By Robert A. Vella
We Americans are getting pretty good at one thing these days, reassembling the life of gunmen who commit mass murder. Practice makes perfect, I suppose, and we’ve certainly been getting a lot of practice lately. It’s kind of like solving a puzzle. You have all these oddly shaped pieces which can paint a clear picture if put together in the proper order.
Why even try? Who cares what motivated the perpetrator of the Umpqua Community College massacre? Just like all the other mass shooters, Chris Harper Mercer must simply have been a deranged criminal deserving of severe punishment by our justice system had he survived – many, particularly on the conservative right, would say.
Perhaps it is the inquisitiveness of human nature that wishes to understand this tragic young man. Perhaps it is the realization that the terrible acts he and others have committed will continue indefinitely unless we do understand their motivations. Regardless, America is the only developed nation in the world suffering so egregiously from this sort of societal crime and the eyes of the world are focused squarely on us. How we respond will define who and what we are as a people. Our words no longer have any meaning. It is our actions which matter now.
More so in the immediate aftermath of Roseburg than in our other mass shootings, America has reacted dismally. The news media has given up any pretense of discussing gun control and has committed itself to legitimizing the self-serving voices of the gun lobby as well as the tortuous ideology of right-wing extremism. The sports media has been treating this story as an anathema, fearful that any coverage of the incident would offend its viewers and advertisers. Journalistic irresponsibility seems to be the order of the day. Even worse, ordinary Americans appear accepting of the fact that their country is an extremely violent place to live.
Considering everything, only one logical conclusion can be reached. America in the 21st century has become a politically polarized , socially stratified, and culturally divided nation that is a breeding ground for mental illness; and, its citizens who are most afflicted have an almost unimpaired access to firearms. Such a combination of conditions provides a recipe for disaster. Although President Obama openly and correctly addressed the gun availability problem in his speech to the nation yesterday, he completely ignored the societal causes of mental illness. Half a solution is no solution at all.