This past summer, I sat in a restaurant in Hanoi trying to explain American gun culture to former students. If any of you are reading this, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I did a very good job of explaining the the love affair that Americans have with guns. I can speak theoretically about the Second Amendment, about the pioneer spirit, all of the mythology that surrounds guns in America, but I don’t really understand why the gun holds such a sacred place in American culture. And so I sat there, fumbling for a way to explain something that I don’t really understand to people for whom that culture is completely foreign.
A week later, a gunman walked into a theater in Aurora, Colorado and started shooting.
When I saw the news, checking my twitter feed half a world away, the first thing that came to mind was that conversation where I tried to explain the American gun culture that I do not understand. And that American gun culture made even less sense to me than it had the week before.
In the months after the Aurora theater shooting, we’ve had so many people go on spree killing rampages that it’s become almost expected. I can’t even tell you how many spree killings there have been because they’ve all run together, one mass shooting after another, and it’s never the right time to talk about what it is about American culture that people walk into crowed buildings and start shooting and we act like each and every incident is isolated and has nothing to do with the fact that we live in a society that glorifies gun violence. People utter some platitude about how guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and we go on with our lives treating guns as if they’re some sort of sacrosanct talisman that can never be questioned. When an unarmed teenage boy is killed by a wannabe cop with a handgun, we blame everybody but the fact that we live in a society where shooting first and asking questions later is glorified in movies and on television. When a middle aged man with a handgun shoots up a car full of unarmed teenagers in a parking lot because he doesn’t like the volume of their music, we don’t ask whether there’s a problem that too many idiots with guns are running around the state of Florida thinking that stand your ground gives them a free pass. When a football player murders his girlfriend and then kills himself, we aren’t even allowed to ask whether the easy access to handguns makes it easier for someone to do something in the heat of emotion that can never be undone. And when someone walked into a mall this week and started shooting, it barely lasted the news cycle because we’ve become so numb to spree killings that a body count in the single digits barely registers. When a spree killing at a mall gets only slightly more press than the fact that there were no shootings or stabbings for 36 hours in New York City, something is wrong with this country.
When it takes elementary school children getting murdered for people to pay attention, something is wrong with this country.
It’s time to have a real conversation about American gun culture, and it’s time to have a real conversation about how piss poor our mental health system is in this country. These aren’t isolated incidents, they happen because we as a culture are seriously fucked up and have fucked up priorities. How many more people have to die before we actually do something and have a real discussion on this?