. New Zealand banned assault weapons in SIX days after one mass shooting proving it’s not that hard to change this random deadly insanity. Yet, the US remain remains the 32nd-highest rate of deaths from gun violence in the world, something no American should be proud of.
Idiotic semantics not withstanding, the truth remains — GUNS KILL PEOPLE. AK-47s, AR-15’s are blithely utilized as a mass shooters’ weapon of choice when these economically speedy killing machines have no place anywhere but the battlefield. Full stop. So why are politicians so dismissive, even actively fighting against gun control? Look no further than the sources of their immense funding. Between the NRA, small interest groups and a misguided understanding of the 2nd amendment, even gun control measures as basic as enhanced background checks and bans on military-style guns and ammunition remain stymied. If, after Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas and all that came after, we still continue to do nothing — deadly results are on us. It’s on the Senate who sit instead of stand for what’s right. It’s on the political agendas whose tired rhetoric emboldens separation instead of communion.
Speaking in San Jose today, Governor Newsom expressed exasperation over today’s senseless tragedy there. He urged the country move beyond platitudes and prayers over rinse and repeat gun violence to meaningful change. “What the hell is going on in the United States of America?” he said, “What is wrong with us?”