Outrage Again

It feels useless, even shameful, to write one more column expressing outrage about yet another outburst of gun violence in the United States. What a parade of editorial futility follows each new gun aberration as we “opinion makers” fall into a predictable line to dispatch our familiar script of frustration and anguish. Years of such folly and we remain confronted by the same ghoulish, draining drama.

While the rest of the industrialized West has long put the problem of everyday gun violence behind it, the United States endures 31,000 firearm deaths each year. I feel foolish even writing another word about it. If the abomination at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Conn., was not enough to change the national dialogue on gun violence, I am under no illusion that the comparably “minor” bloodletting at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will lead to any meaningful change now.

Advertisement

What has to change first, as the father of one victim pointed out, is the nation’s “craven” political class. Cowed by the gun manufacturers’ shadow lobbyists at the National Rifle Association, they have demonstrated persistent institutional cowardice in confronting this national crisis.

As after each such incident, some column writers will bemoan the toll of gun violence, while the gun apologists will just as predictably continue to distort the meaning of the Second Amendment. That perspective has rarely been so explicitly expressed as it was when the conservative oracle Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, a k a Joe the Plumber, was asked his opinion of the matter: Sorry for your trouble, he told the parents of these young people cut down before they could legally drink, but “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.”

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell for gun absolutists, who attempt to mainstream a profound misreading of the Second Amendment. This reading was rejected by the Supreme Court’s Heller decision in 2008, which endorsed both the right of individuals to own guns and the power of the state to regulate the same. They are content to accept as customary and normal the level of gun mayhem experienced by the United States as long as their access to guns remains the primary social good.

Each mass shooting incident seems to highlight something uniquely “off” in American society. Sandy Hook spotlighted the nation’s woeful mental health care system—an issue gun lovers rushed to embrace. This latest incident revisits that problem while tapping into another: a cultural undercurrent of a seething-to-subtle hatred of women, especially among an emerging cohort of apparently self-entitled, angry and occasionally violent young men. The sad and creepy video posted by the Santa Barbara shooter Elliot O. Rodger and his emailed manifesto detail his loneliness and his isolation, but mostly they declared his simmering misogyny. He was a heart-breakingly lonely boy ignored by most girls and young women—and other boys for that matter—when he wasn’t being taunted by them. He sought solace in Internet chat rooms, but instead of support he found only new humiliation and resentment, generously stoked by the jeering and anger of his peers among male “incels,” as these “involuntary celibates” called themselves.

Should American parents, especially those struggling with troubled young boys, be worried about the state of mental health services in the United States? Of course they should. Should they be concerned about the subterranean hatred of women exhibited by Elliot Rodger and the young men with whom he made common cause on the Internet? You bet. Fathers especially need to add this agenda item to their regular discussions with their children on sexuality and human dignity, especially with boys, who will soon confront a confusing swirl of contradictory messages about their sexuality, their power and their relationships with girls.

Elliot Rodger suffered life-long problems with mental health; and, absorbing cues from the culture and society around him, he acquired a furious resentment toward women. But with a gun in his hand (and, yes, in his case, also a knife), he became a murderer. Let’s not take our focus off the real problem. These especially violent incidents make headlines and sometimes startle us into action, but the truly shocking monotony of gun violence in America—85 deaths each day—should make as compelling and consistent a claim on our outrage.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Marie Rehbein
3 years 6 months ago
Despite being female, I am not ready to say that the problem that needs to be addressed is hatred of women. Elliot Rodger and his internet friends more than likely held/hold the opinion that they are entitled to things beyond sexual favors from whatever women they identify as attractive. More than sex, money, cars, clothes, and entertainment, to name a few things, they feel entitled to the attention of the world.
Donald Brown
3 years 6 months ago
We must first address our countries inadequate care of our mentally ill and how we address those who actually commit gun crime before will be able to make stride in our gun problem.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 5 months ago
Stop the killing! Putting aside personal ideologies, permit the following question responding to Kevin Clarke's, "Outrage Again." Why have youthful Americans, and some not so youthful, become so indiscriminately hardened to the splashing of America’s blood and guts across the country? Horrifically, we have seen repeated examples of children killing children and other types of gross lack or respect for human life. I’m afraid we cannot answer that question without including ideologies. But to do so respectfully, one has got to acknowledge the “politically correct” devotees who carefully guard the right to free speech, but seemingly only as they interpret it. I suggest this is certainly a factor in what's being sketched by what this post is trying to say. Thus, people have become reluctant, even fearful, to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because one might get crushed with charges of bigotry, or even anti-Americanism. Unfortunately, too often media also grabs the baton of discordancy joining in the march. So, are we to simply “live and let live” or what? I suggest the causes are numerous, but for now succinctly confined to three causes. First, mental health issues are not recognized, or poorly addressed. Second, widely acclaimed, court-approved “culture of death” rights which, some say, subliminally implant in underdeveloped youthful minds the notion that life is cheap and practically as dispensable as a used coffee cup! Third, access to guns and other weapons of destruction is too easy, complicated by lax parental supervision in homes where weapons are legally possessed. Add as an aside, public education’s disregard for the stabilizing effect on human conduct of the Decalogue, especially the fifth commandment, which says, “Thou shall not murder,” (literally, the commandment does say “murder,” not “kill”) and society has prepared a ticking time bomb guaranteeing nothing but mayhem sooner than later. Is this mayhem now at hand?
Bruce Snowden
3 years 5 months ago
I wanted to add this to my original "Stop The Killing" post on this site, but didn't know how to attach it, so I send it as a kind of addendum as follows .Wars and rumors of wars also contribute to the “killing fields” this country and the world have become. As world history attests ever since — perhaps predating — Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel, people have been killing one another, children killing children, parents and children killing one another. So what’s new? The difference is that killing has become institutionalized in these times, militarily and socially justified. And so the carnage goes on as conscience grows ever more dull and sacrificial love becomes an absurdity! As anyone who truly loves knows, there can be no true love without sacrifice! Have we as a nation become as morally and socially oblique as here asserted? Has Uncle Sam really become schizophrenic, not clearly understanding, much less accepting, Judeo/Christian teachings on right and wrong — the DNA of this country “genetically” passed on to us by our founding mothers and fathers? Unfortunately it seems that way!
John Dahmus
3 years 5 months ago
Perhaps if the major media outlets, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, reported each week on the number of gun-related deaths, with some details about the lives of those cut short, perhaps this reporting would in a shorter or longer time prod the consciences and hearts of enough people that a change in the gun laws would actually come about. The media does have an impact, especially when it adds human interest sidelights to the general story. Most Americans have no idea that 31,000 people die every year from gun-related incidents. The figure of 85 a day is even more compelling. Would America consider taking part in such an experiment?

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Pope Francis will renew the mandate of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors for another three years, informed sources told America this week.
Gerard O’ConnellDecember 15, 2017
Worshippers recite the Lord's Prayer during Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Mineola, N.Y., on Oct. 13. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz, Long Island Catholic)
Making ancient Scripture sensible in contemporary languages will always prove a hazard-heavy challenge.
Kevin ClarkeDecember 15, 2017
Kit Harrington, right, in ‘Gunpowder’ (HBO)
The series tells the story of the Gunpowder Plot, when a group of Catholics plotted to blow up Parliament.
Jake MartinDecember 15, 2017
Have we reached a turning point in how we handle sexual misconduct in the workplace and beyond?
Ashley McKinlessDecember 15, 2017