Sadly, it’s the sort of thing that happens on a regular basis
Someone, whether a disgruntled employee, a mentally unstable
individual, a socially-awkward or obsessive person, you fill in
the blank, goes on a shooting spree and exacts vengeance through
the barrel of a gun. People express shock that this sort of thing
could happen where they live, in the safe environs far from the
nation’s notoriously crime-ridden inner cities. Some will claim
there were no indications the shooting suspect was capable of such
violence. Meanwhile, others will insist there was always something
off about the person. In any case, after the obligatory media coverage
and perfunctory surface-level discussions, after the memorials are
held, the grief counselors are dispatched and the victims are buried,
things generally go back to normal. All is forgotten, that is,
until the next tragic shooting that leaves x number of people dead
and y number of people injured.
It was said that Amy Bishop, that biology professor at the
University of Alabama-Huntsville, was angry because she had been
denied tenure by the university. She supposedly visited a shooting
range before her shooting rampage. And she was obsessed with President
Obama. We also know that she shot her brother to death years earlier
in what ruled an accidental killing, and she was a suspect in an
attempted pipe bombing of her professor at Harvard.
are questions that are beyond the scope of this commentary, but
deserve some mention nonetheless. We know that the three victims
who died, allegedly at her hand, were faculty of color. Was this
deliberate? Certainly there is a story hidden in there, somewhere.
Had Amy Bishop been a person of color herself— perhaps an African-American,
or a Muslim with an Arab surname—would she have eluded the institutional
screeners and gatekeepers for so long, given her sketchy past?
Was she given a pass because she is white, despite her issues?
Perhaps for some, these are insensitive questions to ask at this
time, or any other time for that matter, but ask I must.
Oddly and consistently, such questions are always raised
after the fact. You never hear of a shooting rampage that was thwarted,
with the perpetrator-to-be either apprehended or otherwise stopped
in his or her (generally his) tracks. Never do we hear of an intervention
that allows such troubled individuals to receive the counseling
and treatment they need, to protect themselves, and us, from the
demons that haunt them.
And yet, while we will dismiss the perpetrators of such vicious
acts as criminals or mentally disturbed outliers, our response to
these tragedies reveals far more about our sick society than the
troubled souls who committed the crimes. Tens of thousands of people
die from gunfire in America every year, and most never get media
attention. And yet, in a nation that has normalized the notion
of a gun for every person, this is apparently a situation we are
willing to tolerate. Based on the lack of an adequate public policy
response to America’s gun problem, one must conclude that these
firearm deaths are viewed as collateral damage, the price society
is willing to pay for a so-called “free” society of gun ownership
No one can believe that the level of violence, of gun violence,
in the United States is compatible with a stable, vibrant and free
society. Add to the mix the high level of hopelessly unemployed
and/or foreclosed citizens who lack an outlet to vent their frustrations;
the legions of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have returned home
with undiagnosed or untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; and
the use of prisons as a repository for the mentally ill, with inmates
returning to the streets sicker than when they were on lockdown.
Lots of guns, economic despair, deprivation and mental illness—these
conditions are a recipe for disaster.
In short, we are sick, and we need good medicine. The nation’s
political leadership often has proven too cowardly or too compromised
to provide anything more than band-aids, but the band-aids haven’t
worked. In a country with so many crises, gun violence is yet another
problem we have avoided for too long, only to have it shoot us in
the face. But we cannot ignore it anymore, and we must make it
Editorial Board member, David A. Love, JD is a journalist and human
rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to The Huffington
Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times
and Philadelphia Independent
Media Center. He also blogs at davidalove.com,
and Open Salon.
to contact Mr. Love.