We Are Caught in a Trap of Our Own Making

I woke up this morning to learn that the shooter’s mother was not a kindergarten teacher, as had been reported all yesterday. Neither was his brother the one who killed all those children, contrary to what was reported for the first thee or four hours after the massacre. The gun that so many people are appalled is legal to own appears now, maybe, to have never made it in the building. Just sat in the car.

I’m with Lindsey in that that every ounce of my being wants to know when it is that we can start talking seriously about what we can do to stop this shit, or at least, make it more difficult.

But I’ve lost faith that we even know what this shit is. We don’t wait to even find out what is really happening. We name a killer based on rumor. We give a woman a job that makes narrative sense. We already have our stories of heroism. And let’s be honest, we know how that goes, because we saw how it went at Columbine. Even the stories of heroism are going to be wrong–either complicated or outright debunked–in the coming days.

Our eagerness to make this understandable works against our ability to understand it.

God, for instance, did not let this happen in order to punish America for taking prayer out of schools. (And my god, if He did? Now’s the time to break faith with that monster. Holy shit.)

Video games did not make this happen. Every generation there is something that is “ruining” kids today–video games, Marilyn Manson, rock & roll music, movies, crack, gin, comic books. But the truth is harder to accept. Some people are poised for cruelty. And they will psych themselves up with whatever they have at hand. Removing violent video games just means that they listen to violent music instead. Removing violent music just means that they read violent materials. Even if they had no contact with popular culture, how would you keep someone poised for cruelty, who is looking for a way to amp himself up, from finding it? Would he never be allowed to see road kill? Would you forbid all Americans from keeping cats that might catch mice or bugs in front of such a person?

More guns would not prevent this kind of thing. It’s time we just admit this to ourselves. It is VERY difficult to kill another person. That’s why they find lots of evidence that these folks work themselves up to it for weeks or months or years. That’s part of the “planning.” Acclimating yourself to kill another human being. The person who is prepared to kill is always at an advantage over the person who is not. The person who is already firing is at an advantage over the person who is not. Anyone at that school who stepped out into the hallway with his or her own gun would have been at a severe disadvantage the moment he or she paused to say “Oh, my god, it’s just a kid.”

The good a gun might do is in lowering the eventual body count. That’s all. Someone with a gun would have to recognize what was going on, realize it was on him or her to try to stop it, and try to get to a place where he or she had a clear kill shot. In that time and in the confusion, lives will be lost. We also have to acknowledge that we are dealing with someone who has walked into a place full of people and is actively shooting at those people–which means those people are all around him. Even if you’re certain you could kill a person on a murderous spree, would you risk accidentally shooting a child to get your best shot? Most people would not. Which means he might kill another two or three people before you kill him.

So, let’s just be honest. Very few gun owners would be mentally prepared, even if they were lucky enough to be in a position, to thwart this kind of attack. At best, they could be in a position to end it more quickly. Maybe. If we expect law-abiding gun owners to try to end these kinds of attacks, what we’re saying is that we expect gun owners to be willing to make collateral damage judgements the likes of which we expect from no other non-trained group of civilians.

If this is the case, if this is what we’re expecting of gun owners–that they carry at all times and be willing to shoot at people they’d think of as children or at least as very, very young adults–then we need to train them the way we train anyone else whose job it is to shoot people at a moment’s notice and we need to provide them with the mental health services people who have those jobs end up needing.

But is less legal gun ownership the answer? It’s very hard to legally own a gun in Chicago, say, and people go to a lot of gunshot victims’ funerals there. A lot. And yes, smaller clips. But are we also going to outlaw jackets with lots of pockets? No one who owns a gun can have a coat?

Plus, that overlooks an enormous silent part of the problem, which Lindsey gets at. There are a lot of guns in the United States. We could probably count the number of parents in this country right now on two hands who are worried their daughters are going to grow up to do something like this.

And I don’t think this is because girls are better than boys or boys are more prone to violence than girls. I suspect, in part, it’s because girls are allowed to be emotional messes and , if they get too messy, there’s an okay chance that someone will get us help. When boys fall apart, they’re told to suck it up, “be a man,” or they act out and end up in jail.

And yet, this doesn’t exactly satisfy me, because there are instances where parents or spouses knew something was wrong and tried to get help and still…

So, I don’t know. I just feel like the problem is so large and so multifaceted and that we want simple, silver-bullet solutions (to use a gross metaphor in this context) and those two things work against ever really coming up with something that will fix this.