Bloody Spring

Opinion

It’s happened again: We’ve had yet another mass shooting. Just between us, as more and more people start coming out of their year-long lockdowns, I predict we’re going to have a fair number more. We got a year off from them, but that just means we’ve had people become crazy at the normal rate… but they didn’t have obvious targets and so kept right on stewing in their basements.

Plus, every time there’s one of these shown on CNN, it seems other nuts see the television coverage and get inspired to do one of their own — as though being a copycat nut-job is somehow better than the first one, who might have been honestly acting out his own selfish frustrations on innocents rather than pretending to for the free press.

Don’t get me wrong: They’re both foul and almost inhumanly selfish. But the copycat is at least partly after the attention, which is worse — people’s lives are more valuable than that.

So yes, we can expect more spree shootings and rampage killings as things open up. It’s going to be a bloody spring.

Well, I say “a lot”. Gun rights apologists (and I’m often one of them) will bring up that the majority of gun deaths are suicides. The Gun Violence Archive reports about 24,000 annually; the CDC rates suicides higher and accidents lower. Compare that with a couple dozen rampage killing incidents in a bad year and the two problems appear to be incomparable in scale; suicide is by far the biggest problem. That’s underlined by the fact that many of these shooting events are intended by the perpetrator to become “death by cop” — it’s just a spectacular (and sociopathic) form of suicide for those too cowardly to kill themselves.

(The astute reader may detect a degree of contempt. Mainly, this is because I know of half a dozen causes worth dying for and a hundred worth living for. Someone wants to go out with a bang, there’s bangs aplenty worth making. Shooting up a grocery store or massage parlor is not among them.)

There may be gun control laws that would help address these situations. I don’t know many, but that’s no reason to think it’s not possible. On the other hand, the operative problem appears to be suicide, which rises from insanity and despair. It seems only reasonable to address that first. After all, even in tightly regimented societies, there are rampage killings with knives; there are poisonings; there is uncontrolled drug abuse and suicide.

Experimenters with rats know that they’re usually docile, even friendly, when they’re well-fed, provided with plenty of space, privacy, and so on. But when crowded, they become vicious, and when starved they are terrible. Humans under similar conditions are little better. In our present age of worsening poverty even in the most prosperous nations, where permanent unemployment is reaching record highs, is it any wonder that more and more people are killing themselves or going on rampages?

The simplest thing for our Congress to do in the United States would be to raise the minimum wage, ideally tying it automatically to inflation so we can stop the continual staged political fights over it. Programs to improve the economies of the poorest parts of the nation — those states where the wage isn’t already increasing — would be reasonable. Basic healthcare and insurance reform, reducing the cost of higher education, even considering a Universal Basic Income — these are all potential approaches. Above all, we desperately need to make mental health care far more readily available; sane people don’t go on killing sprees.

I suggest them because the alternative — focusing on the guns — is impracticable at best and at worst suicidal. Reducing the supply or accessibility of handguns might reduce suicides a small amount, but the simple truth is that there are far too many weapons already out there. There’s no reasonable approach that would make it impossible for a sufficiently committed person to get hold of a gun — and spree shooters are driven by uncontrollable compulsions; they’re committed. Besides: We already imprison more than 1% of our population; why increase the number when there are simple alternatives?

After long study and consideration, I honestly believe this is a choice between accepting increasing violence matter-of-factly or taking action; and that our options for action are to embrace the tyranny of ever more draconic laws or instead to improve the living conditions of all our citizens.

Put that way, the choices seem quite clear.


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