(Photo: Vigil for Victims in Dayton, Ohio – courtesy Wiki Commons)
After the recent horror of multiple mass shootings – at a garlic festival in California, at a Wal-Mart in El Paso, and, finally, at a popular nightlife neighborhood of Dayton – I went to social media and posed two questions: “What is wrong with America? Why does this keep happening?” The responses were wildly different.
“Pundits will make this political, each blaming the other side’s ideology. But something bigger is happening here. It’s called evil.”
“I don’t think there’s enough being done to address the signals of mental illness.”
“I really think these violent video games play a large part. We are desensitizing our youth at a very young age and teaching them to shoot people.”
“It’s the parents that fail in raising their kids.”
Some readers blamed the news media for exaggerated reporting of the country’s mindset.
“News is very biased. They mention color and race before character or motive.” Another citizen agreed writing, “They take a story and just keep making things worse. All they ever spew out is hate and racism.”
Several readers called for more and tougher gun laws including a return to a ban on automatic weapons. A woman wrote in from Ljubljana, Slovenia to say, “Such things almost never happen in Europe. We also have crazies, angry and frustrated people, we also have violent video games, but people here don’t have guns and have not grown up in a gun culture. I’m not saying you have to get rid of guns, because I know you never will, but it’s guns!!”
Naturally, there were those who disagreed. “Blaming guns for these tragedies makes as much sense as blaming cars for drunk driving tragedies. Angry, damaged people bent on violence will always find a way to cause harm – with or without guns. Timothy McVey (sic) used fertilizer.”
There is merit to all these responses. There is no one simple reason that can explain why (mostly) men pick up guns and kill groups of innocent people. Yet many believe the bulk of the blame lies in the rhetoric coming from the White House.
“Electing a sane president would help,” one respondent wrote to me. Another opined that, “The answer to your question is complex but it starts with the impeachment of tRump!”
I believe blaming one person, namely President Trump, is to insult our collective intelligence. Mass shootings began years before this president’s tenure and, sadly, they may continue for decades. That said I’m embarrassed by many things this President says and tweets. I’d like to see much more civility and humility coming from the President. But also from those 2020 presidential candidates who exploit these tragic situations by spewing simplistic anti-Trump demagoguery– you should be ashamed. Naming a scapegoat never solves a problem. Finding solutions does.
So how about it? Instead of name calling, finger pointing and political posturing isn’t there one leader in this country who can rally a truly bipartisan group to identify common triggers that cause shooters to go on deadly rampages? Is there no one – either an elected official or a concerned citizen – who will step forward to say, “Let’s find solutions instead of bickering!”? Several billionaire Americans have dedicated themselves to environmental organizations, art museums or to help eradicate disease in other countries. Wouldn’t it be great if one would lead the way to further society’s understanding of mass shooters? Maybe we could avoid some of the carnage.
Here are some commonsense recommendations: First, specifically identify and ban automatic weapons. Second, the U.S. Congress needs to stop with the long vacations and get to work making universal (and thorough) background checks the law of the land. The Senate must stop stalling and approve the House-passed bill closing gun show loopholes, ensuring that no person can get a same-day gun. All internet sales of ammunition must be stopped, We should demand closer real time monitoring of over-the-counter ammunition sales and restrict the number of bullets in gun magazines. Give states financial assistance for more and improved mental health facilities. How many times must we hear that a family recognized the need to institutionalize a mentally ill loved one, but no beds were available? All states should join the 15 that have adopted “Red-Flag” bills which allow family members or local police to ask a judge for permission to confiscate guns from at-risk people. It also bans them from buying more firearms. And finally, special emphasis needs to be put on improving law enforcement’s monitoring of the internet, especially the ugliest corners of the dark web where the demented foment hate and brag about their deadly plans. Platforms like Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter also need to step up their efforts to find, report and remove these types of posts.
Americans are fearful and sad that mass shootings occur with such frightening regularity. Now they are also angry that nothing meaningful has been done to get to the root causes of these massacres. We’re better than this. Aren’t we?