So here we are again.
By now you probably know the drill so well you can follow the steps in your sleep: guy goes into a public place and shoots it up, killing and injuring innocent people; the police descend and the local news stations and networks begin splashing horrifying images of the armed response and frightened bystanders all over your TV; details begin to trickle out, as well as stories of terror and heroism from average people who witnessed the shooting and got out alive; the gunman is either caught, killed or takes his own life; the futile debate over gun control begins and the right immediately begins decrying the use of a tragedy to supposedly score political points; the NRA or one of its supporters in the conservative press or Congress makes the staggeringly offensive and stupid claim that if everyone in our country were carrying a concealed weapon, somebody else would've been able to open fire in a crowded public place and take the initial gunman -- the one not using his arsenal in a responsible manner -- down with a couple of well-placed shots to the head, Black Ops 2-style.
We're so used to this crap by now that this afternoon there's not really a whole lot of screaming, front-page coverage of the latest outbreak of indiscriminate violence that captured the attention of the country for a few minutes last night. Yes, there are updates, but for the national press life has just about gone back to normal.
In case you're curious as to what's known so far about the shooting rampage in a Portland, Oregon mall last night, the gunman has now been identified as 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts. He was apparently armed with an AR-15 offshoot assault rifle that he'd stolen from a friend and was carrying several fully-loaded magazines on him. He wore black clothes, a load-bearing vest and a white hockey mask. He had no connection that anyone can find to the Clackamas Town Center mall and simply went in and starting shooting at anyone he could find. Two people are dead, 54-year-old Cindy Ann Yuille, and 45-year-old Steven Forsyth. A teenage girl was also shot and badly injured. The mall Santa was forced to duck for cover while a kid was on his lap. Merry fucking Christmas.
Why did Roberts decide to go on a shooting rampage? Who knows. Notice I didn't even bother putting a question mark at the end of that last retort because it's not really a question; the reality is that it barely matters anymore what the rationale is for this kind of thing because there isn't any rationale that might sound, well, rational to the average person. It's unfathomable lunacy -- something most of us can't even wrap our heads around nor could we ever properly prepare ourselves for.
Considering that the rifle Taylor used to carry out whatever grotesque fantasy had been rattling around inside his damaged brain wasn't his -- in other words, his possession of it was ostensibly illegal -- there will be arguments from the right that any discussion of the need for sensible national gun control pegged to this shooting is moot. That's horseshit, however. The fact is that while there are plenty of people who own guns in this country and who are perfectly principled about their use -- full-disclosure: I myself have a Sig Sauer Compact .45 -- we're a gun culture and we've allowed those who don't simply own guns but who worship them to be the defining body that speaks for legal, responsible gun owners. We've let the NRA and those in its thrall run roughshod over any suggestion that too many very powerful weapons are falling into the wrong hands and that it's too damn easy to get a gun in this country legally. They use faulty logic, obscene counter-fantasies of a fully-loaded America whipping out its collective trusty side-arm and saving the day, and of course a hell of a lot of money to stymie reasonable debate over the dangers of a society that sees nothing wrong with being armed to the teeth.
Not long ago, Lindsey Graham made an appearance on CNN's Piers Morgan where he argued that he owns eight guns and shouldn't have his constitutional right to cultivate his own home arsenal encroached on by the actions of people who are breaking the law. In some ways, I have to agree with this logic since I'm generally a big proponent of it in other instances; it's simply not right to allow outliers who abuse a given right or who react in a way most decent people don't to negatively impact the rights of others. Graham goes on to make the point that saying to someone, "Well, you don't need eight guns," isn't in and of itself a valid argument when you're discussing someone's right to live as he or she pleases, provided no one else is being hurt by his or her behavior; he's got an argument worth considering here as well. Still, at some point the greater good has to be considered, and if we're not going to get rid of the right to arm ourselves altogether, we should at the very least make getting your hands on a gun one hell of a stringent legal process. Every single check and hurdle that can be put in place should, and those who hope to own a gun legally and carry it responsibly should welcome the knowledge that he or she has been thoroughly vetted in the name of public safety.
The problem, again though, is our gun culture. Back in 2007, I wrote a piece for my site that took aim -- no pun intended -- at a group called the Virginia Citizens Defense League. The VCDL is a group of private gun-owners and lobbyists in Virginia that at the time had gathered to protest New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's gun crackdown in its state. (Bloomberg went after gun shops and dealers in Virginia because guns sold illegally there were winding up on his streets, killing innocent people.) The Virginia Citizens Defense League, as a show defiance, got together in a tiny government building and threw, essentially, a heavily armed frat party. They had a cake with a picture of Bloomberg's face on it surrounded by guns; they gave away a Para-ordnance handgun and a "Varmint Stalker" rifle (and no, I'm not making that up); they proudly displayed the dual-pistols that each one had strapped to his prodigious, artery-clogged legs; they had a grand old time mocking those liberal pussies who didn't have the text of the Second Amendment written across the back window of their pick-ups. As they did this, outside, a small group of their perceived oppressors had gathered -- among them, family members of those who'd been killed just months previously in the Virginia Tech Shooting.
At the time, this is what I had to say about the VCDL and their gun bash:
"If ever there existed a bunch of people who need to be disarmed as quickly as possible, it's these fucking idiots. Anyone whose judgment is so lousy that he would throw a party and gleefully thumb his nose in the face of families recently devastated by gun violence can't be trusted with a deadly weapon. If the mere feelings of another human being are of no consequence to these dolts, I find it impossible to believe that the human life they have the potential to take will be of much more value.
These aren't gun enthusiasts -- these are gun worshipers. That's the problem, because as my father (a retired police office and former Navy SEAL) taught me so long ago -- there should be no such thing.
It's one thing to recognize a weapon as a necessity, a means to and end, even an instrument of sport, of enjoyment; it's another thing entirely to believe it to be a large part of your identity, your very manhood. Anyone who thinks this way shouldn't be allowed to own a gun."
Harsh, I know, but appropriately so -- and it got an entertaining response from Virginia Citizens Defense League chairman Philip Van Cleave. Not to repeat myself, but this is what I'm talking about, the kind of fetishism of firearms that stands in the way of a healthy, rational debate about the prevalence of guns in this country -- of the merits of the ease of legal ownership, the dangers of illegal possession of an instrument made solely for the purpose of killing, often en masse, and the insanity of allowing any discussion of gun control to be met with vitriolic rage and misplaced paranoia.
I don't even need to say it and yet I will: What happened in Portland last night is going to happen again. You could've said the same thing after Columbine. After Virginia Tech. After Aurora. It's going to go on and on until something changes. It can start with our attitudes about guns and their place in American society.