On Saturday, a lone gunman, dressed in military fatigues, stepped out of his car in the parking lot of an outlet mall in Allen, TX, and began randomly shooting at shoppers. Within seconds, he had killed nine people, including children. An off-duty police officer at the mall quickly rushed to the scene and shot the gunman dead. Pictures and video clips on social media showed for the thousandth time how gruesome the attack was.
And so, the country went through the motions yet another time. Law enforcement officials and first responders provided details of the incident at a solemn press conference. Politicians tweeted that "their hearts go out to the victims' families," and "they have them in their prayers." Gun control activists took to social media demanding why America can do nothing to stop these incidences of senseless violence. Gun rights supporters pointed to familiar NRA-developed themes that it is not the guns that kill but the hand that holds the weapon that does. Others complimented the officer's bravery who took the gunman down, noting that "a good guy with a gun neutralized a bad guy with a gun."
Activists aside, the most common responses from ordinary citizens were: "What is happening to America?" and "We must do something!"
It is easy to answer the first question. America is deeply divided, and every disagreement has political undertones fed by our so-called leaders and the chattering class on TV, radio, and podcasts; and then amplified in echo chambers on social media. Americans' tolerance level for dissent is at all-time lows. Why compromise when you can thrive in your own bubble, even when facts are against you?
The problem starts at the top. President Biden, who was partly elected in 2020 in the hope that he would honor his promise to heal the country, is America's most divisive leader. We hold him responsible for acting as a catalyst that has deepened America's fissures. Biden has steadfastly weaponized the DOJ and encouraged Congressional Committees (J6) to bring legal harm to former President Donald Trump, including indicting him. Anyone who disagrees with Biden is automatically a radical right-wing MAGA Republican. His public statements scorn nearly 74 million voters as unworthy of respect, and his policy choices and appointments are geared to satisfying the extreme left-wing of his party, the rest be damned. The world's most powerful leader cannot govern in this fashion and hope to redeem America at the same time.
The harsh reality is that America is not returning to its golden days, when communities could gather in the public square and enjoy each others' company while celebrating the pride of being American. Worse, America will likely deepen its divide further as the two top contenders for their respective party nominations for 2024 have carved out their careers by catering to their constituencies.
Regarding what America can do to stop this violence, the bitter truth is that there isn't much.
The usual prescriptions - reasonable restrictions on firearms, background checks, bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and prohibitions on felons and mentally ill people from possessing guns - all appear to make sense but are ineffective.
We know that more gun control laws do not reduce gun deaths. Chicago, New York City, and Washington D.C. are cities with some of the strictest laws, yet violent crime in these places is among the highest in the nation. In practically every mass shooting incident going back to Columbine and Sandy Hook, the gunman had either legally obtained his weapons or had access to firearms lawfully procured.
High-capacity magazines and assault weapons are not the leading causes of mass shootings, which are mainly carried out with handguns, not rifles or shotguns. Banning certain types of firearms or magazines would not prevent mass shootings.
The typical response among gun control activists is to expend federal dollars on addressing mental health issues. But how can the federal government practically address the underlying causes of societal isolation, such as depression, drug addiction, substance use, and suicide? America has perfected its micro-aggression culture wherein an image shown by a professor in class can cause stress and anxiety among students and evoke a visceral response. Conflict is ever present when everyone feels entitled to what they believe is the proper environment. More gun control laws will not help this fragile situation.
America has a population of 334 million, but more than 400 million registered guns exist. Any legislation at the federal level is likely to get tied up in the courts. The Second Amendment protects individuals' right to own guns for self-defense and other lawful purposes.
As overzealous New York City officials discovered, courts have repeatedly ruled that restricting gun ownership infringes on law-abiding citizens' right to privacy, personal autonomy, and security. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned century-old New York regulations in 2022, holding that citizens had a broad right to carry concealed weapons. The State Legislature, anticipating more gun-toting, made certain areas off-limits to firearms, but as the New York Times reported, that new law has already been challenged in court at least ten times.
We have been seeking to understand humanity's many intractable problems - such as the origin of life, the relationship between the body and brain, and the cause of chaos - and have so far drawn a blank. Devising meaningful solutions to address America's gun violence epidemic is just as tricky. Meanwhile, we wait uneasily for the media coverage of the next violent incident somewhere, in Anytown, America. Unfortunately, we may not have to wait long.
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