There has been a mass shooting in our nation every single day this year, taking the lives of 8,555 Americans. It is absolutely deplorable that we have allowed the issue to fester for so long, to the point where it is simply an accepted part of culture. The self-reflection and attempts to trigger a serious debate about the proliferation of firearms in America grows weaker with each passing tragedy.
A new report by the American Sociological Association proves what has been long suspected by concerned citizens: that the United States, with only five percent of the world’s population, leads all other nations in the number of yearly mass shootings. 31% of all mass shootings in the world take place in America. The study, which spans from 1966 to the present and includes data from 171 countries had two major conclusions that we must take into consideration when discussing the role of firearms in our society.
First, that the number of firearms in circulation is directly proportionate to the number of mass shootings, which may seem obvious but has now been empirically confirmed. Guns, in fact, do kill people. “The United States, Yemen, Switzerland, Finland, and Serbia are ranked as the Top 5 countries in firearms owned per capita, according to the 2007 Small Arms Survey, and my study found that all five are ranked in the Top 15 countries in public mass shooters per capita” reads the report.
Secondly, that American mass shooters were much more likely to strike crowded civilian targets like schools or office buildings, but shooters in other nations usually hit military targets like bases and checkpoints, which indicates a more political motivation rather than a selfish desire to inflict suffering on others.
His biggest conclusion, however, prompts some reflection on the American psyche in general, an examination through we find the roots of the ugliest part of our national character.
“In the United States, where many individuals are socialized to assume that they will reach great levels of success and achieve ‘the American Dream,’ there may be particularly high levels of strain among those who encounter blocked goals or have negative social interactions with their peers, coworkers, or bosses. When we add depression, schizophrenia, paranoia, or narcissism into the mix, this could explain why the U.S. has such a disproportionate number of public mass shooters. Other countries certainly have their share of people who struggle with these problems, but they may be less likely to indulge in the delusions of grandeur that are common among these offenders in the U.S., and, of course, less likely to get their hands on the guns necessary for such attacks.”
America’s prosperity and relatively rapid ascension to superpower status has left us shamefully self-entitled. There is nothing more abhorrently selfish than the mass shooting-suicide that occurs so often in our nation. But we should be asking ourselves some very deep questions about our self-entitlement. As a general thought experiment, consider this: Are we simply becoming aware of the fact that the concept of the “American Dream” is a potent opiate of the masses, that we’re seeing the middle class decline and social mobility grind to a halt and all the income flow to the top one percent of Americans, no matter how many bootstraps you pull, and recognizing that we’ve been lied to this whole time?
On the other hand, are we simply self-absorbed to the point where we are psychologically incapable of accepting the fact that life is a cruel mistress and things don’t play out as one might wish? That it will drive Americans to the point where they say “If I can’t have it, nobody can?” With the hunger of the social media machine and the infotainment, sensationalized nature of cable news, there is a willing audience ready to give to a disgruntled American the attention in death that they desired in life. The horrendously graphic nature of the recent tragedy in Virginia, where the killer recorded the double murder of two news anchors and posted it online gives some credence to this idea.
The proliferation of firearms in this nation is an epidemic which must be dealt with. But after we do that, we have some very dark questions to ask as we begin to reinvent ourselves for a new era.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.