Over Memorial Day Weekend, we were all saddened to learn about the shooting in Santa Barbara, where a disgruntled youth killed several others before taking his own life. Yet it seems like the pattern of responses to recent violence is taking a different, unpredictable path. Will it last?
1) We didn’t pretend that the victims didn’t exist. Sadly, today’s violence is spawning a small cottage industry of those who claim that it isn’t happening. Already, we’ve discovered that in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, people from my profession have made outlandish claims that nobody was killed. Another professor (an anti-Semitic one) claimed that it was the work of an anti-Israeli hit team. A “truther” recently stole two Sandy Hook monuments to kids, and then called the parent of a Sandy Hook victim to tell her that her kid never existed.
We didn’t used to do this. When a family patriarch from Arkansas murdered his family, and extended family members over the holidays back in the 1980s, we didn’t blame the Jews or claim that the family never existed. We didn’t claim it was some conspiracy by Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
2) We didn’t berate the victims and their parents. After the Santa Barbara shooting, former Congressional candidate “Joe the Plumber” wrote a note to the dad of the victim, claiming that, “As harsh as this sounds, your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”
Other editorials gave way too much credence to the shooter’s manifesto, making it sound like the guys and gals who were shot were somehow culpable in leading to the gunman’s desperate act.
When an off-duty security guard gunned down a McDonald’s full of parents and kids in California in the 1980s, we didn’t blame the victims for the deadly rampage. We offered prayer vigils and words of sympathy, even when those who lost a loved one responded to the action in anger.
3) We didn’t come up with dumb excuses for the shooter’s behavior. Believe it or not, we’ve heard a bevy of excuses for the shooter’s behavior. Some said he was a nerd, and something about the nerd culture of not getting a date was the reason for the shooting outburst. Another claimed shootings are perpetrated by lower class men because we don’t have a universal minimum income, even though the gunman came from a well-off family and didn’t cite money as the reason for his woes. Ditto the Batman theater shooter, the Sandy Hook shooter, the shooter of Rep. Gabby Giffords, the Virginia Tech shooter, and many others.
When a disgruntled postal employee gunned down a number of co-workers in Oklahoma in the 1980s, we looked at what his motives were, without coming up with a political agenda (or distracting from another one). As a result, though folks often use the term “going postal,” such reforms have made postal employees no more likely to resort to office violence than any other workplace, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
4) We also did something about it. Mobster violence in the 1930s led to curbs on submachine guns and automatic rifles. Assassinations of the 1960s led to restrictions on handguns. And events like the shootings at the Luby’s Cafeteria in Texas in the early 1990s led to the assault weapons ban. Only two mass shootings occurred in the ten years after that (Columbine and a suburban Atlanta day trader were the exceptions).
But since the ban lapsed at the end of 2004, we’ve seen a rash of shootings. Efforts to curb the violence have been stymied. In fact, laws have been passed to make guns, and their use, more accessible. In Georgia, one group tried to make it easier for the mentally handicapped to get a gun.
Yet something did change this time. The House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, passed a bill that increases funding for a federal system of background checks for gun purchases. Given that the House didn’t even call for a vote on the post-Sandy Hook gun reforms, this is a very positive step toward change. And nearly 80 Republicans agreed, giving the bill a safe 115 vote lead. Hopefully, this can help law enforcement monitor the purchases of those who don’t need to be wielding a gun.