Earlier this month the world watched in horror as the events of the deadliest mass shooting in current US history unfolded. I wondered how long its news lifespan would be this time. How long would it take the president and his party to convince us that all we can do is say our prayers and move on?
The American public is often forced to view tragedies like these as unpreventable. They're attributed to the unpredictability of the evil and crazed lone wolf. It's as if we are expected to be content with the fact that if the men who commit these atrocities fit into the prototype of 'white male', then there is no way they can be flagged or stopped.
Notable members of the Republican party retreat to the topic of mental health in their many poor attempts to quell American's concerns about the inevitability of mass shootings. It masks their cowardice towards having productive conversations about gun control. In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting Paul Ryan spoke out about the importance of mental health reform, on its ability to prevent events like these from happening again. He might have to be reminded that his effort to champion the repeal of the ACA would slash the one of the largest "expansions of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation (Mentalhealth.gov)." This debases the public health issue surrounding our country's stigma towards mental health. It's taking credit for policy that you have not fought for and will never fight for.
When we apply Paul Ryan's logic to the greater issue of gun violence, we can state that the problem isn't guns, it's making sure they are out of the hands of the people who shouldn't have them. But as the Department of Health and Human Services has stated (and as this was referenced in this article from The Nation), "most people with mental illness are not violent, and only 3 percent–5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness."
Maybe this retreat to violence is a product of our culture. I happened to be reading bell hooks' All About Love when the events in Las Vegas unfolded. In it, hooks dedicates as much time to unpacking the value of love and community as she does discussing the cultural impact our loveless society has had on us as individuals.
“The more we watch spectacles of meaningless death, of random violence and cruelty, the more afraid we come in our daily lives. We cannot embrace the stranger with love for we fear the stranger. We believe the stranger is a messenger of death who wants our life. This irrational fear is an expression of madness if we think of madness as meaning we are out of touch with reality. Even though we are more likely to be hurt by someone we know than a stranger, our fear is directed toward the unknown and the unfamiliar. That fear brings with it intense paranoia and a constant obsession with safety"(194).
An obsession with and desire for safety seems quite reasonable if it means that, in the long run, it can protect us when the ever looming threat of deadly violence becomes a reality. The problem with this reasoning is that it leads us to a circular fallacy; the "good guys" with guns have never been able to stop a mass shooting from happening. We know this and so do lawmakers.
America accounts for 4.4 percent of the world's population but for almost half of the civilian owned guns (Vox). State gun ownership stats directly correspond to their rate of gun related deaths (Vox). The party with majority rule in Congress knows the risks that their lax gun control laws pose to their citizens and continually choose to do nothing about it. Toxic masculinity and the patriarchal structure of this country have inextricably tied gun rights to America's favorite trigger word: freedom. It's a lethal formula.