On December 14th, 2012, a man picked up several firearms, went to the school where his mother taught, and began killing people. This was a horrible, horrific event that shocked and sickened me to my core. That this was not the first time something like that has happened in no way lessened the horror.
In the aftermath, as I watched the feeds on Twitter and Facebook, I began to notice two trends.
The first trend was people expressing their emotions: offering condolences to the families of those slain, or expressing their disgust and outrage, as personal tastes dictated.
The second trend I noticed was people using this as proof that either all guns should be banned, or as an example of why every American should be packing a gat on their hip. Some day, I will find the humor inherent in the fact that both the pro- and anti-gun lobbies are using the exact same event as ‘proof’ that their beliefs are correct. Not today, however. It’s still too close.
But then I made the cardinal mistake: I replied to the FB post of an acquaintance.
I really should know better.
My acquaintance posted a link to an article on Thinkprogress.org titled, “It’s Easier for Americans to Access Guns Than Mental Health Services.” I responded flippantly that there are many things in America it is easier to get than mental health services. Then I sarcastically named a few, including garbanzo beans (because I really like that word. Garbanzo).
An acquaintance of my acquaintance then jumped in to berate me for ‘making mental health care seem ridiculous.’ This surprised me, as that was not the point of my reply at all. All I was trying to do was shine a light on the fact that the author of the original article was using this tragedy as a platform for his own personal anti-gun stance, and doing so in a deliberately misleading and frankly absurd way.
‘Guns are easier to access than mental health.’ No s#!t, Sherlock.
Guns are physical, manufactured items. I’m not an expert on firearm factories, but I can’t imagine it takes more than maybe half an hour to manufacture a Glock on the assembly line? And given the asking prices, I predict it costs somewhere in the vicinity of $50-$100 to make one. On the other hand, to ‘manufacture’ a therapist takes years and years of college, and tens if not hundreds of thousands in school loans. And once you’ve ‘made’ your therapist, curing someone of whatever mental ailments they suffer from isn’t instant, that also takes time and money. It has been a while since I last looked at the prices for an hour of therapy, but back then it was around $200. For $200, I can get a LOT of garbanzo beans.
But as I sat here and thought about this semi-argument I was almost having with a complete stranger, I started to think about what this says about us as a species and a society. I composed several follow-up posts in my head, and although I never posted them, they got me to thinking.
See, here’s the thing. Right now, a lot of people are blaming this tragedy on guns. Leaving aside the absurdity of blaming the tool for the way in which it is wielded, this is simply the latest in a long line of excuses that society has come up with in order to avoid having to put the blame for events like this where it actually belongs.
In the ’60s, it was Rock’n’Roll music. If someone killed someone or committed suicide, it was Rock’n’Roll’s fault. In the 70s, it was Heavy Metal. In the 80s, the cause of every evil was Dungeons and Dragons. In the 90s it was video games, and in the 00s, it was violence on TV and in the movies. And now, the fault lies with guns.
It is interesting that we’ve moved beyond the social and are now blaming the method, but that’s not the point. The point is, we keep pointing fingers at things that are, at best, peripheral influences on unstable people and crying ‘Satan is in the Rock’n’Roll/Heavy Metal/D&D/Video games/Violent TV shows/Guns.’
The fact is, sometimes people go crazy. They’re broken. Maybe it’s environmental, maybe it’s genetic. Maybe it’s a chemical imbalance, maybe it’s a non-supportive home life, maybe it’s stress. But people sometimes go nuts. And sometimes, when they go, they take others with them. It’s horrible and sad and scary, but it’s not exactly ‘news’ that sometimes people snap.
So why do we blame these other things, these external forces? Why does society feel the need to point fingers at rock’n’roll or heavy metal or video games or guns and cry ‘Demon! Unclean!’?
I ask this, but the truth is, I know why.
Each and every one of us, in the darkest hidden parts of our minds, where we don’t like to go and hate to even acknowledge that we have, we know that the guy who picked up a gun or a knife or a bomb and killed a McDonalds full of people could have been us. ‘There but for the grace,’ and all that.
But we don’t want to believe that it could be us. Our subconscious minds, quite often, refuse to even accept the possibility. But if ‘crazy’ is a result of environment or stress or genetics, all these things that we tend to believe we have no control over, then we have no control over going crazy. And that is simply unacceptable.
So we find other reasons. Reasons that we, ourselves, don’t do. “That kid who did these terrible things played video games,’ your mind says. “But I don’t like video games, and I don’t play them. Therefore, if video games are the reason he went insane, then I’m safe. It can’t happen to me.” And just like that, we have rationalized away our fear that we could be next and put the demon of insanity into the sacrificial pig of things we don’t like, things we don’t do, and things we’re safe from.
A man picked up several firearms, went to the school where his mother taught, and started killing people. And because someone doesn’t like guns, it’s the guns’ fault.
Obviously, that’s horsecrap. People were going insane and killing each other long before we had easy (or any) access to guns. If there were no guns, that man (he was 24, according to the news report I read) could have gone into a liquor store and bought several bottles of Everclear and made Molotov cocktails out of them. Or made a bomb from various products found at Home Depot. Or picked up a knife (20 of the 28 people he killed at last report were children).
We are all descended from someone. We all live in environments and we all eat and breathe. We all have stress in our lives. So if those things cause insanity then we’re vulnerable. You are vulnerable.
But if you don’t like guns and don’t own one, then guns are a ‘safe’ target. Guns can be the culprit, and you are secure in your invulnerable ivory tower of sanity.
Good luck with that.