Just Another Day In America

Going to take a little departure from the normal routine of writing about writing. Another mass shooting occurred on Friday evening. Several college students were shot and killed for committing the sin of going out and enjoying themselves on a lovely California evening.

This one struck close to home because it was at my girlfriend’s alma mater, the University Of California, Santa Barbara. It even took place at the Sorority house she rushed.

When something awful and upsetting happens, I think most artists and writers will put pen to paper. In the hope of understanding and maybe even in some small way, helping. 

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people on both sides of this issue. And the fact that there are two sides to the issue makes me despondent because it’s an issue far more complicated and shouldn’t be restricted to a left/right issue (especially as many gun owners I know are fiercely blue liberal). I know some folks who want ALL guns banned completely. I know some folks who will not abide a single change to the gun laws.

It’s a hard deal because you bring up “gun control” and the gun lovers go into OVERDRIVE, forgetting about the fact that we have many forms of gun control in the country already. (Several thousand gun restrictions actually.)  

Just yesterday I brought up “mental illness” on my facebook page and got a lot of push-back from people who think that’s a cop-out. I get the point, because “mental illness” as a term casts far too wide a net. But anyone who commits a shooting rampage is just not mentally well.

Recently, the issue of misogyny is being brought up in how it relates to these shootings. I think the country absolutely needs a long, thorough and open discussion about how the genders treat each other and changing gender roles as our society changes and evolves. But I don’t believe misogyny led to the shootings. I believe severe and distorted mental health issues led to misogyny and the shootings.

Elliott Rodger talked about being rejected over and over again by women in his youtube videos (I am not reposting those here). At the risk of sounding crass, join the club, pal. I don’t think I’m familiar with any man who hasn’t been dissed by the hot girl. Or any girl who hasn’t been dissed by the hot guy. (George Clooney broke up with Stacy Keibler. Even the uber-beautiful cannot escape rejection)

The guys pulling the trigger are missing some very important tools to deal with the harsh realities of life. Rejection, agony, heartbreak, disappointment. These things are supposed to bring pain. They’re supposed to hurt. We are supposed to feel pain. Within us, we have various things (call them strength, hope, optimism, support etc) that help confront, overcome and deal with this pain.

“Adapt and overcome,” one of my favorite sayings.

And let’s be honest, most if not all of us have been pushed to that brink. I was a skinny kid who liked wrestling and Doctor Who in an era when either one of those was a scarlet letter. I was mercilessly bullied. My senior prom? I was watching Steve Williams vs Kenta Kobashi. At home. Sober. And unlaid. (Yeah, I asked someone. She was the girl of my 17 year old dreams, too. She said no. She was probably more into the Star Trek & Roller Derby guys)

Numerous authors have written about the mass shooting fantasy. The idea of disposing of our enemies is an appealing one that has manifested itself in many ways in our culture. Ever put a picture of someone you hate on a dartboard? Ever fantasized, even if just for a second, what it would be like to eliminate someone you truly hated or someone who truly wronged you? Next time you play the game, “Fuck, Marry, Kill” see how long it takes for you to answer the kill question.

But then there’s something else to consider. What about the kids I bullied? What about the kids I rejected who just wanted to be friends? What about the freshmen who I tormented? “But I was just having fun,” Yeah, that rationalization feels weak even as I type it.

This applies to rejection too. I know rejection. I know what it feels like to bury your face – as an adult – into a pillow and just scream the agony of loneliness. I remember burying my face into my laundry basket one time in Boston so I wouldn’t wake my roommates. I know the abyss of despair and hopelessness that is to be rejected by those that you love.

But what about those whom I rejected? What about the girls – good girls, bright, smart, pretty girls with huge smiles and naughty fun thoughts – whom I had sent to the abyss? They’re great sin was loving me, but I wasn’t interested so cast them aside I did. Sometimes I was gentle, sometimes I was clunky, sometimes I was rude. Do I deserve to be shot in the face? In the moment, I bet some of those girls would say yes before thinking better of it.

We can’t stand on the moral high ground of righteousness when it comes to rejection and heartbreak. Because while you’re screaming “What about me?” someone else is screaming that at you. They’re there, you may not realize it now, but they’re there.

So is that mental illness? Temporarily, I dare say, someone who’s recently heartbroken is as close to dangerous irrationality anyone can come to. But why do some cross over the edge to premeditated and voluminous homicide while the rest of us, wipe the tears, brush the dust off and carry on?

As usual when big, huge tragedies that challenge the very limits of our understanding come up, then many with platforms rush to easy answers. The Daily Beast has an article up about how Super Mario Brothers gives male nerds a sense of entitlement towards owning women. (Almost gave myself a concussion when my head hit the desk on that one) And Ann Hornaday got people to hear of her by blaming Seth Rogen & Judd Apatow movies: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2014/05/27/seth-rogen-and-judd-apatow-dont-blame-us-for-misogynistic-massacre/

I personally think Ms. Hornaday owes them and her readers a big apology. This nonsense makes me upset because it brings me back to the days when heavy metal was spuriously attacked for causing teen suicide. Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” in 1986, a song sung by the devil to kill our kids. Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” in 2013, a song sung by a family to sell the Honda Pilot mini-van.

And yes misogyny is real and needs to be addressed. Stopping Super Mario Brothers is a nice thought but it ain’t gonna help. Does today’s pop culture contribute to misogyny? Of course it does! There are many areas of criticism, but pop culture is not this all-powerful judge creating the rules of today’s society. If anything, it’s the other way around. This is a much better piece on the subject: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/27/us/campus-killings-set-off-anguished-conversation-about-the-treatment-of-women.html?smid=tw-share

Blaming pop culture is always an easy answer because it’s something that we’re all exposed to and we all think we know a lot about. Pop culture defines a universal frame of reference but that doesn’t mean it’s got all the facts. (And NRA, you guys need a new spokesman. Wayne LaPierre blamed music videos after New Town. God almighty. If I had one question for Mr. LaPierre it would be, please name 5 music videos made since 2010.)

HG Wells wrote a book called “In The Days Of The Comet”. SPOILER ALERT (more on those next week). The protagonist is dumped by the woman he loves. He’s sent spiraling into a pit of depression. So what’s he do? He buys a gun and sets out to kill the woman who scorned him, her lover and himself. This book was written in 1906, long before any of today’s pop culture was a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

We’re talking about such deep-seeded pain and such unbearable anguish that the only solution is horror and murder that seems unthinkable. But it is thinkable. It’s happened.

So what do we do – how do we can people who are crossing over the brink from getting the guns?

Many people I know say ban all the guns. This makes some sense. Hold on, you gun-loving, NRA members, don’t stop reading now. “Gun massacres can’t happen without guns.” True! But massacres will not be avoided. Bombs will be made. Knives will be yielded. Knives are less lethal than bombs and despite what many gun advocates will tell you, bombs aren’t that easy to make. But maybe if we got rid of the guns, we’d see a lot more bombs. So then is the problem solved?

And there’s one reason why I can’t get behind the “get rid of the guns” argument: Someone says to me, “I own a gun to protect myself and my family.” 

I have not a single argument for them.

I do think, though, we need even more limitations on guns. Something interesting to me is that there’s a gun loving community that operates under strict gun control: The hunting community. Seriously, they do. Only it’s not called gun control. It’s called hunting regulations. Here are some examples:

Georgia: http://www.eregulations.com/georgia/hunting/general-wma-regulations/

Maryland: http://www.eregulations.com/maryland/hunting/firearm-regulations/

What about gun-loving Texas? Guess what – they’ve got hunting rules too, with public safety in mind: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/regulations/outdoor-annual/hunting/general-regulations/laws-penalties-restitution

I don’t hunt, myself. I’d weep for days if I shot an animal but I have a lot of admiration for the hunting community. They believe in humane killing of an animal (that’s the sport aspect & Sarah Palin got crucified by hunters for being a cruel, reckless hunter on her show). They respect the firearms they use. And they abide by a lawful code of conduct to ensure the safety of both fellow hunters and non-hunters alike. Yes, dear reader, I’m sure you can find exceptions to these but generally speaking, there’s truth to what I’m saying about hunters.

And they exist, operate and hunt under the auspices of a certain kind of gun control. (Even if they don’t realize it.)

I don’t want to ban all guns, but the gun community is fighting EVERY step to improve this situation of violence in America. I should say this, the leaders of the gun community are fighting to improv the situation of violence in America. Joe The Plumber wrote a piece saying “dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.” http://barbwire.com/2014/05/27/open-letter-parents-victims-murdered-elliot-rodger/

Gun lovers, you really need new champions. Hell, many of the gun owners I know would make great spokespeople for the gun community.

But here’s the thing, as much as I don’t want to ban guns, there’s not a soul on the planet who can tell me that if you time travelled the framers of the Constitution to today and showed them the gun statics, showed them the school shootings and showed them the “dead kids” whom Joe The Plumber dismisses so easily, there’s no way that they would leave gun laws the way they are.

I interacted with someone on twitter who told me he advocated NO RESTRICTIONS on guns, meaning felons, serial killers, child molesters could all have access to guns. That is freedom in his mind.

Even hardcore Right Wing Zealot Antonin Scalia doesn’t believe the 2nd Amendment to be a catch-all for everyone to have any kind of gun they want: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/29/antonin-scalia-guns_n_1715969.html

And shhhhh don’t tell anyone but the NRA kinda believes in gun control too: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/21/jon-stewart-nra-smart-guns_n_5363091.html

Besides, gun advocates argue that banning guns won’t solve the problem of dealing with the severe mental health problems that drive far too many to kill indiscriminately. And they’ve got a point, they won’t. Taking a gun away from a deer hunter feeding his family in Arkansas is not going to help a tortured kid in Seattle find the mental healthcare he needs to give him a chance to get better.

So what do we do?

I believe there’s more restrictions we can put on guns & gun shows that do not harm any one’s (even the detestable Joe The Plumber) 2nd Amendment rights. We can put a stop to things like this: http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/10/tonight-on-ac360-gun-show-hidden-camera-investigation/ That video is disturbing and I have a feeling even Wayne LaPierre may not be OK with those kinds of exchanges.

I’ve asked many gun advocates and I ask again here – how do we keep the dangerously mentally unstable from having access to firearms? I await an answer. I hope they come up with one. And I hope they realize the sooner we get one, the sooner others will stop asking for all guns.

But the discussion keeps getting pushed aside. The arguments on facebook that are happening now are an important look at misogyny. Again, yes, let’s talk about it. It will lead to more understanding and sensitivity and I’m all for that. Yay. But will it stop the shootings?

Are we prepared as a nation to have a clear, open and honest dialogue about mental health and all the repercussions that come with it? (Mainly that at one point in time or other in life, we’re ALL crazy to one degree or other) 

Or do we want to accept these events, these constant shootings, as something that happens?

I don’t know what the answer is. And quite frankly, anyone who tells you they do know should be taken with a grain of salt. This is maybe the most complicated issue our generation and society faces. This, quite frankly, might be our Cold War. No easy answers will fix with this but both sides, all sides, of the gun issue have to come together to fix it because people everywhere in America are dying for the simple reason that they’re engaging in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Everyone heard about the Santa Barbara shootings. But did you hear about the shootings in Myrtle Beach this past weekend? How about the 4 shot dead in New Orleans? The spate of gun violence that swept through New York City? Hear about those, no? Of course, not. They’re not national news. The Santa Barbara case was different. The shooter was the son of a successful AD who worked on The Hunger Games. Those other shootings?

Just another day in America.


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