As the mass shootings continue, US won’t solve its gun problem until American men look inside their heads, not their holsters
Every week brings another mass shooting in the United States of Amnesia, where gun culture is so ingrained that senseless slaughter is accepted. Only a rethink of what masculinity should really represent can stop the carnage.
No sooner has one gun-toting lunatic laid waste to countless lives for selfish, inexplicable and emotionally bankrupt reasons, than another sociopath comes along and does exactly the same thing, days later. In the process, the nation’s collective memory of one atrocity is erased by the next. In America, daily fatal shootings are tragedies; the body counts of weekly mass shootings mere statistics.
The age, race or religious background of the perp may be different; the location can be a leafy suburb, a rundown ghetto or a trashy trailer park; and the ‘cause’ (for what that’s worth) may be terror-related, drug-related or dysfunctional family-related. Whatever. The outcome is always the same: broken families, distraught friends and communities left to pick up the pieces of what’s left of countless shattered lives. These indiscriminate killings happen with such regularity you can set your watch by them, yet something so culturally or socially predictable continues to blight a nation that can put a man on the moon but can’t legislate against intragenomic and multi-ethnic acts of preventable violence.
Take this latest, but all too familiar, shooting. A man walks into a birthday party in Colorado Springs, Colorado last weekend; he opens fire, kills six people then turns the gun on himself. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because in March, a man walked into a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, opened fire and killed 10 people. Death toll aside, one significant difference in the two incidents is that the key suspect in the Boulder shooting, 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, was arrested at the scene.
In the Colorado Springs shooting, police say the dead suspect, 28-year-old Teodoro Macias, was said to have been, “upset over not being invited to a family birthday his girlfriend Sandra Ibarra was attending Saturday night.”
While investigators are still searching for a motive in the Boulder shooting, whatever it turns out to be it will be weak, spineless, cowardly and illogical. The motives or more accurately ‘excuses’ in these mass shootings always are. But laying blame elsewhere, relinquishing personal responsibility and generally lacking empathy is at the heart of the American sociopath or, clinically speaking, someone with an antisocial personality disorder (APD).
Dylann Roof is a classic example of this overwhelmingly male, emotionally retarded manboy, the sort of narcissistic dweeb for whom a gun not only serves as a form of testosterone replacement therapy, but acts a de facto superpower in their quest to right some perceived wrong. In 2015, 22-year-old Roof, you may or may not recall, murdered nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, having fired 77 rounds from a 45-caliber pistol. In Roof’s case, it wasn’t God or Allah giving the instructions but an even higher calling: so-called white supremacy.
“Black people are killing white people every day on the street, and they are raping white women,” Roof confessed to FBI agents. “What I did is so minuscule to what they’re doing to white people every day all the time.” Roof is currently on death row at FCI Terre Haute, Indiana. I hope the authorities don’t keep him hanging around too long.
Some analysts have pointed to a rise in gun sales and reductions in public health funding as causal links to the recent spike in gun violence. Undoubtedly, there are also those who will argue that a ‘mental health tsunami’ stemming from the Covid pandemic has a role to play, what with prolonged confinement, emotional stress, financial strain and a host of other factors wreaking havoc on America’s already well-documented psycho-culture. But sociopaths aren’t born overnight. Clearly, America’s love affair with guns, which goes back to its very foundation as a nation state, is deeply rooted in centuries-old political expediency, populist sentiment and popular culture. What other sovereign state has a constitution that prides itself on giving its citizens the “right to bear arms” just so they can dress up like GI Joe every time they nip down to Walmart to re-up on hollow point bullets?
Year after year, mass shooting after mass shooting, advocates against gun violence come up against a legislative brick wall in Washington. This is not because of a weakness in their righteous and worthy desire to stop their countryfolk being mown down on the way to work or at school, and it’s not for want of massive public support.
It’s also certainly not because most people listen to the three-million strong National Rifle Association’s (NRA) argument that “more guns make the country safer” and nod in agreement. The truth about guns in America is that guns are America. Guns and cars are to modern America what guns and horses were to the Wild West or guns and slaves were to the antebellum South.
Whatever way you chop it up, guns loom large in the American psyche: they feature in practically every Hollywood movie poster, countless TV cop shows and dramas, the military industrial complex, the multi-departmental state security and criminal justice machine; they’re an integral part of outlaw, gunslinger and cowboy mythology, presidential and popstar assassins, the Civil War and its battle for the soul of America. People describe ‘Yankee’ stereotypes as being as ‘American as apple pie’ but the land of the free and the home of mass murder was built on Smith and Wesson, not fruit and pastry.
Take the AR-15 assault rifle, the Colt 45 of the modern era, for instance. According to NBC News, an AR-15 was used in several mass shootings — including Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; San Bernardino, California; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida, killing a total of 154 people were killed. God Bless America.
I’m no gun expert, but I’ve had enough experience of them to know how potent they are as a weapon, a cultural metaphor, a symbol of masculinity, a definition of power. I’ve fired an assortment of weapons – on firing ranges, I hasten to add – from shotguns in the Czech Republic to Glocks in South Africa and an AK-47 at the infamous Thunder Ranch in Cambodia. I have to admit there IS something exhilarating about shooting, especially if, like me, you enjoy competing against yourself. In this sense, shooting is like golf, only with bigger, easier-to-hit targets. It’s a means of testing your powers of focus, concentration and skill. But it takes a lot more effort to kill someone with a nine iron than it does with a 9mm pistol. Guns separate the space between thought, intent and action down to nothing, which makes them a dangerous proposition for thoughtless people with bad intentions, the likes of which America has in abundance.
Aside from having guns pulled on me by baksheesh-hungry checkpoint soldiers in Africa and the Middle East, and petty villains in the UK (recently I had to bring a project to an untimely end after an interviewee tried to ‘put it on me’ with a handgun), I’ve seen the shocking effects of gun crime on even the smallest of communities in America.
In September 2015, just weeks after the Charleston shooting, I was shocked to discover that a former colleague at Delta State University (DSU), Mississippi, Ethan Schmidt, had been shot dead by his colleague, Shannon Lamb. Lamb had earlier killed his own girlfriend, Amy Prentiss and then, after walking into the office he shared with Ethan, shot him three times in cold blood. Having fled the campus, Lamb later shot himself dead in nearby woods following a police manhunt.
Ethan, a professor in American history, was a charming man and a popular figure. Bearing in mind that the campus is located in the small town of Cleveland, a typically sleepy corner of the Deep South with a population of just 14,000 – 4,000 of which are students – the brutal deaths of three people resonated right through the community.
Aside from devastation, chaos and yet another American town left searching for answers, Shannon Lamb’s only legacy is a pathetic note that included the worthless apology, “I am so sorry I wish I could take it back” and, if local sources are anything to go by, the suggestion that once again, envy or indignation may well have been the only motive behind this senseless act.
As America dusts itself off from its latest shooting spree, attention inevitably turns briefly to the carnage in Kazan, Russia, in which seven children and two adults were shot dead at a school on Tuesday. This living nightmare, however, for Russia and most parts of the world is thankfully the exception; but for America, it’s the rule.
With 19,379 gun-related homicides in the US last year, gun ownership running at a record 390 million weapons and the NRA launching a new $2 million campaign to counter “stop Biden’s gun grab” and “reject President Biden’s extreme gun-control agenda,” once again America is into an existential battle it can’t win, for the sickening truth about gun crime in America, or anywhere for that matter, is it’s inexorably linked to masculinity.
Most of the guns are owned by men, most of the victims of gun crime are men, most of the people who blow their own brains out are men. To paraphrase the well-worn expression: guns don’t kill people, men with guns kill people. Until a significant minority of American men put their guns down and look inside their heads, not their holsters, mass shootings will remain a scar on the tortured face of this great nation.
Like this story? Share it with a friend!