It’s the guns.
It’s not mental illness, though that’s a problem we should do more about.
It’s not video games.
It’s not even, as bad as that problem is, racism and xenophobia.
The simple, incontrovertible fact is that nations around the globe, throughout the history of humanity and its precursors, have suffered from emotional problems and delusional thinking, have become obsessed with ever-evolving forms of amusement and have found reasons to dislike, even hate, people of different hues, faiths and nationalities.
The bloodshed we are witnessing on an almost daily basis can be laid at the feet of a culture that refuses to deal with the fact that high-energy weapons of war have not just the power to kill many people in mere seconds. It is that they have also acquired the power to cloud our minds to the fact that such firepower has no place in a civilized society and is not protected by any reasonable interpretation of a constitutional right to self-defense.
Every time another tragedy occurs, whether the victims are first-graders or concert-goers or back-to-school shoppers, we ask our leaders what they can do to prevent it from happening again. And the answer we hear all to often is either a head-shaking silence or a distraction from the real threat to our right to a peaceful existence.
It is true that mental health services in this nation are absurdly overstressed. If concern about mass murders did truly move government at all levels to face that problem, well, that might be a silver lining.
But to argue, as the president has most recently, that gun violence is a problem of mental health is to shift the blame from the rich and powerful to the lost and helpless.
While the gut definition of a mentally ill person may include anyone with the capacity to gun down dozens of innocent people, the fact is that most souls suffering from true psychological ills are not dangerous — except, perhaps, to themselves — and are more likely to be the victim, rather than the perpetrator, of an act of violence.
So-called red flag laws, a process that would allow concerned relatives or neighbors to ask the courts to consider whether an overtly troubled person might be better off without any firearms within reach, would probably do some good. So would a 21st century system of background checks in place for those seeking to purchase guns. But not everyone who is about to launch a murderous rampage has anything in their past that would cause us to think they shouldn’t be trusted with semi-automatic weapons.
Those who blame violent video games, or movies, or the decline of organized religion, or the atomization of nuclear and extended family units are in total denial of the fact that those are trends common to all advanced nations. Church attendance in Western Europe is all but extinguished. Hollywood movies are the common language of humanity. Young men in Japan and South Korea are sometimes so obsessed with video games that their families send them to video detox.
But mass shootings are the part of American Exceptionalism that we could do without. And they exist here because, and only because, we have a culture and laws that value instruments of death above the preservation of human life.
Most of us feel that, and want our elected leaders to do something about it. But, unless we make that clear to them, loudly and incessantly, there is no reason to expect anything different.