This Desperate, Armed Land

One afternoon in Barcelona last week, I walked back to the small apartment building where I was staying to find two police officers waiting for the elevator. The elevator was tiny and could only fit one person at a time, so one cop went up while her partner waited to take the next one. I asked the remaining officer if everything was okay, hoping he spoke some English as my Spanish is pretty much nonexistent. 

"Yes, it's fine. Someone had some things stolen," he said in better English than most Americans. "It happens all the time here." He asked where I was from and I told him, and that prompted him to say, "Oh, it's not like the United States here. We have pickpockets and some robberies. But no one is shooting people." While he was underselling crime overall in the city, he was absolutely right on that last point. No one worries about being shot for going to a festival or a Walmart or a club or a school or anywhere, really. Barcelona has over 1.6 million people with millions of tourists visiting. There were 10 murders last year.

In the ten days I was out of the United States, there were three mass shootings: Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton. In Spain, the murder rate is about 0.6 per 100,000 people. In the United States, it's currently  at around 5 per 100,000.  So the US has 8-9 times the murder rate of Spain, which isn't even the lowest in Europe. If you visit Italy or the Czech Republic, you could write this about how they are even safer when it comes to murder. 

Other countries have mentally-ill people. Other countries have young people who play violent, first-person shooter video games. Other countries have racists and fascists and white supremacists who shit-post on online message boards. What these countries don't have is the staggering number of guns that we have in the United States. They don't have the ludicrous availability of weapons originally designed for war. And thus they almost never have a mass shooting, despite the presence of mental illness, violent video games, and the ineluctable array of assholes.

When our savage lump of a president undulated over to the microphone on Monday to give a flat, forced, utterly false speech about the two massacres in 24 hours, he absolutely refused, as ever, to place any blame on the out of control gun lobby and manufacturers and sellers. And owners. In that slurred, trash-Muppet voice of his, squinting as if light from the teleprompter would melt his eyeballs, Donald Trump blurbled blame at video games and "a culture that celebrates violence." 

It should be noted here that right after the Dayton shooting, Trump praised an MMA fighter and wished him luck. It should also be noted that Trump participated in WWE events and was a regular in attendance at boxing matches, with promoter/criminal Don King as one of his "friends." In other words, (mostly) real violence occurred for his entertainment and somehow that's more noble than pretend-shooting enemy soldiers and hell beasts. This is not to mention his threats of violence against protesters at his rallies, his musing on nuking Afghanistan and North Korea, and every filthy fucking word out of his shit-filled mouth that degrades immigrants and non-whites.

He also said, "[W]e must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement.  Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun." Except that the gun provides the trigger. No gun, no trigger. Also, if you're going to assert that people should get treatment, then the government ought to offer medical care to those diagnosed "mentally disturbed."

And let's talk for just a moment about that idea that these mass murderers must be mentally ill. I read the "manifesto" or "screed" or "decent sophomore-level college essay" by the El Paso shooter, as I've read the words of just about every one of these shits. Inasmuch as we all pretend we can distance diagnose someone through their writings, this one was not written in any kind of state of mental breakdown. It was a calm argument on various points, like he had just gotten a class assignment on racist murder.

Calling mass shooters "crazy" for committing the shooting may be comforting because it makes them Not Like Me, but it's a lie. It degrades the real sufferers of mental illness, and it demonizes them. It places the blame at arm's length and gives every NRA-owned politician an out. This is much the same as Trump's offer to discuss even weak gun control measures in the context of immigration reform. It blames the wrong thing and the wrong people. Immigrants aren't what ail the country.

Simply put, the special sickness in the United States is the guns. The majority of Americans know that. I'd venture that the majority of politicians know it. But the Republican has a stake in keeping its voters stoked with paranoia about outsiders, about any government programs, about their own neighbors who aren't like them. The GOP needs its base to be desperate and then to exploit that desperation in order to maintain power. But the desperate need to have something that gives them comfort, that makes them feel safe in a world that they are constantly told by their leaders and their media is out to destroy them and their fading way of life. Guns provide that security. No, they may not have health care, access to a good education, a fair wage at a fair job, or decent infrastructure, but, goddamnit, they can have guns and the belief that it inoculates them should shit go south. Or if they believe it's finally go time to act on whatever belief is driving them, never realizing that the people who sold them this bill of goods are the real enemy.

In his statement after El Paso and Dayton, former president Barack Obama made guns the very first point: "First, no other nation on Earth comes close to experiencing the frequency of mass shootings that we see in the United States. No other developed nation tolerates the levels of gun violence that we do."  Yeah, he said, there are these other factors (not violent video games because that's just stupid).  But as any law enforcement officer will tell you, you have to disarm someone or render them no longer dangerous before you can do anything else for them.

Of course, Trump, who is the king of misdirected grievance and thus the ideal leader for the desperate and armed, only saw that Obama said, "We should soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments," and made the whole thing about himself and unwittingly admitting he uses that very language. Then he started tweeting about how the Dayton shooter had leftist leanings and that people should stop blaming him and Beto O'Rourke sucks. The guns may be the sickness. Trump is the parasite that feeds on the ill.