Let me ask you a question: What if I broke into your house to steal your television? Now mind you, I’m not there to kill you or rape you, all I want is your television, that’s it. What would you do to me? Chances are 9-out-of-10 of you would say that you would shoot me. And legally, you would have every right to, because I’m in your house uninvited and I’m stealing your shit. But for a second, I want you to think about the fact that you would kill another human being over a television set. I mean, it’s just a TV, and if you have home owners or renters insurance, you’re going to get that TV back. In fact, you’re probably going to get a better one out of it. But yet, you would kill me for a possession.
Whenever a mass killing happens in the United States, I start thinking about why these things happen so often in our country?
The reactionary part of me will more often than not automatically jump to the argument that we need more stringent gun laws, that people can get their hands on handguns and assault rifles way too easily. But then I become a little more rational and I start going through the facts about gun control in America. (By the way, folks, I am not a gun rights advocate. I don’t own a gun and never will. But in the same breath, if you’re a responsible gun owner, I don’t care if you own one or a dozen.) The fact is, we have some really strict laws already in place. If you’re a convicted felon or have a history of mental illness, you can’t purchase a gun. Plus, buying a gun of any type is really expensive. A handgun with ammunition and all the proper gear will run you about $700. A shotgun will cost you a little less (around $500 with ammo and gear), and an assault weapon will cost you around $2000. Owning a firearm is an investment. So, yeah, along with it being pretty hard to get through all the background checks, you also have to have the money to actually buy the gun. (Or you can just steal it, which is what most criminals do. This, unfortunately, is the downside of living in a country where people own so many guns and where we value possession over human life.)
The other thing is, our neighbors to the north, Canada, also have the right to bear arms, and a solid chunk of the Canadian population owns firearms. But between 2007-to-2011, Canada only had around 70 firearm related deaths.
And, yes, gun rights advocates will point out that Canada has a much smaller population than the United States (It’s around 35 million, which is the same population as California) and blah, blah, blah. But still, only 70 gun deaths in five years is pretty damn low. In fact, if you look at the rest of the civilized world, gun deaths are pretty low across the board. But in the United States, we had 32,000 gun deaths in 2014 alone. That’s crazy.
Which brings me to my next point. Because after I shirk off the gun control arguments, my mind leads me to the next logical explanation for all the mass murders that occur within the United States: Mental Illness.
James Eagan Holmes, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, I think we can all agree that all of these individuals were/are mentally ill. But let’s take a look at Dylan Roof, the kid who killed the 9 members of the Emanuel AME Church. Is Roof insane? To most of us, it would appear so. I mean, what sane person would kill 9 innocent people without provocation? But really, Roof isn’t mentally ill, he’s young and stupid and is a violent racist– and let’s face facts, in certain parts of the country, racism is still very much culturally acceptable. And true, most racists wouldn’t kill people of other color (Well, they probably would if they could get away with it.), or religions, or sexual orientation–but he’s probably not technically mentally ill. He’s just a piece of human shit and that’s all.
But to get back to mental illness, as Americans, we don’t really give a shit about mental illness. I mean, we do, but we don’t. If you take a look at the streets of most American cities, you will see massive numbers of homeless individuals. And yes, some of the folks living on the street are alcoholics or drug addicts, or they’re families down on their luck. But the bulk of the people living on the street are severely mentally ill and are a danger to themselves and to others. But we don’t really give a shit, because what can we really do to help them? But as a general rule, this is the overall American attitude towards mental illness. We don’t talk about it, and we don’t care about it. Well, we do talk about it, but only when a mass killing occurs, and then we only talk about it in very abstract terms and why we never discuss mental illness.
But let’s go back to the number of gun deaths in the United States: 32,000. I mean, come on, all that killing, not all of the people who committed those crimes couldn’t have all been mentally ill? Or maybe they all were? Or maybe, as Americans, we all are? Maybe we, as a people are suffering from mass hysteria?
Which brings me back to why most of you would want to shoot me in the face for stealing your television.
Back in 1979, then U.S. President Jimmy Carter went of television and made his “Crisis Of Confidence” speech. The address was largely focused on the energy crisis the United States was facing at the time, and most political scientists will tell you that this speech was the reason why Carter lost the election to Ronald Reagan. If you actually read the speech, what Carter outlined was a pretty strong plan to make the U.S. independent of foreign energy. But what ticked people off was this nugget:
“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning….”
Carter was basically warning us that being a bunch of greed bastards was going to ultimately undermine us as a culture. At the time, the American people just thought Carter was an asshole and they handed the country over to a a form of government that we’d almost eradicated through the labor movement: Oligarchy. But this new, shiny version of the same old shit convinced us as a people that greed was a good thing. That buying and owning things was the true key to happiness, and that your fellow human beings didn’t matter one goddamn bit. They also taught us to believe that if you worked really, really hard, we could be rich, too. Because that was the American Dream, right? Being rich and famous.
It’s been 35 years since we welcomed this strain of thought into our collective consciousness, and what has it gotten us? I could list off a laundry list of issues like the three economically motivated wars we’ve fought in the last 20 years, or our booming prison populations, or our militarized police forces. Or I could sum it up by saying that our greed based lifestyle has gotten us nothing but a shit sandwich and an overwhelming urge to shoot someone in the face over stealing your television. (Oh, and by the way, you’re not rich, either, and you never will be.)
But maybe I’m wrong? Maybe the answer is more laws that won’t be enforced? Maybe we can dance around the issues of mental illness and still do absolutely nothing about it. Because, hey, we’re Americans, and we’re really good at doing absolutely nothing.
By the way, if you want to see Carter’s entire “Crisis Of Confidence” speech, I’ve embed it below.