It seems quaint now. When a former Marine ascended the 30-story tower at the University of Texas in 1966 and used his sniper skills to shoot 14 people to death, it was a shocking act. There were no SWAT teams then, no militarized police. Such events were almost unheard of. Two Austin police officers and a civilian, armed with revolvers and a rifle, made it out on the roof of the tower and killed the sniper.
That's a sick society.
After the latest, at a community college in a small town in Oregon, I struggled to write something beyond my earlier column "Empire of Violence." Vast terrain of the Internet was taken with predictable outrage and horror, but ultimately pretty empty stuff. The most intelligent prescriptive writing came from the New York Times' Nick Kristof, urging us to treat gun violence as a public health issue.
I'm not even sure that would solve the massacre of innocents. As for such measures as banning extended magazines and assault rifles (please define), they might perhaps help at the margins and would be great symbolic victories against the gun lobby. The same with tighter gun-show checks and even Kristof's liability insurance. But so many guns are about, I'm not sure these would stop the madness.
Plenty of people need to be institutionalized, even against their wishes. But who would decide? Would they get due process in homeland America? And here the liberals would go into opposition. Yet, again, it would help at the margins. None of the helping professions appear to have interacted with the latest killer.
Something ghastly has slipped the leash in America. Are we past "solving"?
The latest killer, as is almost always the case, was a white male. Twenty-six years old. It caused me to think of myself at that age. The only thing we had in common was no girlfriend, no small deprivation to be sure. But it didn't make me want to slaughter innocents. I had already been a paramedic, college instructor, theater worker, and reporter. By then I was an editor with employees under me and a dying mother. People depended on me. It was a different time in every way.
Gun restrictions could certainly be tightened or, in some states, implemented. Unfortunately, the Republicans and some Democrats are opposed to any such measures. Indeed, they want looser restrictions. But where was the "good guy with the gun" to stop the killer in rural, gun-abundant Oregon?
The National Rifle Association, which as a very different organization taught me gun safety in grade school, has become an enabler — almost a proponent — of domestic terrorism. Let's call it what it is. Not merely through advocacy and lobbying for "Second Amendment rights" but in demanding and receiving ever more irresponsible legislation (e.g. Arizona's guns in bars) and fighting the gathering of gun violence data. Yet the political class won't call out the NRA. Even President Obama, in his eloquent speech, declined to name names.
I'm a gun owner. I enjoy target shooting. I was taught the responsible use of firearms as a child, a rite of passage into the adult world. The NRA sure as hell doesn't speak for me.
Obama's not coming for your guns, you morons. The corporatist, right-wing agenda and climate change are what you should fear. Instead, you're being played.
The sick society is populated with aimless, infantalized young men. The sick society is pulled apart from the commons, whether spatially or through ideology. It metastisizes via a decadent culture of violence in "music" and video games, as well as hate on talk radio, television, and the great god social media. Growing inequality and a hustle neoliberal economy has taken away so many good jobs while "disrupting" not merely venerable companies and the social compact, but the mediating entities — whether the union hall or individuals who lit our way — that helped hold us together as a civilization.
At this point, I don't have solutions. I don't even have intelligent responses that stand a chance of being enacted. I've got nothing.