American voters are exceptionally good at voting against their own interests about a host of issues.
Mass shootings prompt simple explanations of the gunman’s motivation. At Columbine High School in Colorado, the killers supposedly snapped after being bullied. The guy who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was wild-eyed carrot-topped nuts. After a massacre at a Walmart in El Paso, an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online pointed to right-wing politics. Simple mental illness—if there is such a thing—appears to be the culprit in Dayton, Ohio. Also misogyny. But the Dayton shooter’s Twitter feed indicates the shooter liked Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. So right-wing media blames his progressive leanings.
And when there is no obvious explanation as in Las Vegas in 2017, when the mass murderer doesn’t leave a final message and doesn’t appear to have subscribed to extremist politics and was financially secure, but drank a lot and may have bought into Internet conspiracy theories, we shrug our shoulders and forget about it. But deep inside we believe there is a simple answer. We just haven’t discovered it yet.
Gun control advocates want to ban assault rifles like the semi-automatic AR-15 used in so many mass shootings. But even if those guns disappeared overnight, gun-related massacres would still occur, albeit with lower body counts. Which would be nice, but it wouldn’t address the big question, the one we secretly ask ourselves after such incidents: where does the rage come from?
Flailing about in search of the enablers of personal mass violence (as opposed to state-ordered mass violence) is useful as far as it goes. The NRA and the gun lobby make money with every firearm purchase. Victims of mental illness go uninsured and thus undiagnosed and untreated. Hateful rhetoric, most common on the right and most recently epitomized by President Trump, legitimize the dehumanization of future victims.
In the beginning, though, is rage.
The blind anger that, like the medieval image of a succubus insinuating itself into a previously healthy brain, suggests that shooting a lot of people is either a solution or at least a satisfying way of venting, is the germ of the idea that leads to the first shot being fired at a military base, an elementary school, a country music concert.
The rage says: “I hate everybody.” It continues: “I wish everyone would die.” It concludes: “I will kill them all.”
I am mystified by the fact that so many people are mystified about rage.
I have been there. I have hated everyone. I have been so depressed that I didn’t care what happened to me. I was furious at how oblivious everyone was to my pain and how nobody cared about me. I wanted them to pay for it. Haven’t you ever felt that way?
Mostly it was when I was younger. In junior high school, when I was relentlessly bullied and beaten up and neither my classmates nor my teachers interfered—to the contrary, they thought it was funny—I fantasized about going to school and shooting everyone there.
When I was a junior in college, I spent finals week at the hospital due to a freak injury. Several of my professors refused to allow me to take a make-up exam because they were lazy, I got Fs and landed on academic probation, and the following semester one mean teacher gave me a C+ and so I got expelled. I lost my job, my dorm room and thus a place to live and wound up homeless on the streets of New York. Watching people go about their day, smiling and laughing and exchanging pleasantries and buying luxuries while I was starving, I despised them. Of course it wasn’t their fault. I knew that. What was their fault, in my view at the time, was their active decision not to engage in the struggle for a world that was fair and just, not just to me, but to everybody.
I imagine that most, if not all, homeless people feel that way watching me stroll down the street on my stupid smartphone. They hate me and they are right to hate me.
The NRA and the weapons business and Congress share responsibility, but what really causes mass shootings is the shooters’ alienation from society.
Why doesn’t America enforce mental health insurance parity? Because the American people don’t care enough to raise enough hell to force our elected officials to do so. If you have ever been broke and needed to see a therapist, you probably found out that they charge at least $200 an hour and that your insurance company probably won’t cover it—assuming that you have insurance. American society’s message to you is loud and clear: we don’t care about you. Go ahead and be insane. Die. Returning society’s contempt for you is perfectly understandable.
The so-called “incel” (involuntarily celebate) movement of men who hate women because they won’t sleep with them is a perfect example of society’s refusal to try to understand a legitimate concern. In 2014 an incel killed six people near Santa Barbara. “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it,” the killer said in a video he posted before his rampage. In 2018 an incel killed 10 people in Toronto with his van.
Experts recommend writing laws to deny incels access to guns, shutting down their online forums so that they don’t work each other up, and improving their access to mental health care. Those may be good ideas. But they ignore the root of the problem.
Obviously no one has to have sex with anyone. Incels don’t have a constitutional right to get laid. But anyone who has ever been young and sexually frustrated (or old and sexually frustrated) knows that sexlessness can literally drive you crazy. Glibly suggesting to awkward or clueless or physically unattractive men to hit the gym and get their charm on is just as hopelessly naïve as Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” campaign. Feeling condemned to a life without love or physical companionship really truly sucks and we could start by acknowledging that.
Rage, I think, comes less from having a problem that feels hopelessly unsolvable than from the belief that no one gives a damn about you or your issues. People need to feel heard. People need to be heard.
Given how callous and unfeeling we are about so much suffering around us and among us, the only thing surprising about mass shootings is that they don’t happen more frequently.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Notice the signs: where are the exact demands for Congress?
Eight hundred thousand people participated in the March for Our Lives rally in Washington on March 24th, say organizers with the #NeverAgain movement sparked by the Parkland, Florida school massacre. The turnout was impressive — but will it lead to new gun legislation?
History suggests no. But victory is achievable — if rallies are sharpened in focus.
Enthusiasm is necessary to launch a movement. Careful strategizing is required to sustain and grow it. The Million Moms March, also dedicated to curbing gun violence in 2000 drew a similar-sized crowd. Yet the next two decades saw one mass shooting after another, the NRA gaining rather than losing political influence, and a major reversal for the gun-control movement marked by the failure to renew the ban on assault weapons.
Whether it’s the Million Man March to promote unity and family values among African-American men or the 1981 Solidarity Day march to defend unions from Reagan-era attacks against organizations like the air traffic controllers union, there is a century-old tradition of large groups of Americans gathering in Washington, carrying signs, chanting slogans and being ignored by Congress and the president after they go home. To those shattered dreams you can add 2011’s Occupy Wall Street, another leaderless protest that came together and fizzled.
At almost all these events, speakers proclaimed themselves present at the continuation or initiation of a movement. But sustained movements must be organized. These were, like the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in 1964, political spasms. Perhaps not theater as farce — but theater at most. At best, some presaged something later, bigger and effective.
Weighing in favor of the #NeverAgain movement’s chances of effecting real change is the role of social media, which can bring large groups of people together quickly. But they also need a simple, coherent, bumper-sticker-ready demand message.
Writing in USA Today, Rick Hampson argues that even the go-to granddaddy of all contemporary marches, where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech, was less effective than advertised: “Even the 1963 civil rights march required so much effort, created so many internal divisions and produced so few immediate results (the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed only after and because of President Kennedy’s assassination) that its leaders vowed never to attempt another.”
Hampson has a point. The 10 printed demands for the March on Washington remind us of American society’s failure to address the needs of the poor and oppressed since 1963. They wanted a $2-per-hour minimum wage, which is at least $15 today. Even Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton refused to go over $12 in 2016. Still, they had a clear, coherent set of demands, beginning with: “Comprehensive and effective Civil Rights legislation from the present Congress — without compromise or filibuster — to guarantee all Americans: Access to all public accommodations, decent housing, adequate and integrated education, the right to vote.” And the Civil Rights Act did get passed.
The March 24th March for Our Lives opposed gun violence. The problem is, it failed to articulate a precise demand or set of demands.
“School safety is not a political issue,” read the Mission Statement. “There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing. The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues.”
Sorry, but those are weasel words.
Should we ban large-capacity magazines?
Would restoring the assault-weapons ban be enough?
Should we, as retired Justice John Paul Stevens suggested recently, repeal the Second Amendment entirely and ban all guns?
Asking Congress to simply “address” an issue is an invitation for more endless debate leading nowhere, or to a compromise so watered down that it undermines the cause. (The ACA is an example of the latter.) A movement must settle on an area of clear focus. Unlike Occupy, which was split between reformists and revolutionaries and talked about everything from restoring the Glass-Steagall Act to eliminating homelessness, #NeverAgain has that part down pat.
An effective movement also has to settle on the solution to a problem. Proposing a path forward does not guarantee success: demonstrators had a clear, straightforward demand in 2002-03: do not invade Iraq. The Bush Administration ignored them. On the other hand, it’s now painfully clear which side was right. That will add to the credibility of antiwar marchers the next time a president tries to start a war of choice.
Settling on a clear solution, as opposed to asking the political class to “address” the issue, entails risk. For #NeverAgain, advocating for a comprehensive gun ban will push away allies who prefer a compromise approach. On the other hand, a more moderate approach will generate less excitement among those in favor of a radical solution (and moderation generally elicits less enthusiasm). But to take a page from gun-toting military folks, it’s better to go into battle with half an army than a whole one riddled with confusion and no idea why they’re fighting.
(Ted Rall, the editorial cartoonist and columnist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.”)
On the one hand, the news that another psychologically damaged man shot 17 schoolchildren to death with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle is not news. Put it on page 27 below the fold, maybe?
On the other hand, you have to be shocked because these are kids and who do we become if we stop being shocked? Congress and the president should put their heads together and act now.
On the one hand, the Second Amendment is an essential safeguard against government tyranny. While an authoritarian state (any state) will always have police and troops with better training and arms than its enemies at its disposal, owning a weapon will give many resistance fighters of the future the courage they need to fight back.
On the other hand, the population of Americans who live in rural areas was 95% when the Founding Fathers ratified the Constitution. Now it’s 15%. Once a major source of food necessary for survival, hunting today is mere sport. Considering the daily carnage of gun violence, the Second Amendment may be as obsolete as the flint-lock rifle. Perhaps we should repeal?
On the one hand, military-style weapons like the current mass shooters’ gun of choice, the AR-15, were designed for one purpose: to kill people efficiently. Until 2008 they were banned. Why not renew the assault weapons ban?
On the other hand, people really do use them to hunt. Having been on the receiving end of more than my fair share of death threats, I’d rather defend my homestead with an AR-15 than a less efficient, less accurate gun. Sorry, liberals, but gun rights people have a point: ban AR-15s and the next step will be a push to ban other weapons. Slippery slopes are a real thing; look how the pro-life movement has rolled back abortion rights via incremental, reasonable-seeming moves like bans on late-term terminations.
On the one hand, there are 270 million guns in the United States — almost one for every man, woman and child. Even if we banned guns, how would we force the gun genie back into its bottle of death? Send government goons to kick down every door in the country to search for them?
On the other hand, existing guns could be grandfathered into a ban on the manufacture and sale of new guns (including from one individual to another). Guns would get old. They’d rust. Those used for target practice would wear out. Trigger mechanisms are often the first to go. Like the fairly effective ban on ivory, the effect would become evident over time: a nation awash in weaponry would become less so with the passage of time.
On the one hand, states like Florida seem crazy for not requiring gun purchasers to register their weapons. Florida actually bans such regulations. Cars, boats, even bicycles and cats and dogs, must be registered. Why not devices that kill people?
On the other hand, gun ownership is different. It’s a constitutional right. Automobile ownership, operating a boat and having a pet are privileges guaranteed by state and local laws. Mandatory gun registration would be no more constitutional than forcing media outlets to apply for a state license before publishing (they do this in other countries).
On the one hand, many if not most mass shooters are mentally ill. Wouldn’t it make sense to prohibit sales of firearms and ammunition to people suffering from mental illness?
On the other hand, who gets to define what constitutes mental illness? Federal law bans sales to anyone who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.” New York, where I live, goes further, banning sales of guns to one “who has stated whether he or she has ever suffered any mental illness.” That’s very broad: “Heathers” and “Stranger Things” actress Winona Ryder, singer Mariah Carey, artist Yoko Ono and actress Roseanne Barr were all institutionalized. But no one thinks they’re going postal any time soon — frankly, I’d trust Winona with the nuclear codes more than Trump. The metric is also highly subjective. Gays were officially classified as mentally ill until 1987. Transgender people are still on the list.
On the one hand, people who knew him say they’re not surprised that Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz went berserk. The signs were there all along: violent Internet posts, ties to white supremacists, erratic behavior like threatening people with a BB gun. People saw something; why didn’t they say something?
On the other hand, this isn’t “Minority Report.” You can’t jail someone for what they might do. People are entitled to their opinions, no matter what they are. If you jailed everyone who acts strange or right-wing or loopy, half the country would be locked up. And anyway, who trusts the police or the government to decide which half?
On the one hand, if anyone deserves to die, it’s Nikolas Cruz.
On the other hand, what kind of society executes a “broken child,” possibly autistic, almost certainly emotionally damaged, absolutely wrecked by the recent death of his mother, his last surviving parent?
How does killing a killer send the message that killing is wrong?
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is co-author, with Harmon Leon, of “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” an inside look at the American far right, out now. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
CORRECTION: This piece has been corrected by the deletion of “because it’s the 18th school shooting so far this year, ” from the first sentence. I fell victim to a widely disseminated, now known to be untrue, statistic. Please see The Washington Post here for details.
Democrats occupied the floor of the House of Representatives to demand that people on the federal “no fly” list be denied the right to buy firearms. But the no fly list is maintained by the incredibly incompetent TSA. Why should they get to decide whether you have your Second Amendment rights?
A high school sophomore stabbed 19 classmates in western Pennsylvania. Once again, there will be a search for answers. But because the weapons were knives and not guns, the media and politicians will have to reach beyond the usual cheap parlor tricks of knee-jerk policy prescriptions.
After a gunman shot 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, gun control advocates wondered aloud: what will it take for America to pass common-sense gun control legislation? But the questions they asked about the shooter — why didn’t anyone stop him despite his history of violence? — could just as easily apply to more prominent figures than the lone gunman.
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After a bunch of school children are killed, American police track the killer to Pakistan. There they run into some legal problems: not only did the killer use a drone instead of an assault rifle, he had a full-fledged legal opinion drafted by a full-fledged Pakistani lawyer justifying his drone program. And he won’t let the cops read the thing. Oh well, nothing to do.