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The American Drama: Mass Killing, Prayers, Mental Illness, and Nothing

There’s been another mass shooting in America, this time in Sutherland Springs, Texas. As I write, 26 people were killed and about 20 people wounded by, yet again, a white male killer with a big gun. The big gun was a AR-15.

AR-15The AR-15 was invented by Eugene Stoner for the Armalite company. The AR stands for Armalite, not assault rifle. The rifle is loaded by a magazine that can hold anywhere from 10 to 75 bullets that feed automatically into the rifle as it is fired. 10 rounds is the legal limit in eight states, but not in the other 42 states. 50 round magazine, produced by companies like TorkMag and X-Products, are not uncommon. The AR-15 was the weapon of choice at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut; in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; at the business day party in San Bernardino, California. The Orlando shooter used the standard AR-15 magazines and bullets in his killing spree. And, of course, the killer in Las Vegas, who brought to his massacre 23 weapons, used an AR-15 with a bump stock, which turned his semiautomatic into an automatic killing machine allowing more than 500 shots per minute, and magazines holding between 50 and 75 rounds. (You may recall that legislation was suggested to outlaw the bump stock. To date that has not happened. Bump stocks went back on sales one month after 58 people were killed and numerous other wounded. Sales skyrocketed after the massacre.)

Though there is not an agreed definition of what a mass shooting is in America, the FBI identifies a mass shooting as one incident in which four or more people are shot or killed. On average one mass shooting occurs in the United States every 24 hours. Obviously, most of these shootings are not reported on the national news. There are just too many of them. They are too commonplace. However, the large mass shootings like the ones in Newtown, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, and Las Vegas are part of the national drama played out over and over again. What can we expect from this drama?

1) A Call for Thoughts and Prayers.

This is, of course, not unreasonable and from the vast majority of people the call for prayer comes from a place of genuine concern. However, there is a rising chorus of people frustrated by the “thoughts and prayers” response because that is where it ends. People are beginning to wonder if the call for prayers, particularly from the men and women who make our laws and could do something about this American drama, might function more as a distraction than a means of healing. If we’re all busy in the sacred duty of prayer we won’t be busy in the mundane, dirty business of talking about violence and weapons in American society.

There is also a theological issue at play here. Presumably Americans who pray believe in a god that intervenes in human affairs and individual lives. If so, what exactly do they want their god to do? Support? Heal? Stop the carnage?

President Obama’s two tweets after Sutherland Springs were interesting:

We grieve with all the families in Sutherland Springs harmed by this act of hatred, and we’ll stand with the survivors as they recover... May God also grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.

The second tweet is instructive. Obama at least wants his god to grant us wisdom to at least ask about how we might reduce the killing. Bottom line: Whatever god Americans believe in, by whatever name they use to identify their god, that god will not stop the killing. Only we can do that, and I guess asking questions would be a start. But to date, our leaders have been unwilling to even do that. The price of even commonsense gun legislation is too high. The killing therefore will continue.

2) The Killer is Mentally Ill.

Well before any motive of why a person, usually a white male, decided to massacre people has been established, the person will be declared crazy, insane, unhinged, mentally ill by politicians. Trump made it clear that a man walking into a church armed with a AR-15 is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. As he pointed out that the US, like other countries, has a mental health problem. But arming mentally ill people with war-like weapons is not part of the problem.

3) Do Not Politicize the Tragedy.

Both GOP politicians and the conservative media demand that each mass shooting not be politicized in honor of the dead, the wounded, and the grieving. Any attempt to address gun violence in America is criticized and shut down. There is a suggestion that a time will come for such discussions, but somehow that time never arrives. This rule holds fast if the killer is a white male. It does not apply if the killer is a Muslim. If Muslim kills Americans, we talk politics immediately.

4) Arm the Citizenry.

Immediately after a mass killing there will be a call to arm everyone. Political leaders in Texas are urging churches to arm their members or at least hire security guards to protect them from fellow citizens. When it is suggested that a semiautomatic weapon like the AR-15 should once again be outlawed, the suggestion is called naïve, the point being that it is simply too late to outlaw the weapon. American society is so saturated with weapons legislation would only deny a lawful citizen the right to protect himself or herself. And so we have the image of a worship service with the congregation cradling their AR-15s, locked and loaded, because we know, as sure as we know the sun will rise, that another Sutherland Springs will occur.

5) Nothing.

We will mourn. We will pray. We will pontificate. And we will do nothing.

I have begun to wonder if the point that it is simply too late to deweaponize America is correct. There are just too many weapons. The Second Amendment has been so thoroughly reified. The ownership of weapons has been so completely linked to the concepts of freedom, liberty and the great American myth. And the weapons themselves have been deified beyond any point of reason and return. Killing each other is acceptable. We know it will happen. We play out our American drama with theatrical precision. We seek a bizarre realty where everyone carries weapons everywhere with the open acceptance that the killing will continue.

Death, at least in part, defines us. We embrace it in our ongoing dystopian American drama.

You, an individual among billions of individuals, will most likely not die do to gun violence. But if you want to increase your odds, I know where you should live.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

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