In the space of a week, our country endured two mass shootings — one in Boulder and the other in Atlanta, Georgia. Although these shootings dominated headlines, CNN reported at least 20 mass shootings across the country in the two weeks following the spa shootings in Atlanta. They’re the stuff of nightmares, for the families of the victims as well as for those related to the shooter. And in grocery stores, schools, spas, churches, movie theaters, nightclubs — any place of public congregation — we are just not safe.
The aftermath brings the customary responses: thoughts and prayers for the victims and their families; articles analyzing the troubled perpetrator; social media debates around implicit bias, racism, media responses and law enforcement; and partisan debates over whether we need to loosen or tighten gun laws. (Side note: Mass shootings are disproportionately committed by angered white men who legally obtain weapons capable of killing multiple people in a matter of seconds. Just saying.)
It’s tempting to focus on the individual shooter while we watch the play-by-play coverage of the charges, trial and fight for “justice” for the victims and their families, but we’re ignoring the bigger issue: our culture of hate and intolerance.
We have a history with hate that we, as a nation, have never properly addressed. Arthur Brooks, former president of the conservative public policy think tank American Enterprise Institute said, “It’s impossible to separate attitudes of white supremacy, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia from the broader history and context of our country. The United States, after all, was founded by white people who slaughtered and expelled American Indians and then enslaved Africans to build everything from farms to railroads to the Capitol.” We have never made a conscious effort to repair our collective trauma, bred by hate. Our perceived need for “protection” has emerged from our history of hate, and we’ve settled on false methods to deal with that need. In reality, this need for “protection” is an expression of our genetic trauma — holding on to hate, holding on to what was stolen and acquired by violence. Whether victim or perpetrator, hate affects us all.
We avoid the reality of hate. We like to create these white picket fence suburban fantasies based on our influence and affluence, imagining that if we have enough, we can remove ourselves from the “othered” or “mentally ill” — those we don’t want to be bothered with. And when the violence erupts anyway, we pretend we are shocked; we debate whether it is an individual or group choice. With our massive spending on military and police, coupled with our loose gun laws, are we safer? Can more people with guns protect the masses from a mass shooting? It’s a frequently made argument in favor of fewer gun restrictions — but that scenario almost never happens. More guns don’t solve the problem. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Hate begets hate.” A 2017 New York Times article — “Why Does the U.S. Have So Many Mass Shootings? Research Is Clear: Guns.” — discusses University of Alabama professor Adam Lankford’s 2015 study, which showed “Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American.” Yep, this study is older, but does it matter? You don’t need a degree in public policy or statistics to know that in the years since, those numbers have only grown larger (in 2018, the same Small Arms Survey on which Lankford’s study was based showed Americans own 46 percent of the planet’s total of civilian-held firearms).
The Times article notes that “while mass shootings can happen anywhere, they are only a matter of routine in the United States” and that America “is one of only three countries ... that begin with the assumption that people have an inherent right to own guns.”
Americans love violence, and we have easy access to weaponry that makes that violence highly lethal and repeatable. Our nation was founded on violence, on hate — and until we address that, we will continue to suffer these consequences.