How can the rest of the world make sense of America when it is so difficult for us as Americans to make sense of ourselves?
What kind of people can move directly into shutdown mode when 19 nine- and ten-year-olds are turned from loving bundles of joy into unidentifiable flesh by someone who was able to buy weapons of mass destruction as his 18th birthday present?
And this, less than 10 days after more than a dozen innocent, mainly elderly, grocery shoppers are similarly decimated by a 21-year-old because of the colour of their skin. After 23 mostly Hispanic people are killed by a 21-year-old white supremacist in an El Paso Walmart. After 11 Jews worshipping in a synagogue are gunned down by a man with an AR-15, yelling “All Jews must die”. Or nine African-American worshipers whose lives were snuffed out by a 21-year-old white supremacist with a Glock (after trying to get an AR-15) so that he could ignite a race war.
There are others, so many others. And the incidence of mass shootings is accelerating and will continue to do so.
What do these mass shootings have in common? First, they are all committed principally by young males. But racism and antisemitism and Islamophobia are not confined to the United States. Hate speech is loathsome, and sometimes leads to mass murder in other places, but nowhere does it proliferate like in the United States.
What is unique is that all these men were armed with weapons of war that can accomplish mass carnage in seconds. The weapons used in mass shootings are almost never hunting weapons; they are not for sport; they are only for efficient, instant multiple murders. The homicidal impulses of these men, whether prompted by race hatred or mental illness or uncontrollable rage, can be implemented without any meaningful obstacles being placed in the way by the state.
Indeed, many US states are in a race to the bottom to eliminate what very few speed bumps there may be for these men to acquire the instruments of mass murder. They have no other uses for which they are properly suited.
What does it take to kill innocent children or murder elderly men and women worshipping in church or picking up a quart of milk? Perhaps it is a sickness, a disorder of thinking so profound, so evil, that we cannot understand it. I certainly cannot.
What never changes – and what is entirely comprehensible – is the non-response response from so many public officials. Thoughts and prayers. Let’s study mental illness. Let’s arm the teachers and security guards so the good guys can shoot the bad guys. Don’t politicise this tragic moment by talking about gun control. It is the same playbook every time. And it is uniquely, quintessentially American. It reflects a cynicism, a careerism, an untrammelled and unquestioned support for naked capitalism that is strong enough to destroy the moral sensibility that would quail at the organs of little children splattered across a classroom.
The reality is that while gunmakers manufacture and market these expensive, highly profitable weapons, they know what they are best suited for and it is inevitable that at least some of them will be used for mass murder. The goal of the gun manufacturers is to sell as many of them as possible. Many of them are sold to adolescents who can’t buy a beer. Many are sold to white supremacists whose views correlate with being armed to the teeth. Many are sold to those who have home arsenals. Large numbers will not commit mass murders or crimes of any sort. But enough will have the tools and the will to do so and will do so.
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So why do the pious crowd of public officials who send their thoughts and prayers do nothing? Because gun manufacturers keep them in office. They support their campaigns with contributions. And manufacturers support the National Rifle Association (NRA). Politicians covet the “A Plus” rating and will do anything they can to get it. The NRA opposes any limits on weapons, especially the big-ticket weapons of their manufacturer sponsors.
If any public official suggests there is anything wrong with this cult of toxic masculinity and mass death that the NRA and their sponsors promulgate, they are targeted for defeat.
And so thoughts and prayers buy enough time for the coffins, including the dozens of tiny coffins of school shooting victims, to be buried and for America to move on to the next Uvalde, the next Buffalo, the next El Paso, the next Sandy Hook.
Our elected leaders know they are coming. And that they will not and need not do anything that might risk their jobs. They are not in office to do anything as important as preventing the killing of our children. They can only pray for them. And so must we all.