On the reaction to the Newtown, CT shootings

I’m increasingly disturbed by how quickly the liberal intelligentsia seems to be adopting the now-faddish, counter-current claims that “it’s not about gun control, it’s about <the culture of gun worship> <the media’s focus on the perpetrator instead of the victims> <the lack of investment in public health, and mental public health in particular>, etc, etc.”

Yes, America has a deeply ingrained cultural obsession with the gun that is bound up in national mythologies and the construction of national identities.  The fact that the democratic process itself does not seem to quell the American fear of tyranny should be the basis of a national dialog; it is almost certainly behind not only the 2nd amendment fervor, but also our collective reluctance to ratify the most reasonable and inoffensive international treaties (like the one on disabilities that was modeled on our own ADA, and which just failed to pass the House). But Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras don’t share our national mythologies, and their societies suffer from the fallout of lax gun laws in the US to a much greater extent than ours does.

Yes, the media steeps us in the details of the perpetrators’ lives and hypothetical motives, mindsets, and psychological torments, turning a ‘nobody’ into a posthumous ‘somebody.’ And yes, the persistent cuts to public health budgets have predictably disastrous results for those with mental illness.  But the magnitude of the negative spillover associated with an overly-deluded, underserved mentally ill population is not set in stone.  Not every poor deranged soul need end 20+ other lives in his tortured death throes.

My fear is that these sorts of “deeper-than-thou” arguments will ultimately sap the gun control effort when it just might have a tiny but tangible shot of getting something done for the first time since the assault rifle ban of 1994.  My misgiving is not due to a conviction that these factors don’t have a place in the discussion, but to the observation that those advocating for them actively sideline the tangible policy option of gun control in favor of amorphous ‘societal conversations’ that, at best, will take a long time to produce cultural change and, at worst, will serve only dissipate the momentum behind reasonable reform.


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