That’s Just What We Do Here

On this otherwise average weekend tucked neatly between Memorial Day and the 4th of July, a man in America committed suicide. Of course, it wasn’t enough for the man to simply kill himself. He was a violent narcissist filled with so much rage that he decided to walk into a crowded nightclub full of people he hated out of self-loathing and fear and open fire with a high-powered assault rifle loaded with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, all of which he purchased legally.

In the coming days, the news outlets will ritualistically publish every juicy scrap they can uncover about this man — he’s a Muslim, a homophobe, a wife beater, an all-around asshole — and in the end, we will all nod and solemnly agree that whatever else he was, he was also “mentally unstable,” and with that, we will collectively wash our hand of any responsibility we might have as a society for this uniquely American atrocity.

That’s normal now. That’s just what we do here.

Today’s mass shooting is so apple pie American I can’t even stand it. Every few days, an angry man filled with narcissistic rage (yes, it’s always a man) decides to commit suicide by mass shooting, and occasionally the body count is high enough that we are all forced to pause and reflect.

And since this is an American ritual, the red team is ready with their petulant defense of the Second Amendment, and the blue team is ready with their outrage and exhaustion, and no one listens to anybody, but we all tune in as the President gives the same empty speech, sending the same empty thoughts and prayers to the same families of the victims in Orlando and Blacksburg and Charleston and Colorado Springs and San Bernadino and Newtown and Aurora…

…I suppose I could keep listing cities, but what would be the point? It’s the same damn speech every time, the same tired news coverage, and the same $30,000,000 spent by the NRA every year to keep even the slightest restrictions from being placed on anything with a trigger, because heaven forbid that a wife-beating asshole who’s been questioned three times by the FBI should have the slightest delay in purchasing assault weapons designed and built for no other purpose than urban warfare.

It’s the same story over and over, and like clockwork we label him as “mentally unstable,” and then suddenly it’s all just one man’s fault. We absolve ourselves of any culpability because that man meets a list of diagnostic criteria, and we conveniently ignore all the systemic failures that consistently lead us back to this same tragic set of circumstances.

We should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing this to become so normal. We should each feel guilty for this particular ritual, because we are all at fault. We let it become part of the American experience. It’s been baked into the apple pie, and it isn’t going to stop. It can’t, not until we collectively acknowledge that the man with the gun isn’t the only one who’s mentally unstable. His instability is endemic. We are all a little bit crazy to keep putting up with this shit. We are all somewhat to blame.

I certainly feel my share of the guilt. It’s enough to make me donate money and time. It’s enough to make me write my congressman. It’s enough to make me never vote for another candidate who isn’t an advocate for sensible gun control legislation. And since I’m being a wide-eyed dreamer, wouldn’t it be nice if we decided as a country to prioritize the funding of mental health care services? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our mentally ill population was properly cared for instead of stigmatized? Wouldn’t it be great if treatment was readily available for anyone who needed it?

I know, I know. Don’t be silly.

That’s not what we do here.

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