Updated: May 28
I've been thinking about Senator Chris Murphy's (D-CT) speech on the floor of the Senate just hours after the Uvalde school shooting.
"This only happens in this country and nowhere else. Nowhere else do little kids go to
school, thinking that they might be shot that day. Nowhere else do parents have to talk
to their kids, as I have had to do about why they got locked into a bathroom and told to
be quiet for five minutes just in case a bad man entered that building. Nowhere else
does that happen except here in the United States of America"
But he's entirely wrong.
Don't Be Naive
I despise our American centrism. There's a whole world out there where kids in other countries live in fear of being shot at school. Ukraine, Afghanistan, DRC, Burkina Faso, and other nations have the same situation. Children are dying while trying to get an education.
But we're nothing like them, right? Wrong again.
We Have a Lot in Common
Let's look at what we share in common with these countries. Easy access to firearms, of course. Poor access to mental health care, definitely. And the thing that nobody wants to talk about - an entrenched culture of discrimination that supports and feeds violent extremism. A persistent other-ing of minority groups. Discrimination against women, BIPOC, and the LGBTQIA+ communities. An entitled few willing to sacrifice the well-being of others to further their own interests, who will maintain power through violence if necessary.
In fact, we could argue that the lack of access to mental health services is a symptom of that culture, in which those who have the most are unwilling to lift up those in need for no reason other than that they are "other". Even the gun control debate is influenced by large companies willing to wield an infinitely deep pocketbook to keep themselves in control, no matter the cost to the rest of us.
It's tempting to distill mass murder into soundbites. "Gun control" and "mental health care" fit neatly into the headlines. The issue here is not that these aren't noble goals. It's that they're overly simplistic. Gun control activists don't want to talk about the pervasive connection between mass shooters and their histories of domestic violence because it's easier to argue against a single cause than discuss the nuance of multiple contributing factors. The "guns don't kill people; people kill people" folks are quick to blame inadequate mental health services for mass shootings. But they ignore racist manifestos like those published by those allegedly responsible for the Buffalo and El Paso shootings, among others. And racism isn't a mental illness, in case you weren't clear on the subject. And the pro-gun lobby, most notably the NRA, doesn't want to discuss the disturbing fact that many mass shooters purchase their weapons legally and without background checks by strolling through the massive loopholes in gun control legislation. Because that conversation would call into question their financial interests in gun sales.
If we're going to change our nation and make schools, stores, and churches safe again, we need to start with a long look in the mirror at who we've become. We are a violent nation that allows extremism to brew within our own borders. Our mass shooting problem is multi-factorial, and anyone who pretends to have a single solution is either an idiot or has personal interests to protect. Until we are ready to discuss sweeping reform including common-sense gun laws, universal mental healthcare, and total intolerance of violent extremist rhetoric, nothing will change.