Those shots you just heard? Pay no attention. That was just the background noise of modern-day America.
We like to think of the United States as an exceptional nation. Here’s one way that we clearly are: No other country has anywhere close to the number of mass shootings that we do.
Why is this?
It’s not because of video games, which both President Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, have now cited. Japan spends 33% more per capita on video games than American do, according to Global Games Report. So where are all the mass shootings in Japan?
Is it because of guns? The United States does have more guns per capita than any other country in the world, according to the Small Arms Survey — 1.2 for per every person. Americans have 3.4 times as many guns per capita as do our neighbors to the north. However, if guns alone were the problem, then logically we’d have 3.4 times as many random mass shootings per capita than Canada. Instead, the rate is incalculable because Canada this year hasn’t any such massacres. Nor have other countries that aren’t war zones; the massacre in New Zealand was very much the exception. Armed men going into public spaces to randomly shoot whoever is in range — that is almost a uniquely American phenomenon. Perhaps there are new laws we need governing firearms but guns alone don’t appear to be the problem. No, the problem seems something else: It’s a problem in the American character. It’s simply become routine for men — and these killers are always men — to go on random killing sprees. And they are almost always white men. The shooting in Virginia Beach in May that killed 12 people was unusual only in that the killer wasn’t white.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States braced itself for what we feared would be a wave of lone-wolf attacks. And there were some. In Chattanooga, Tennessee. In San Bernadino, California. At Fort Hood, Texas (involving a killer who grew up in Roanoke). But mostly what we see are white men, unhappy over one thing or another. Here’s a brutal fact we need to confront: The terrorist attack we’re most likely to face isn’t from an immigrant, or a jihadist; it’s from some American white dude.
After the Virginia Beach shootings, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed eight new gun laws. The Republican-controlled General Assembly didn’t vote on any of them, instead asking the State Crime Commission to study the matter — which Republicans saw as a necessary fact-finding measure and Democrats saw as a way to avoid the question.
Instead, the House majority leader, Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, proposed tougher law enforcement. “Research shows that the vast majority of crime happens in a handful of places and is done by a relatively small number of people,” he wrote in a July 28 commentary in The Roanoke Times.
All these measures have some merit to them — Northam’s proposals, Gilbert’s proposals. But not a single one of them would have prevented the slaughter at the Virginia Beach municipal building, or this weekend’s horrors in El Paso and Dayton. More rigorous background checks for gun-buyers? In most of these cases, the shooters had no previous criminal history that would have flagged them. They were perfectly law-abiding citizens who simply woke up one morning and decided to go kill some people. Both Northam and Gilbert are, in their own way, offering solutions that might reduce more ordinary types of crimes committed with guns. But nobody seems to have a solution to the periodic spasms of mass violence for which America has now become known.
Every murder is horrific in its own way — the El Paso killing spree began outside the store, when the shooter gunned down parents and kids selling water to raise money for a soccer team. The El Paso massacre is especially horrific in another way because of the suspected gunman’s apparent political motives. The online manifesto attributed to the suspected shooter says he was motivated to go kill innocent people because of an “Hispanic invasion” of Texas. At the very least, the writer appears to have slept through at least several chapters of American history class. He also repeated some of the very words that President Trump has used to describe immigrants. Trump did not cause this killing — ultimately the man who pulled the trigger is the one responsible — but the president’s harsh anti-immigration rhetoric clearly has emboldened white supremacists around the world, from Charlottesville to Christchurch. Trump may not feel he has inspired them, but they certainly feel inspired by him. Yes, Trump on Tuesday denounced white supremacy. But he also did so after Charlottesville. In between, he continued to use the same language that white supremacists used in describing migrants — and when a supporter at a rally in Florida shouted out “shoot them,” Trump laughed it off. Now someone has done just that. Conservatives rightly like to talk up personal responsibility; Trump needs to take personal responsibility for his own behavior. Will we see a change?
The suspected shooter’s purported manifesto did say something revealing that merits further discussion. Not the racism but this: “My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist. The job of my dreams will likely be automated.” The writer also complains that “to compete, people have to get better credentials by spending more time in college. It used to be that a high school degree was worth something. Now a bachelor’s degree is what’s recommended to be competitive in the job market.” All that’s true, of course. However, the suspect’s profile on the jobs-oriented LinkedIn site also says “working in general sucks” and that he’s “not really motivated to do anything more than what’s necessary to get by.”
His problem isn’t immigrants. It’s his own laziness. The writer seems to think because he’s white he’s entitled to a good living. He has mythologized a version of America that never existed. America wasn’t just built by white people, but it was built by people of all backgrounds who worked hard, something this loser was apparently unwilling to do because it’s always easier to blame somebody else. America should always welcome people willing to work hard, but we should have no place for bigots like the manifesto writer. Unfortunately, now we have one, and we better figure out what to do about that or we will see far worse things than El Paso.