Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Here We Go, Again

It's happened again.

The news here in France is reporting what must be a top headline back in the States - that an apparently mentally ill young man has butchered a bunch of his peers in a terrible spree of mis-directed vengeance and anger.  22-year old Elliot Rodger of Santa Barbara, California, angry about his personal failures and social isolation, went on a rampage, stabbing to death his room-mates, shooting a handful of UCSB students, and then crushing some more with his car before finally shooting himself.

Details are still filtering in, but as it were, Rodger left behind a 141 page "manifesto" in which he outlined his catalogue of grievances at girls who rejected him, boys who shamed him, his mother, his step-mother, and society more broadly.  

The whole episode was called the "Day of Retribution."

Another needless day of violence and blood-shed in the US.  Like Newton, CT before it.  Or Virginia Tech.  Or Columbine.  There are again candles, and stuffed animals, and flowers.  There are more crying families and friends.

The reactions are of course predictable.  The feckless politicians are in for more (well-deserved) opprobrium for the utter failure to address gun violence.  The mental health care "system" in the US is being looked at, again, for a failure to deal with what in retrospect is so obviously a dangerous, nihilistic - and narcissistic - young man.  The police are being asked why, when they visited Rodger following reports that he had posted video montages on YouTube in which he more or less laid out what he planned to do and why, they did little more than knock on his door, ask a few polite questions, and then go away.  Rodger himself recorded how relieved he felt that the officers did not enter his apartment, where they surely would have found his arsenal.

Of course, this particular sage has an admixture of the current PC mush of "white, male privilege," despite the fact that the perpetrator was not white.  It's a bit like the ethnic cleansing of sorts that George Zimmerman underwent when he failed to match the narrative.  "Privilege" is the new, shiny toy of the left to explain all the ills of the West.

I don't want to address the foolish psychobabble at this point.

This is the third time I've found myself writing about guns and violence in the US.  This time it feels just a bit different; and, a bit more personal.

First, the cries about mass killings, the need to ban "assault weapons," and why these things are an American problem are a bit off this time.  The shooter in this case legally obtained all of his weapons (like Adam Lanza, I suppose).  But none of them, so far as I know, fit the "assault weapon" profile.  

Second, and perhaps not widely known in the US, is that mass killings in Western Europe are not so rare as most Americans think.  Here in France, for example, the newspaper just today had a story remarking on the increasing exodus of Jews from France, accelerated following a mass shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, and, more recently, a rampage at a Jewish museum in Belgium.  It's true that these sort of things happen with somewhat greater frequency in the States, but they do happen with disturbing frequency in countries with strict gun laws.

Third, the perpetrator in this story was (despite the idiocy of those who claim "white privilege") of mixed ancestry.  His ethnic profile is very close to my own son.  Rodger's mother was of Chinese ethnicity from southeast Asia (Malaysia, in this case), and his father was English.  That is about as perfect an ethnic match as one might have for our eight year old.  (Though, unlike Rodger, my own family does not hale from British aristocracy; my own father was of a decidedly less landed stock of sheep farmers in the Shetland Islands).  Reading the deranged manifesto, the 'troubles' Elliot Rodger encountered - whether real or imagined - began around his 9th birthday, which my own son will celebrate in just beyond two months.  Prior to that, all accounts talk of a happy, almost idyllic youth.

I cannot help but wonder what sort of social pressures my son may face in a culture where you are black or white, otherwise you don't exist.  I remember when he was an infant, around the time that Halle Berry won her Academy Award, proudly proclaiming how she was the first black actress to win.  At that time, I wondered how my own son would see himself.  If he would follow Berry and reject, loudly, half of himself, and if so, which half?

Fourth, the debate about mass killings is, in my opinion, a distraction from the real problem in the US, and that is the utter banality of gun violence - violence in general.  Chicago, Illinois, the third largest of American cities, in 2012 was awash in blood, topping 500 homicides.  This topped 2011, which saw more than 400.  2013 saw some relief, but still, there were 415 people murdered in Chicago last year.

In France, by comparison, there were 650 murders in the entire country in 2012.  

Chicago is a city of 2.7 million people.  France is a country of 66 million.  

And this is where all the non-sense about "white privilege" and assault weapons and spree killings is perhaps its most irritating.  

Gun violence in America is a significant problem, not because crimes like this are shocking.  It is because in Chicago, more than a murder a day is not.

The US, plain and simple, has a violence problem.  It's obvious that, yes, it is far, far past the time that Americans accepted sensible, rational rules about gun ownership.  Requiring law-abiding citizens to have a licence to own a gun, and limiting the amount of ammunition they can purchase is not "gun grabbing."  The Second Amendment guarantees people the right to own guns and to defend themselves.  But this ain't 1750 on the frontier.  The Constitution was not written by God himself, nor was it given to Moses.  It can (and has been) amended to reflect the times.  The Second Amendment itself is testament to that.

But we neeed also to focus on what is really happening - guns are a symptom.  You palliate the symptoms.  And, as sad as it is for the father of Chris Martinez (one of the young victims) and as righteous as his anger is, he is just wrong about what is really the problem here.

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