By Sid Schwab
“Five dead in Federal Way shooting.” “Man killed, woman wounded in Maple Valley shooting.” “Man in serious condition after Burien shooting.” “Three die in shooting at Auburn tavern.” “Two men wounded in West Seattle shootings.” “Woman accused of fatally shooting man in Lynnwood.” “Seattle parks worker pleads not guilty in shooting.” “Man in custody after Spokane Valley shooting.” And this mind-blowing one: “Parking space a factor in fatal Lakewood shooting.”
That’s but a partial list of recent local gun-related headlines, and I excluded accidents. Nationally? Since the slaughter of those kids in Connecticut, there’ve been around 4,000 deaths from firearms in the U.S. And since 1968, there’ve been well over 1,300,000, which is more than in all U.S. wars combined.
I’ve already acknowledged that the barn door is way past closing, that there’ll never be courageous new federal gun laws or even not-so courageous ones. Lying about non-existent gun registries, and using Senate rules, per usual, like a blunt object, Republicans (and four Democrats) recently blocked a puny attempt to extend already-existing background checks to gun shows and Internet sales, despite support for the measure by 90 percent of Americans, including 80 percent of gun owners. “The world’s greatest deliberative body,” they call themselves.
A recent study showed that states with the most lax gun laws have the highest rates of gun violence and suicide; so maybe I’ve been wrong in saying that it wouldn’t matter anyway. If so, it might be the last time we hear about it, because Congressional Republicans, breeding true, have also seen to it that no more federal funds can be spent on such research.
Still, if only as an academic exercise, it’s worth pondering: why, among civilized countries, are we the only one where shootings are so commonplace? How is it that America, which has led the world in so many good things, threatens to lead in gunplay, too; has evolved a culture in which firearm ownership is as deeply embedded as breakfast? Why do so many Americans feel the need to be armed to their gums? Our response to Sandy Hook: bulletproof backpacks for school kids; calling for teachers to carry weapons, legislators to wear bulletproof vests. Alone in the elsewhere not-so-wild West, our politicians uninterested in or incapable of changing (like Australia’s did), the U.S. is coming to look like Afghanistan. Murder by the daily dozen, siblings killing siblings by accident: Hey, just the price of doing business. A fair trade for staving off some imaginary government overreach.
How did we get from the belief by our founders that settlers should have muskets, to where we are today, fearsome weapons sold like bananas, to anyone, anywhere; where even minimal rules governing that corrosive commerce are shouted down in paroxysms of paranoia? And don’t tell me the real problem is video games or Hollywood movies, or mental health. In Japan, where video games are as everywhere as sushi, where American movies play and their own are just as brutal, people tend not to kill each other particularly much. Same with the British, the French, even the Germans! And I bet they even have sociopaths. Unarmed, elections happen there, oppression-free. No, there’s something that makes America exceptional. Here, there’s pervasive right-wing mongering of and buying into fear; and what’s curious is how mainstream it’s become. The cold-dead-hands, they’re-coming-for-us crowd; the disinformed, Foxobeckian pretend patriots; the believers that regulation presages confiscation. If they’re in the minority, they seem to have all the power.
Good for that local homeowner and his .22, who held an intruder at bay, and who, no doubt, would’ve passed a background check. What worries me is the tailgating anger management reject reaching for his piece. Because, increasingly, people are doing nasty, selfish things: tossing trash out their windows, running red lights, refusing to yield, flashing fingers and looking mad. Mad enough to kill over a parking space.
Coarseness and fury seem the rule nowadays. And these aren’t criminals, they’re ordinary people; and the more ordinary such behavior becomes, the more concerned I get. Because this is America, land of the heavily-armed, land of fire, ready, aim; land of conspiracy theories and omnipresent anger, especially among those who feel the need to take their country back … from those people, whoever they are. It’s not those unmarked tanks rolling into town that’ll get us. It’s us. The aggrieved and seething, grabbing a gun, getting even. It’s not about what’s legal: it’s about who we’ve become.
Sid Schwab lives in Everett. Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org