Unlike many of the recent mass-shootings in America, the carnage of the last several days seems to have successfully targeted one of the few remaining nerves in the nation’s psyche.
Not since the high school killings in Parkland, Florida, has the conversation been this intensely focused on, to quote NPR’s 1-A host Joshua Johnson, “what the hell is going on in America?”
Because it is now painfully, and lethally, obvious that something is, in fact, going the hell on in America, and it is unlike anything we’ve dealt with in the past.
The 21-year-old El Paso, Texas, shooter made the 10-hour drive down from Dallas because there were apparently more Hispanics to kill in a tight space.
The statement he posted just before the shooting warned of a Hispanic invasion of Texas. He recommended separating Americans by race into separate territories. He suggested that “if we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.”
Meanwhile, in Dayton, the weekend’s other shooter didn’t appear to be particularly color-focused. He just wanted to kill people.
The response? A flatly-delivered, perfunctory speech from the President. I’ll just go ahead and say it — you can always tell when Mr. Trump is reading a speechwriter’s words from a teleprompter. He sounds wooden, forced, and uses words he doesn’t use in his normal speech.
But the necessary words were there: racism is bad. The killers were mentally ill. Racism has no place in America. Killers like these are mentally ill. Maybe it’s video games. But the problem is mental illness.
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that the mental illness argument will move front and center for about a month, which will overwhelm any serious consideration of even modest background checks on gun purchasers, or limitations on purchasing weapons with no practical use other than to significantly maximize human carnage.
Then, after a complete inability to define what “mental illness” even is, the discussion will collapse and everything will go on as before.
Everything, in this case, meaning that the irrational fear of some sort of legal slippery slope leading to government confiscations of all weapons will once again lead to legislative paralysis in Washington.
Meanwhile, as the saying goes, Houston, we have a problem. You know it and I know it. The staggering number of American mass shootings aren’t normal. They are not the price we must pay for having the Second Amendment.
It’s true that there is a relatively small number of sick people out there. But their numbers are not small when combined with a few thousand other similarly-minded individuals on internet platforms that feed their misguided fury. Such sites enable those with a similarly warped world view to support, reinforce and radicalize each other. They cheer each other on. They promise to honor and revere the martyrs among them willing to die gun-in-hand for the twisted cause.
Meanwhile, our president can claim he is not contributing to the problem, but come on. Three months ago at a Florida rally a member of the crowd shouted out that the way to deal with undocumented immigrants was to shoot them. Trump laughed and said, “only in the Panhandle can you get away with that stuff.”
The crowd cheered for 10 seconds.
More recently, at a North Carolina rally, Trump supporters chanted “send her back” about U.S. citizen and Somali-born congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. At first, Trump said he didn’t like the chant. The next day he described them as “incredible patriots.”
I could go on.
Meanwhile, the El Paso shooter’s contribution to the dark work of “(eliminating) enough people to sustain our way of life” continues: gays in Orlando, Jews in Pittsburgh, blacks in South Carolina, whites in Santa Ana, Muslims in Christchurch, and children in general in Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and Parkland.
And that’s the problem. Between gutless legislators, irrationally fearful gun owners, and internet-radicalized “-phobes” of every race, religion, and political philosophy, we are a sorry mess.
But maybe I’m overreacting. It’s likely our children and grandchildren won’t care so much. For them it’ll just be another day in America.
Chris Huston is an author and award-winning columnist who lives in southern Idaho. Connect with Chris on Facebook at Chris Huston-Finding My Way, and at www.chrishustonauthor.com.