A Sick Society Normalizes Gun Violence

Gun Violence in AmericaSadly, it’s the sort of thing that happens on a regular basis these days.

Someone — whether a disgruntled employee, a mentally unstable individual, a socially-awkward or obsessive person, you fill in the blank — goes on a shooting spree and exacts vengeance through the barrel of a gun. People express shock that this sort of thing could happen where they live, in the safe environs far from the nation’s notoriously crime-ridden inner cities. Some will claim there were no indications the shooting suspect was capable of such violence.

Meanwhile, others will insist there was always something off about the person. In any case, after the obligatory media coverage and perfunctory surface-level discussions, after the memorials are held, the grief counselors are dispatched and the victims are buried, things generally go back to normal. All is forgotten, that is, until the next tragic shooting that leaves x number of people dead and y number of people injured.

It was said that Amy Bishop, that biology professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, was angry because she had been denied tenure by the university. She supposedly visited a shooting range before her shooting rampage. And she was obsessed with President Obama. We also know that she shot her brother to death years earlier in what ruled an accidental killing, and she was a suspect in an attempted pipe bombing of her professor at Harvard.

There are questions that are beyond the scope of this commentary, but deserve some mention nonetheless. We know that the three victims who died, allegedly at her hand, were faculty of color. Was this deliberate? Certainly there is a story hidden in there, somewhere. Had Amy Bishop been a person of color herself— perhaps an African-American, or a Muslim with an Arab surname—would she have eluded the institutional screeners and gatekeepers for so long, given her sketchy past? Was she given a pass because she is white, despite her issues? Perhaps for some, these are insensitive questions to ask at this time, or any other time for that matter, but ask I must.

Oddly and consistently, such questions are always raised after the fact. You never hear of a shooting rampage that was thwarted, with the perpetrator-to-be either apprehended or otherwise stopped in his or her (generally his) tracks. Never do we hear of an intervention that allows such troubled individuals to receive the counseling and treatment they need, to protect themselves, and us, from the demons that haunt them.

And yet, while we will dismiss the perpetrators of such vicious acts as criminals or mentally disturbed outliers, our response to these tragedies reveals far more about our sick society than the troubled souls who committed the crimes. Tens of thousands of people die from gunfire in America every year, and most never get media attention. And yet, in a nation that has normalized the notion of a gun for every person, this is apparently a situation we are willing to tolerate. Based on the lack of an adequate public policy response to America’s gun problem, one must conclude that these firearm deaths are viewed as collateral damage, the price society is willing to pay for a so-called “free” society of gun ownership rights.

No one can believe that the level of violence, of gun violence, in the United States is compatible with a stable, vibrant and free society. Add to the mix the high level of hopelessly unemployed and/or foreclosed citizens who lack an outlet to vent their frustrations; the legions of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have returned home with undiagnosed or untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; and the use of prisons as a repository for the mentally ill, with inmates returning to the streets sicker than when they were on lockdown. Lots of guns, economic despair, deprivation and mental illness—these conditions are a recipe for disaster.

david.jpgIn short, we are sick, and we need good medicine. The nation’s political leadership often has proven too cowardly or too compromised to provide anything more than band-aids, but the band-aids haven’t worked. In a country with so many crises, gun violence is yet another problem we have avoided for too long, only to have it shoot us in the face. But we cannot ignore it anymore, and we must make it right.

David A. Love

This article first appeared in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.


  1. says

    I grew up in a time, the 50s, and a place, Arizona, when most if not all young people were around guns and yet I find no place in my psyche for gun violence and those who carry it out. But I wonder, having been a community organizer for most of my life, if part of the problem isn’t that we have dis-empowered people in our society to the place where people feel they have no place to turn to when things go wrong or not as they would like. We have destroyed most of the union movement, have developed a eat or be eaten so called “professional” life where competition and conquerer ideology is idolized, and the individual feels alienated and weak and the gun becomes the great equalizer. The examples are manifest in our glorification of our military service people, even when the war is wrong. Violence is shown by TV to work and even if it doesn’t it certainly ends one or the other protagonist. So, if an ‘merican’s personal life isn’t panning out then why not pick out a target to blame and kill her/him. Look at the number of people in LA, and other places, use murder as the way to settle family disputes? And these are often church going, supposedly god fearing folks. Of course the God they fear is a wrathful, male, powerful figure who smite all kinds of folks for any reason at all. We just have to get away from using violence but to do that we have to develop mass membership organizations that empower the membership so that they feel there are alternatives to one on one violence and that bang, bang, bang is not the solution.

  2. Paul McDermott says

    Contrary to general interpretation, I don’t think the Second Amendment allows for everyone to own guns. There’s this clause “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…” just hanging there like an ablative absolute clause in Latin. As a result, most people don’t understand how it relates to the main clause and therefore disregard it. The way I have always interpreted it is that the citizenry in the state have a responsiblity to form a militia, or national guard. Those citizens in the national guard therefore have the right to carry arms and to keep them in their homes or on their persons in order to preserve the national security, in other words people serving in the reserves.
    It’s crazy to allow just anyone to own and carry guns. As David Love states, there is bound to be negative consequences for allowing this to happen. And one of the consequences is that we become inured to this constant state of terror. Someone told me recently that there were gunshots at the Glassell Park Recreation area and everyone ran for cover, but within an hour everything was back to normal and everyone going about their business as usual. How surreal!
    I think gun ownership managed to get enshrined in our national culture as a result of slave ownership, ethnic cleansing on the frontier, and the civil war in the nineteenth century. And now we’re living with the consequences!

  3. Diane says

    Thank you for this. (My thanks may have already appeared as a comment since my server shut down before I finished writing.) As a society, we used to at least talk about gun control after each horrific shooting. Now, there’s a resounding silence. What’s goin’ on? Is it, as you say, normalized? Or is the administration afraid that at this slightest hint of rational policy, the rightwing fringe will start shooting? In Australia, after their first experience of US business-as-usual (a massacre in Tasmania in ’96), the Prime Minister called for gun control and an appalled population turned in their guns. There are licensed guns in Australia today, but licensing is strict. Here? We are destroying an entire generation of kids, almost all kids of color, dying in the streets or in prison, because of gun violence. Kids have always joined cliques and gangs and have always gotten into fights. They didn’t have guns. It’s not the children who are manufacturing the weapons. But the worse their environment gets for them, the more they are demonized. I doubt that being a Harvard graduate is about to carry the same stigma.

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