The Onion, in its satirical style, took note this week of the hand wringing that inevitably follows the all-too-American occurrence, the mass killing.
“In the days following a violent rampage in southern California in which a lone attacker killed seven individuals, including himself, and seriously injured over a dozen others, citizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Tuesday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place,” a mock news story began.
Though a parody, the story correctly noted that Americans are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than citizens of other developed nations. “At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past five years were referring to themselves and their situation as helpless,” the fake account concluded.
The Onion is more on point than most of us would like to think.
Richard Martinez, the father of one of the six young people killed in Isla Vista, Calif., last week, got a stadium full of mourners to rise and roar along with him, “Not one more!” Not one more college student, or first-grader, or teacher, or service member, or office worker slain because they crossed the path of a deranged killer.
But, God help us, there will be more.
There will be more because paranoia has swamped the gun rights debate.
There will be more because we are unable to predict which individuals are likely to become violent.
There will be more because there are people out there who gather the slights and insults of life into a poisonous stew. Their role models are the killers who went before them. Their computers and video consoles are their training grounds. Their access to weapons is nearly unlimited.
Martinez, who lost his 20-year-old son, Chris, lashed out at politicians. “They talk about gun rights,” he said. “What about Chris’s right to live?”
But the U.S. Senate, to its eternal shame, last year buried the most modest of gun safety legislation — expanded FBI background checks for gun purchasers — while the parents of the children murdered in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut watched from the gallery. They will not be moved by Martinez’s pain.
The obstinacy of Congress and state legislatures is more than just obedience to the gun lobby. Legislatures in Missouri and Kansas and other states are stocked with representatives who distrust and even hate the federal government. They perceive any attempt to regulate firearms as Washington and its minions descending upon the heartland to compromise the sovereignty and freedom of its citizens.
These are the people we elect and until that changes we do not stand a chance of limiting the availability of even the most deadly firearms and ammunition.
Politicians who don’t want to talk about gun safety look instead to the mental health system. And, lord knows, that needs fixing. Fix it for the sake of the veterans with post-traumatic distress and the people paralyzed with anxiety or too depressed to get up in the morning.
But, as Richard A. Friedman, a psychiatry professor at the Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote in The New York Times this week, most people who are violent are not mentally ill. And most people with mental illnesses are not violent. And people with mental illnesses and violent tendencies often avoid the mental health system.
That system has enough on its plate without being expected to solve America’s gun violence problem while gun availability remains unhampered, even encouraged.
The Onion was mostly right. Without the will to be much more selective about who gets to own and carry guns, we will not stop mass killings, much less the slower drip of gun violence that claims an average of 33 lives in the United States every day.