Yes, we have become a volatile cocktail, that, if given a shake, will blow the top off and explode. Here’s the recipe: Neglected mental health problems + hate/violence-inciting rhetoric + easy gun access = horrible results every time.
We have three problems in one here: first, our mental health system is failing young people, especially college age kids who were raised without any real challenges or responsibilities and so have no problem solving ability. So they crack as soon as they are on their own at school. Sometimes badly. Very badly. My first thought when i saw the news was, “How did that kid get so messed up? How did a college kid’s normal interest in all the politics and culture around him turn into THAT?” Really 18 – 20 somethings are supposed to be progressive and rebellious and fearless, and i worry when i see students that are not or get all excited about an idea but aren’t intellectually equipped to develop it and innovate. The status quo needs the challenge from youth. Desperately. But what happens when a misguided version of youthful rebellion combines with other struggles (like just getting through classes and a job) and mixes with inflammatory rhetoric? Kids need to be raised with stronger, more resilient, more self-sufficient minds.
Second, we have parts of the country and part of our culture that glorify guns. TV heroes resolve their problems with guns, right? They say “guns don’t kill people”. Of course not. People with guns kill people. And people with semi-automatic guns kill lots of people. Our constitution does not – in spite of what some claim – guarantee that everybody, no matter their intent and mental stability, can carry a gun. Read it. It says we have a right to form a militia (which would imply guns in a stockade unless there was a threat. And proper training in a group, where someone who is off kilter might be taken aside.) But when you can get guns at your local box store, even if you are on serious psych medication…well, some people do. And then some people use them. How is it possible that a person who acquaintances label as “a fringe person” or “unstable” can walk right up and get a semi-automatic weapon? Those things have nothing to do with protecting yourself (or your livestock, or your fledgling democracy). They are meant for a big spray of destruction, but apparently even unstable people have a right to widespread destruction if they want it. Who is the person who looked this messed up kid in the face and sold him a gun anyway? Wanting to make a profit and wanting to get votes from the NRA seem to be more important than public safety. Are the tea-baggers and GOP folks now thinking that next time the pyscho could be on the other foot? If not they will have to claim the domestic political terrorists as their own!
Third, we have allowed violent, hateful rhetoric into our political system without censure. I’ve always thought that violence is the recourse of a person who thinks they have run out of other solutions. People with little creative problem-solving ability (okay, i’ll say it – people who aren’t smart) believe they have run out much sooner than others. And politicians and media bobble-heads who use violence even as metaphor have no real solutions to offer, so what good are they? Yes, i mean Sarah Palin and all the other celebrity hate-mongers who whip up our meanest, most prejudiced, citizens and confirm that their nastiness is all-American mainstream. And i KNOW that they do it because some big portion of their constituency is made up of gun-totin’, racist, homophobic, bible-thumping, government-fearing, sweatshirt-bedazzling… well, you know the demographic. The ones who first were angry about Obama’s minister and then insisted he is a foreign born Muslim. The “leaders” are opportunistically appealing to the worst part of our national character because there is a lot of it.
Bigotry and discord are one thing – everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how repulsive – but the violent imagery invoked has appealed to the least civilized members and most mentally ill members of our society. While this is mainly from the right, the left needs to stop trying to get fans of guns and vigilante-ism to like them. (Remember John Kerry hangin’ out with the NRA, trying to get votes that would never come his way anyhow? Why not pose with the Minutemen on the border or in some survivalist’s bunker?) When someone is inciting violence and whipping up irrational fears they need to be calmed down and shut down. The left needs to show that there is such a thing as having guts without guns. And we need to insist on a higher level of discourse and personal behavior.
Free speech should be the means to keep the healthy fizziness of disagreement from turning into an explosion, not a way to exploit the most volatile segment of the citizenry.