Within twenty four hours of
the morning of August 3rd, 2019, the US saw over 30 people die and 51 injured in two of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings: Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. The incidents spurred a transitory discussion regarding gun control, mental health issues, and violent video games – of which Donald Trump cast the blame on the latter. Yet, neither bore fruit; neither came to a strong enough conclusion to initiate the urgent changes required to avoid future gun tragedies in the US. It’s as though America’s 2nd Amendment polarisation has finally cemented through twenty years of prominent mass shootings; the time between Columbine and El Paso has provided each side with their own talking points and statistics apathetic to the prospect of alternative explanations or suggestions.
Before diagnosing the reasons for mass shootings in the US, it’s helpful to clear up misconceptions of what a mass shooting is. After Dayton and El Paso – and throughout 2019 in general – social media has been flooded with articles and images reporting the ‘astonishing’ number of mass shootings since the start of the year. The most common number as of 20/08/19 is 255 shootings, as reported by CBS. However, there is no single definition of what a mass shooting is – and even when defined as, for example, “an incident in which four or more people…are shot in one location at roughly the same time”, it is indicative that it’s at odds with your mainstream reader’s perception of the phrase. Most people only hear the phrase “mass shooting” in reference with abnormally large incidents such as El Paso or Dayton – the others don’t make the front page yet are still labelled the same way.
It is also important to note the importance of gang warfare in these statistics. Within the 16 days after Dayton and El Paso, 21 people were shot and killed in the suburbs of Chicago alone, with dozens more injured. It’s natural for people to take more notice or care to incidents with larger death tolls, but it’s helpful to put America’s gun problem into perspective. Perhaps there’s a case to be made that mass shootings are only properly addressed when they affect middle-class schoolchildren and upmarket areas – inner-city neighbourhoods with high African American populations seem to be brushed over.
Yet it is first necessary, however, to address what would not work.
Many pointed towards Jacinda Arden’s quick response to introduce stricter gun laws after the Christchurch Mosque shooting through a buy-back program like Australia’s in 1996 as a model the US should follow. And though it is usually agreed upon that the sheer number of guns available in the US is largely responsible for their disproportionate level of mass shootings compared to other Western nations, it’s ignorant to believe that similar policies or programs could be applied themselves. Unlike Australia or New Zealand, the US has the 2nd Amendment of the right to bear arms encoded into its constitution – it’s a fundamental part of the state. This isn’t to defend the 2nd Amendment’s validity or argue that a “well-regulated militia” is equivalent to an individual having the right to own an AR-15, but it serves to highlight the character of the US and how that impedes certain legislations akin to Australia or New Zealand’s.
Despite a recent YouGov opinion poll showing that 63% of Americans support banning semi-automatic weapons, it still leaves 37% of the nation adamant believers in their second amendment right to bear those kinds of arms. A country as polarised and large as the US doesn’t have the homogeneity, cross-country unity, and vision of a small nation such as New Zealand, to enact a democratic process that would fulfil the will of the 63% without there being dire consequences. When the local police or FBI officer knocks on the door of an AR-15 owner’s house and demands them to hand in their weapon to the state, is one to really think they will just give in, considering that this is the exact situation they have bought his weapon for – to protect themselves from a “tyrannous” government?
Another problem with enacting gun legislation surrounds the way in which guns used in homicides are acquired. Though a 2015 study suggested that over 80% of guns in mass shootings used in the previous three decades had been obtained legally, most gun death incidents are perpetrated by people with illegally owned firearms. This makes sense, considering that most gun deaths are in gang neighbourhoods; indeed, Chicago has one of the country’s highest gun death rates, despite the state of Illinois having some of the strictest firearm laws. A 2015 University of Chicago study showed that only 3% of inmates who used a gun bought it in a gun store. These illegally acquired firearms would not cease to be circulated facing stricter laws – they may even further the black market.
Stricter legislation is not feasible. To find a solution to the mass shooting question one needs to understand what motivates an individual to indiscriminately kill dozens of people without remorse, without fear of consequence – ready to sacrifice the rest of their life in jail for one evil act.
The reasons that compel an individual to do such things are a combination of Liberalism, Capitalism, and the industrial society in the post-modern age. It’s a symptom of what happens when society turns its inhabitants into mere piano keys, leaving them powerless in their own destiny. The neoliberal Western world order, and its absence of a true meaning to justify suffering and purpose of life has moulded an apathetic and nihilistic generation. Capitalism pits man against his fellow man and drives him to use his competitive instincts for purposes of the material without any further explanation or reason to justify it. Liberalism has atomised man from his neighbour to fracture communities and leave him alone, detached from the wider societal organism. Our transition from a society of discipline to a society of control, as Foucault proclaimed, has meant that despite being a liberal-democratic state, the individual is still stripped out of his freedom and power through societal conventions and bureaucratic regulations, and since power is dispersed in a society of control, no one is responsible. No one can be pinpointed as being the source of blame. Under a dictatorship you’d direct your anger against the regime; under absolute monarchy against the King. But modern society leaves the individual powerless.
Provided with no means of attacking who is responsible, the individual shoots everything else instead – everything that could classify as the “other”. This reaction, accompanied by modern society’s rejection of the immaterial and religion, leads them to cling on to a certain ideology – be it anti-Semitism, White Nationalism, or Islamic Fundamentalism, just to feel something. Modern society doesn’t allow us to be human: our biological needs to engage in strenuous processes such as acquiring food and shelter have been replaced by instantaneous access to those needs. We don’t feel fulfilled by what we should be because we aren’t given autonomy in achieving our most commonplace goals, everything is organised and dealt by a superior organisation or company, government or hierarchical position. The individual is left to rot, feeling hopeless and incomplete, devoid of any meaning whatsoever.
Mass shooters mass shoot to assert their existence in a surreal and post-modern society. Society has treated them inhumanely and they have reacted in an inhuman way.
The only answer to stop these tragedies is to drastically alter the way our society is operated, to disband Liberalism and its false hope of finding a secular equivalent to religious meaning; to restore currently broken communities. The US is the nation that has most advanced capitalism and Liberalism out of our Western nations, and accompanied by its high gun ownership rate, they have been served the cold plate of innocent civilian deaths at the hands of not only sinister individuals, but also their society at large. Western Europe should view American mass shootings as not a disease endemic to the US, but as a foreshadowing of what is to come if they, too, follow the same path as their Atlantic cousins.
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