Fareed Zakaria devoted his entire hourlong show to debunking some of the myths around gun deaths in our country, covering suicide, homicide, and mass shootings. Zakaria looked globally at what other countries might have to teach us about managing our uniquely destructive problem. People who engage in mass shootings typically are not mentally ill. They — usually young white men — may be angry, narcissistic, vindictive, envious, isolated, and have poor social skills, but they usually don’t fall into a definable category of mental illness. Nor is the culprit video games. Other countries, Japan for one, have lots of young men who play violent video games, but they don’t go out and shoot their fellow citizens. Australia had a gun culture much like ours but they were able to change gun laws after a mass shooting, and haven’t had one since. Switzerland is a gun loving culture, but they shoot targets, not each other.
What’s unique about us? The NRA has far too much power, gained in part by funding Republican legislators who are afraid to cross the NRA’s extreme positions on unfettered gun rights. Conservative courts, most notably the Supreme Court in the 2008 Heller case, re-defined the right to bear arms as an individual right, not connected to a “well regulated militia”. That allows unstable individuals to buy and brandish almost any kind of weapon, including semiautomatic rifles capable of mass shootings, with barely any capacity on the part of local government or law enforcement to stop them. We seem to have an astonishing tolerance for homicides, suicides, and mass shootings. Lord knows we keep having them.
The most hopeful sign for me is a recent movement on the part of physicians, especially emergency room doctors, to open up a line of research looking at gun violence as a public health problem — which it most certainly is. The NRA is not pleased. I’m hoping the doctors continue to press their cause.
Cultures can change. Laws can be enacted. Instead of diverting the conversation by waving the banner of mental illness or violent video games every time we have a mass shooting, it’s time now to keep a laser focus on the real problem: too many unregulated guns. Period.