The lunatic is in the hall
The lunatics are in my hall
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paperboy brings more
— Pink Floyd, “Brain Damage”, 1973
The lunatic of the day is an as-yet unnamed individual in West Texas who, upon being pulled over on Saturday afternoon for failing to signal a turn, started firing at police, then random strangers.
The news accounts vary as to the number of persons killed and wounded, with at least seven fatalities reported as of Sunday morning — unclear as to whether that number includes the dead gunman — and over twenty people wounded. The shooter is being described as a white male in his thirties. The wounded include a 17-month old child and at least three law enforcement officers. Some of those hospitalized were reported as critically injured.
I’ve scanned and/or read several news accounts online to try to get some sense of what happened. The Los Angeles Times article is notable for including comments by witnesses to the mayhem. One of them thought that she was witnessing a road rage incident while another said that he heard no gunshots and thought there had been a fight. He said “It’s normal for us to see four or five cop cars in this part of town.”
Normal. Road rage, fights, cops. Normal.
When people say we’re better than this, I wonder. Are we? Recent evidence points to us being exactly this bad.
Yes, I know, most of us are neither equipped nor inclined to go on a shooting rampage. Americans own a lot of guns, but less than half of U.S. households have a firearm, and most of those have only one or two, not an arsenal. The vast majority of firearm owners are not shooting up the town. And most gun deaths in the United States are suicides.
We also know, and have been reminded lately, that most people with some form of mental illness are not violent.
Gunmen — yes, the shooters are almost always male — are going on shooting sprees more often than we can now recall. The incidents blur into a haze of smoke and blood, misery and mayhem. The numbers keep climbing. People are committing mass murder so often that after only eight months the number of people killed in mass shootings this year now exceeds the total for all of last year.
A lot of us are obviously curious about what motivates someone to shoot up a workplace, school, theater, church or whatever. The supposed or stated motives vary. The shooters vary, though they’re usually white males (thanks, guys, for making me look like the average, run of the mill mass shooter). Sometimes they had identifiable behavioral health problems, sometimes not. Often they obtained their weapons legally, but not always.
What do we conclude from all this?
We try to understand WHY someone might commit these crimes, but we already know HOW people generally commit them.
What is a rational response to irrational mayhem? We’re never going to stop people from acting irrationally. Our only reasonable course of action is to restrict access to the weapons — lightweight semi-automatic firearms with large capacity magazines and ammunition. We already limit or prohibit access to a variety of materials that are dangerous in private hands.
Want to argue about what the Second Amendment is supposed to accomplish? Fine, let’s have that argument. But doing nothing while claiming that we are somehow “better than this” is just plain nonsense and I’m tired of hearing it. You should be, too.