“Why does this keep happening?”, we ask in heartbroken disbelief. It keeps happening because it’s an option. The ubiquity of guns in this country makes shooting people a real possibility in the minds of people who are struggling to feel a sense of control. Do we need to shut down the gun lobby? Yep. Totally. I mean, guns don’t need an agent. Their reputation precedes them. And yes, we need policies without loopholes and legislators who are more invested in the health and safety of our communities than they are in their own reelection.
But here’s the thing: the horse is out of the barn, friends. There are so many guns already “out there” that if we stopped the sale of guns tomorrow, these crimes would continue to happen. Our culture is what's broken. Meaningful legislation can and must support future generations but our job right now is one of the inside nature. Some very wise person said, “Culture eats policy for lunch.” America’s inability to break up with its guns is a prime example. We cannot legislate ourselves out of this.
The number of guns in the hands of individual citizens in this country feels like a terrifying mirror of our deep mistrust of each other. Someone I love very deeply purchased an “assault style” AR-15 a few years back. I was surprised, so I asked what inspired the purchase. Their response was amorphous at best. “Well, nobody knows which way the country is going.” Truer words were never spoken and yet, I fail to see how an untrained person having an AR-15 in their possession will be part of it going in a positive direction. What struck me most about this exchange was the fear and concern that I saw in this new gun owner’s eyes. They weren’t even sure why they bought this gun, but now they felt…safer?
People say, “I’m proud to exercise my 2nd Amendment rights.” Perhaps these people have never read the 2nd Amendment. It’s real simple and real clear: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” I see no evidence of well-regulated militias in this country. Vigilantes? Definitely. Radicalized fringe groups? Totally. I also see many Americans carrying or owning firearms because “it’s my right.” Are these people just planners? When the leaders of said militia come to their door, do they just want to be ready with their firearm already in hand so the militia doesn’t pass them by? I doubt it.
The “right” to bear arms, like so many others rights in this country, is not well understood. The spirit and, honestly, even the letter of this amendment have gotten completely lost in the polarizing rhetoric that positions gun ownership as a twisted emblem of freedom and love of country.
We are afraid of each other. That’s the bottom line.
We don’t feel safe. We fear there’s not enough. We fear the feelings we have when we are confronted by difference. We deserve things and we fear that we won’t get what’s due us. We demonize and even murder those “others” who could undermine our personal opportunity to live our tailored version of the American Dream.
Marjorie Taylor Greene is a weapon in and of herself, but when she suggests that we need to take a serious look at mental health in this country, that’s right on. She doesn’t know it or even understand what she’s saying, but she’s also right that we need to return to God. I fear that what she means is a dogmatic commitment to antiquated, hegemonic, white supremacist ideas of right and wrong and sin and retribution. Me?...not so much. I'm thinking more of a deep and unflinching return to our deepest divine spark. This turning inward to look at and connect with ourselves and our own deepest wish for safety and peace is what will begin to heal us. We need to repair the thing that broke inside us that makes us feel like we need to have a weapon to defend us from our fellow humans.
And here's where we have to stretch our expansive hearts.
My heart breaks for the shooters as it does for the victims. Until we can ache for and connect with the shooters, we are truly sunk. I don’t care who you are, you don’t put on body armor, shoot your own grandmother and then go into an elementary school and kill 21 total strangers while feeling calm and loved and divine inside. The experience of unchecked hatred that fueled the murders at Tops grocery store in Buffalo is an exhausting way to live. I have not yet been driven to engage in such a rampage, but when I imagine what that must be like, it is a relentless torture of so many emotions. An adrenal hurricane and unfathomable sadness rolled into one.
An article in the LA Times from 2019 explored a comprehensive study of mass shooters since the late 60’s. Most mass shooters have experienced serious childhood trauma ranging from neglect to sexual abuse to witnessing parental suicide or domestic violence. Almost all shooters share a noticeable and specific shift in demeanor, attitude and habits in the months or weeks leading up to their crimes. Relationship loss, job loss and other events that are weathered by most people with healthier coping are the precipitating event that begins the planning of the shooting. The last pieces that connect the dots are means and opportunity. When we consider that 80% of school shooters got the weapon(s) they used to commit their crimes from family members, we come back around to the availability of guns in the setting of poor coping. And here we are knowing that so many opportunities were missed, way up stream.
American culture is making mass shooters every day. If we can’t figure out how to go upstream, we will never make meaningful progress in this ongoing crisis. Yes, it’s about guns and let’s address that massive issue, but it’s even more about how we raise our children, how we teach our kids and each other to cope with the truth of uncertainty in this human experience and about whether or not we can cultivate a love for each other that transcends our universal and very human fears.