GUNS and a Whole Lot More…
A terrible thing happened to me in the wake of the school shooting at Santa Fe, Texas last week. I blocked it out. It took place on a Friday afternoon. And I didn’t want to hear about it. I went numb and then sought some other forms of diversion. The Preakness, my new book on Africa, that sweet, silly wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markel that looked like a cross between a Lifetime Christmas movie and a Rainbow Coalition pep rally—anything to take my mind off that obscene, unnecessary mass slaughter of innocents that—like Parkland, Florida before it—now happens so often we have all become anesthetized to the endless montage of mayhem, mourning, and the agony of broken lives.
Then I got stabbed in the heart by something called conscience. That conscience filled me with outrage, and that outrage drove me to result … and along with it the realization that if I didn’t speak up, if I didn’t try to come up with answers to this deadly American paradox, it would fall into that national malaise that Jimmy Carter once predicted, now having become a fact of life. We have become a society estranged to itself. Violence in all its forms—guns, knives, truck bombs, and cars crashing into crowds, IEDs, machetes—has become a tragic part of our national character. And forget the mass shooting headlines, tragic and alarming though they may be, the core issue is the day to day violent acts in every city in the USA that make a news blip on a Wednesday afternoon and are forgotten on a Thursday—to the tune of 31,000 plus murders a year.
For those of you who don’t like to read (and apparently most of you don’t) let me cut to the chase on what I have found to be the sick, sociopathic penchant for brute force that appears here more than any other country. They are in brief as follows: 1) an easy access to weapons and the cornucopia of mayhem available to every single nut job with a grievance. (And don’t run around with your hair on fire NRA supporters, no one is coming for your guns.) 2) The American cult of Villainy Chic and the worship of all aspects of the Dark Side; 3) the erosion of humanity through the electronic zombification of the millennial male. 4) The moral and political impotence of our national leaders to create any meaningful legislation.
Having parked these four notions in front of you, I realize they all fall into the “well of course” category. Anyone who thought about it for five minutes would recognize all these elements as part of the demented Rubix that has come to be a pattern in the great American peril. So let’s deal with them one at a time:
1) Item One: The Easy Access Gun Conundrum. What people won’t admit is the fact that—when the next tragic mass murder takes place (and it has a 92% chance of being a shooting)—about one third of you are going to say it’s something else other than the guns. So be sure to check one or more of the previous causes. And all the “get the guns” advocates need to think about it before they butt heads with that Second Amendment thing, because this former Marine who grew up in radio days happens to remember that this is the same Bill of Rights we had back in the 1940s and 50s when every kid on my block had a BB gun, a pellet pump gun and toy pistols that were realistic in every detail. They actually proved to be excellent training tools for the proper handling of weapons. And there were—except for an occasional mob vendetta—no mass shootings, mass murders or mass-anythings. It also seemed that just about every family had guns—a couple of rifles and a pistol and perhaps an old WW II souvenir—but absolutely no one had AK-47’s or AR-15’s or Glock 9’s, or enough rounds of armor piercing ammo to take down an AFV. There were also no mega-kill motion pictures or movies where everyone in the film fired off a zillion rounds hipshot from a .50 caliber M2 Browning that splattered the entire landscape without so much as a ripple of recoil (all done while chewing tobacco and drinking a beer). But let’s face it. It was a kinder, gentler time. Humanity and human contact were our default means of communication, and lunatics didn’t have electronic access to tap into their grievances.
Some interesting stats though: Of all the mass shootings in America in the last 18 years, 28% involved high-magazine automatic rifles, while 61% involved pistols (over half of those semi-automatic or high-magazine pistols). And like it or not, proximity to high-volume magazines and rapid fire creates a proportionate number of casualties. Do the math! The argument is beyond refutation.
BTW, be ready to reassess the whole “enhanced school security, armed teachers” argument, because—unless you’re going to build a bunker—it’s almost impossible to lock down a school. And as far as school security is concerned, Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida had an armed security guard who froze under pressure outside the building (while Nikolas Cruz was inside popping off rounds at half the student body). Santa Fe High School had 3 security personnel who despite “advancing on the situation” proved yet again to bring too little too late against Dimitrios Pagourtzis when he was cutting loose with his sawed-off shotgun and automatic pistol. As of now, about 43% of all schools in America have regular weekly security and the count is rising. And so the jury is still out.
At this point, emphasis on optimum security it is already everywhere—schools, universities, public gatherings, shopping malls, travel ports, airports—all have security guards, armed staff and lookouts, and still there is mayhem. And nothing and no legislation can protect us from the solitary contrivances of a madman or the political conspiracies of a terrorist group. They are all a part of the quantum dementure of our modern American culture, and our only means of preparation involves extreme vetting that requires the eventual abridgment of one or more of our personal freedoms. And on the face of it, no one wants to buy into that.
This leads me to Items 2 and 3 on my list of contributing factors. In Item 2, I reiterate my belief that practically all of us spend large portions of our waking moments in the thrall of some of the undisputed scum of the Earth. Perhaps it is a by-product of America’s peerless embrace of the underdog, BUT we have for generations built cult followings around every murderous scumbag in history, on film or as portrayed to us by a truckling toady press. Since the beginning of this nation, we have celebrated such dark eminences as Jesse James and John Dillinger, lionized mass murdering scum such as (political cult figure) Che Guevara and wholesale hitman Whitey Bulger who had, not one, but two movies and a TV-series made about his life. I could make a laundry list of hero/villains—from John Wick to the Terminator—and somehow the lines get blurred between right and wrong, heroes and villains, as long as our guy is pretty and cool and always wins in the end, usually after mega-kills and body counts in the dozens. (I wrote about this in my article “The Celebritization of Evil” and double down on that document now.) http://robertahola.com/comments-on-society/the-celebritization-of-evil/
Oddly and sadly, this perfectly dovetails into the irrefutable rise in factor Number 3: The electronic zombification of the millennial American male. This theory runs into violent opposition from a number of sectors, because you are cutting into the annual revenues of a $108 billion a year business. It’s true that only 68% of video games have violent aspects or are driven by first/person shooters. It is also true that the industry is making a concentrated move away from violence (especially with the advent of VR). But there also exists the chilling fact that violent video games are now offering kill-ratios at quantum levels of progression. Forget Call of Duty (the second most successful franchise in all of gaming) or World of Warcraft, the newest spate of violent games include such lovely concepts as Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, For Honor and Outlast II—extreme violence matrixes where shooting, hacking and slaughtering one’s opponent not only gains power points, but (in the case of Bulletstorm and For Honor) brand new stores of ammunition for every megakill, and rewards for creative ways to torture and slaughter the opposition.
Despite the professional evaluations of 90% of pediatricians and 70% of parents that violent games prompt aggressive behavior in our youth (8-18), there are arguments and some rather skewed studies on the other side to indicate they do not. But let me counter those with some chilling statistics. It is estimated that the young American Male who plays your average video game has made about 100,000 kills by the time he is 18. For some reason estimates cut off there under the assumption these game players retire once they reach adulthood—they do not. About 66% continue well into their late 20s and log in an estimated 100,000 more kills. And if you doubt that this not only creates aggression but also desensitizes the human being, I refer you to the recent rogues gallery of assassins and their relationship to violent electronic media.
Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook mass-murderer of 27 children and teachers, was obsessed with video games, other mass killings, and even had some perverse video offshoot of a game called “School Shooting.” James Holmes, the Aurora Colorado theater shooter (24 killed, 140 wounded) loved the video game World of Warcraft and showed up a screening of Dark Knight Rises announcing that he was “The Joker.” Eric Harris and Dylan Kelbold (the killers of Columbine) loved violent video games and even made one of their own that they called “Hitmen for Hire.” Eliot Rodger, the Santa Barbara shooter/stabber (9 killed, 14 wounded) was obsessed with World of Warcraft and played it for hours on end, finally creating a video manifesto praising the “Alt-right” and underscoring his hatred of women. All-time mass murderer (Norwegian) Anders Behring Breivik, a dedicated neo-Nazi, admitted he used the video game Call of Duty to train for his wholesale slaughter of 77 people in Oslo and a Utoya Island youth camp. I could go on with the laundry list, but point made: there is a connection in all of this, and it has been vehemently renounced by all the “experts” as being insufficiently evidential.
And you can’t go to court try and resolve this. California already tried it. And in 2012, in Brown versus the Entertainment Merchants Association, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 7-2 vote that the state could not ban the sale of violent video games to minors. In principal, it was the right thing for our courts to do. (So chalk one up for the Constitution but not for common sense.) But therein lies the conundrum. Every measure taken to safeguard a society will involve some restriction of personal liberties. So, we remain at choice…
I can also assure of you of another thing. You won’t find Hollywood owning up to their part in this violence cocktail mosaic. Screen violence is now exponentially on the rise, but it’s cloaked in all kinds of new disguises that appeal to Millennials and Generation Z. We still have the very popular blood operas of dark heroes like John Wick, the Punisher, Jason Bourne and the Mechanic—real blood, real killers and gluts and gobs of gore. But those, due to pressure from the obscure coven of the morally indignant, have developed disguises that come in the form of what I call the Disneyfication of violence.
Star Wars, the Avengers, X-Men, and Transformers, Black Panther and every Marvel hero—all have adapted a video game approach to their mega-kills. If you’ll carefully check these out in the next orgy of non-stop action-adventure that pours into your popcorn-saturated senses, certain things will become evident. First, there is no blood anywhere. Our heroes just sort of smack into all their villains and the bad guys bounce off and crumple into a corner (or just evaporate). And fights create no injuries. Apparently everyone is now made of plastic. Cuts and bruises vanish in minute, as if they never happened at all. The action-adventure partisans fly at each other from 100 yards away, bang into one another, and then go at it again. Bop! Pow! Smash! Repeat! There’s not much human contact either. No hugging, no kissing (certainly no sex) and not much dialogue: just some droll writer’s room one-liners, tossed out with a smirk as they make their way to yet another brawl. Even the weapons they fire are clean and antiseptic in their impact—shields, hammers, paralyzing gazes, laser fire and zapper rays, all clean and neat and desensitizing: Violence without consequence and the slow deadly erosion of all feeling.
What chafes me more than anything is the fact that Hollywood studios still use dollars and cents metrics to measure their action-adventure box office super-stars in terms of “screen-kills,” and yet have the unmitigated gall to get on stage at some award show or other and lecture us on gun violence in America. The hypocrisy is palpable. And it isn’t going to change; not in Tinseltown.
As I write this I realize that, at some level, I’m jousting at windmills, mainly because we are hacking our way through the thicket of intellectual property, media franchises and hundreds of billions of dollars—fortunes made by seducing our senses and replacing our humanity with the murky economics of objectification. We are targets, all of us. We are so in need of validation and escape—so much fallen from our higher-selves and a distant vision of God—that we’ve turned ourselves into cannon fodder to feed our obsessions with diversion. We have been dehumanized and it comes at a cost. That cost is the slaughter of innocents and the peril of our democracy.
So what is the solution? We fix what we can. We can’t stop these media monsters. But we can take away their toys.
So here’s my simple Four Point Plan that practically no one will like:
1) Ban new purchases on high velocity automatic weapons – rifles and pistols – there is simply no place for them. Bill Clinton banned “assault weapons” in 1994, and it cut down on kill ratios for violent crimes by 38%, until George W. Bush rescinded the executive order in 2004 (shortly after his brilliant invasion of Iraq). It needs to go back on the books. (And yes the statistic is true that Americans own 48% of the 650 million privately owned guns, rifles and automatic weapons in the world. Among those 308 million American guns, about half are owned by 3% of the population, a group called superowners. And virtually none of those are on the “watch” list for being suspects or for irregular behavior. (Then again, Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter was a “superowner,” with 14 AR-14s, several rifles and more than 2000 rounds of ammo found in his hotel room.) Of the gun owners in the “super” category, about 22% of those own most high-velocity automatic weapons. So I’m sorry. But if it means that .4% of the population has to be deprived of buying more high-velocity kill-toys, so be it. We have to take action in the one area that just might make a difference.
2) If we want to keep our 2nd Amendment “right to bear arms” intact, freedom is greatest when the boundaries are clearly defined. We have to police ourselves. That requires enhanced background checks, no weapons sales to anyone under 21 years of age (without a “right to carry” waiver including psychological profile), and qualifications at a shooting range before licenses are granted. (You have to pass a driver’s test to have a license to drive. The same should absolutely be applied to a license to shoot. You, citizen of the United States of America, are applying for a means to kill someone or some thing. That requires judgment, maturity and skill…which leads to Item 3.)
3) Provide background checks that have teeth. With all guns purchased today, the FBI has 3 days to run a check on the application, if they do not complete the check—and in about 345,000 applications a year they do not—the purchase is automatically granted. So the mentally twisted, serial felon and self-motivated loony has a nearly 4% chance of slipping through the net of detection. Add to this the fact that the overworked understaffed FBI is also forced by sheer volume to rubber stamp another 12% of the more than 8.4 million gun purchase applications every year, and that’s another 1.1 million that don’t get checked as thoroughly as they could be.
4) Go local and regional (statewide) with your gun reform initiatives. The Congress and Executive Branch of the United States government have already made their Faustian pacts with the NRA and the gun lobbies, and as such will remain in a state of political paralysis until the earth turns brown. But now is the era where states are retaking their rights (at least those with any initiative left toward self-governance). So stop looking to the government of the United States to create a national mandate. States have the power to enact these initiatives, and should: state-by-state. Go local. Go regional. Work at it. Make a difference.
This plan, like just about everything else that matters, requires taking action. It requires Citizenship 4.0 and most of us just can’t be bothered. We have forgotten that an informed citizenry is the best weapon against tyranny. And no gun in the world can protect us from the slow, doggerel downgrade of our national will.