Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Morro Bay, CA, for May 9, 2007
We do not see our hand in what happens, so we call certain events melancholy accidents.
I was gong to write a column about the recent murderous rampage by a mentally ill Seung-hui Cho that left thirty-two dead kids on the campus of Virginia Tech, but there really isn’t anything to say. While gun killings nationwide go on at a happy clip, we do seem to have metronomic repeats of mass gun-downs on campuses and other public hunting grounds, so much so that the only thing I asked on hearing the news was the bemused question, “What, again?"
And then batten down the hatches for the silly hand-wringing that would follow, again, knowing full well that nothing will be done, again, because the basic fact is this: We love our guns more than we love our children.
In America, it is simply inconceivable that the mentally ill Mr. Cho would have to be required to justify owning a gun, perhaps prove he actually had need of a gun in the first place, pay for and subject himself to a thorough background check, a complete investigation that might take months and would cost him a pretty penny. And then submit to annual evaluation, range-qualification and gun-safety checks. That is an inconvenience and an affront that simply won’t be tolerated. Easy access to guns of any kind is of paramount importance in America, even for a mentally deranged person like Mr. Cho.
It’s also extremely important to Americans that they have easy access to guns with the highest firepower and rapidity of fire possible. For example, what game species requires a Glock 19 with the largest ammunition clips available? I suppose a rapid-fire hunt-down of scuttling cockroaches -- or terrified, scattering humans -- might require such killing speed. But it is absolutely vital in our society that a person like the mentally ill Mr. Cho, a man who had received a temporary detention order that declared he was an “imminent danger” to himself and others, be able to purchase as many rapid-fire weapons and the largest ammunition clips as possible, as easily as possible.
In America, we also have a fiercely guarded right to choose to be mentally ill, to decide to be deranged and wandering the streets, hungry, homeless, totally delusional, possibly imminently dangerous. It’s a right we take seriously and do everything in our power to maintain. Since Americans view mental illness as a lifestyle choice, there is no need for social safety nets or easily accessed universal medical care. If the mentally ill wish help, they can go on their own and try to find it. True, they may have to wait for years to even get on a waiting list, but that’s the way our society chooses to care for one another, and clearly, that’s the way we like it.
On the whole, the only interesting thing about this particular killing time was how swiftly and strictly observed was the Gentleman’s Agreement by all parties NOT to discuss the words “gun control.” While the nation was encouraged to have a windy national dialogue about mental illness or students or the courage of the survivors, and so forth, the topic of gun control was totally off the table, which created a peculiarly distorted narrative with a huge hole in the center of it.
While the mandatory few days of media hand-wringing is going on about this latest killing time, it must be said – again – that it’s true, we know how to build a healthier, more civil society, and we know how to create a less toxic, less violent country. It’s not rocket science; The Paxis Institute (wwww.paxis.org) and Daniel Goleman’s book, “Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence,” offer some of the extensive research and works that point the way.
We also have the capacity to eliminate the easy availability of our most lethal weapons, to create systems to care for the sickest among us before they harm others, to support healthy families, create strong communities, care for children at risk, and create a shared Commons that benefits all of us. We know how to do all of these things, but we choose not to do it, because we love and value our guns more than we love and value our children, ourselves, our neighbors, our society, or even our country.
And that deep and abiding love is one of our cherished core values. Indeed, it’s The American Way.