We Americans are Actively Creating Our Own Mass Shooting Epidemic, And We Need to Stop It
I recently participated in active shooter training.
Not because I’m a first responder, or a soldier, or a security guard. I’m none of those things. I am just a regular person. A member of yet another American community jolted to accept that we need to be prepared.
Because three days ago, an American civil servant and former National Guard member murdered a dozen people in Virginia Beach.
Just like a few weeks ago, an American active shooter spewing anti-Semitic vitriol opened fire on members of the Chabad of Poway.
Just like three days later an American gunman terrorized UNCC.
Just like three weeks ago two American young people shot at classmates at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
Just like last fall, another American poisoned by false narratives about Jews, committed mass murder at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg.
And so on…nearly every month, every year, for far too long.
I participated in active shooter training, and I am profoundly sad.
I am sad because my synagogue– a congregation whose members open their front doors every Passover Seder to welcome strangers in need; a congregation that welcomes anyone regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability or lifestyle; a congregation that runs a homeless shelter during the winter, a congregation that helps our broader local community in need regardless of religion, ethnicity or other circumstance —will now need to take serious measures to secure it.
I happen to be an American Jew. But it is not because I am a Jew that I am sad.
I am profoundly sad because the United States of America—the home and culture that I call my own–seems to be openly and successfully breeding isolation, desperation, fear, anger and uncontrolled violence, and a culture around weapons of war. It is a toxic cocktail that we are brewing and serving to ourselves.
I am sad because we Americans kill our own far more than other similar countries.
Christians in churches. Concert goers. Nightclubbers. Muslims in mosques and marathon runners. Corporate employees, municipal workers, college students, and, the most horrifying of all–our school children. All have been victims. The numbers, breadth, diversity and randomness of the murdered are staggering.
Who Have We Become?
Here is an informative and shocking set of maps from gunviolencearchive.org.
This violent convulsion is now a uniquely American national cultural product: one manufactured by fear, power, money, lies and ignorance. Weren’t we supposed to be the exceptional country, the “shining city upon a hill”?
How can we call ourselves a light unto other nations when the gun homicide rate in the United States is 25 times higher than that of other populous, high-income countries?
In what we claim to be the greatest nation on earth in the most civilized time in human history we are killing each other in record numbers and in seemingly boundless fashion. Violence has become so normalized that regular, everyday people need to participate in active shooter training in order to be prepared for what is coming their way on any given day.
No one should feel ok about having created this environment, and as Americans, none of us should stand for it.
Yet we allow it. Not only do we allow it, but elements within our own culture aggressively teach it, organize around it, and profit from it. And we ignore those in distress, shun them, isolate them, and then we give them access to weapons. It is someone else’s problem– until they murder your child, mom, schoolmate, neighbor or best friend. Then we send “thoughts and prayers.”
Who’s to Blame?
This desperate and misguided violence is a symptom of culture failure — an inflammatory response within this cultural organism, like an auto-immune response run amok. There is a cancer eating us from the inside. And collectively we are responsible. Individually we have plausible deniability, but collectively we do not. Because the United States of America is producing its own poison.
The “causes” are unclear, complex, and intertwined. There are many entrenched economic, political and cultural interests protecting their turf from taking any responsibility. Some even profit from it.
That’s our fault as a culture and a body politic. We allow it. We participate in it, and we protect it. It has become who we are.
- In communities all over the country, in every state, and through every medium, we fill folks’ heads with frantic false narratives, vitriol, tribalism and mutual alienation, and we literally buy it. Then we socially reinforce the crazy by demeaning and demonizing anyone not in our bubble.
- Community leaders, political parties and politicians spout the same vitriol, falsehoods, conspiracy theories and tribalism, and we cheer for it, fund it, and vote for it.
- We fail to see (or we ignore) the humanity and pain of those around us– an illness, a loss, anger, isolation, depression or confusion so profound and unfathomable that one sees killing as the right thing to do next.
- We provide these suffering people greater access to guns than human care and mental health services – leaving these poor folks to act on desperate and murderous impulses, even providing opportunities to collaborate and plan– uninterrupted by others grounded in truly American values of community and human dignity.
- We preach and teach blame, xenophobia and class and race conflict. It is learned. It is socialized. It is tolerated.
- We reject embracing the political dissent that is supposed to make our democracy stronger, not turn us into enemies.
- We embrace, celebrate and promote violence: 1) as entertainment, 2) for profit, and 3) as a way to express one’s anger, fear, frustration, sadness, or confusion.
It is the world we have created. And it’s killing us.
We Need to Heal Our Culture
This ailment is not new. The United States has been suffering for decades. We felt the impact in 1995 in Oklahoma City (an American bomber) and in 1999 at Columbine (American shooters). And nothing we’ve done has improved our condition. In fact, mass shootings have been hovering at about 350 incidents per year the last four years, up from 270 in 2014.
Rather than continue the bitterness and acerbic bickering, we need to ask what it says about us— as an American people, a culture, and a country– and what we can do about it.
How have we become a society that, rather than looking to the bright future ahead, we breed and foster false information, ignorance, anger, and hatred so severe that our people, our children even, are willing to kill each other?
Perhaps we expect our government to provide a solution when in fact we have created a government that is incapable. Our government follows the biddings of its constituents. We the People are the government and it is us. It is us who need to change and the government will follow. Paraphrasing Alexis De Tocqueville, we have exactly the kind of government and culture that we have chosen.
We have elected a polarized and, therefore, paralyzed government. The private sector has no obvious motivation to be the solution. People are tired, busy, complacent, in a bubble, feeling helpless to do anything.
So, what do we do? I wish I had a perfect solution.
I wish people could be kinder to each other, to work as a community and a nation toward forward-looking solutions. I am just one person who is sad and concerned about where we are and where we are going. And I am not always right, or perfect.
I could do better, too.
This level of culture change will take the profound sadness of millions, such a depth of feeling and concern for the future that we are compelled to act. Instead of a violent convulsion, we need a gradual and unstoppable movement toward a stronger American culture and American future.
If We the People build the foundation, the government will have no choice but to follow.
- A critical mass willing to stand up for true American values as articulated in the Declaration of Independence: the inalienable right of every person to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.
- A critical mass that will elect representatives that reflect those values and provide courageous leadership built on trust.
- And finally, local anchor institutions and philanthropy ready to organize around a comprehensive effort to help stop America from killing itself figuratively and literally.
We need to catalyze and incentivize the solution, and it will get solved.
We need to make solving this problem a prerequisite to getting elected.
We – the people – need to own this responsibility. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?