Given that some sort of horrific, headline-grabbing school shooting now occurs in the United States at a rate of once a week, it’s hard to argue against the idea that gun violence is as much a national pastime as baseball. And, unlike baseball, the season never ends.
In just the last eight days, troubled loners brought guns and death to a college campus in Seattle and a high school near Portland, and a couple of anti-government misfits went on a deadly rampage in Las Vegas.
The incident at Seattle Pacific University involved a mentally unstable young man who purposely went off his medications so he could “feel the hate” and kill as many people as possible. After killing a 19-year-old student and shooting others, the young man had to stop and reload, giving time for a hero with pepper spray to take him down and stop the shooting.
At the suburban Portland high school, a student came to the campus carrying heavy-duty weapons that belonged to his parents. He shot a teacher and killed a 14-year-old classmate before running into a restroom and committing suicide.
The two campus shootings match a pattern that betrays a dismal lack of originality among the nation’s sick-minded young males. In fact, evidence indicates the shooter in Seattle was purposely emulating the two killers at Columbine High School in suburban Denver who killed 12 of their fellow students and one teacher before taking their own lives in 1999. Since Columbine, most of these incidents have been mere variations on the same deadly theme.
The Las Vegas shooting was different. There, on Sunday, a young married couple walked into a pizza restaurant, where the man killed one policeman and his bride killed another. Apparently, they did this as an act of “revolution” against the U.S. government. The man draped a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag over one cop’s body and placed a swastika on the other. Then, they stormed into a nearby Wal-Mart, where the woman killed a shopper who had pulled out a concealed handgun.
In a subsequent gun battle with police, the man was mortally wounded; the woman, also wounded by police, shot herself dead.
All this mayhem prompted President Obama to make some off-the-cuff remarks in which he expressed deep frustration with the failure of Congress to take even the smallest step to curb the violence. He noted that when Australia suffered a series of mass shootings, the government stepped in with a broad ban on personal weaponry. Australia has not had any deadly incidents since.
A similar ban won’t happen here, of course. In the years since Columbine, high-powered rifles and stockpiles of ammunition have only become more easy to obtain. The Supreme Court, for the first time, has clearly defined the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms as a personal, not collective, right. It is now OK to take guns into national parks, and in several states firearms activists are successfully pushing for the right of private citizens to openly carry guns on the street, on campuses and in stores and restaurants.
Everyone seems to agree that mentally disturbed people should not have guns, but little has been done to keep firearms away from them or to get them comprehensive treatment that might keep them from becoming killers. Meanwhile, the insanity of anti-government paranoia – the kind that led to the killing of the Las Vegas cops – continues to be tolerated and often encouraged by talk radio shouters, militia groups and even some Republican elected officials.
The United States is the only advanced, industrialized country with this problem. In less-developed regions there are countries where gun violence is rampant – places like Somalia and the Central African Republic, but those are anarchic places where no effective governmental authority exists. In America, we have a government that some people believe is too big and overbearing, yet when it comes to guns, we might as well have no government at all.