America, Insane

Posted by Alex Hodor-Lee

You know that oft-cited Einstein aphorism: insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, last week President Barack Obama made yet another public plea for transformative gun safety laws, on the back of the mass shooting in Washington, D.C.'s Navy Yard.

While I suspect that the pairing of our hugely dysfunctional congress and highly functioning gun lobbies will be enough to stymie any effort at reforming gun safety laws, at least media insects can feed off the slain bodies, never letting a good crisis go to waste.

The media has, once again, engaged in a frenzied effort to find a fresh way of framing another mass American shooting. Immediately following the Navy Yard shooting, politicians called for safety in the Capitol (what a shocker: the security of political elites takes primacy in the critical debate over the safety of the Americans they represent). 

Other media mouthpieces spent their time connecting peripheral dots-they emphasized that USIS, the private contractor that screens two-thirds of federal government employees, including Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis, also vetted the infamous NSA leaker, Edward Snowden.

Let's be very clear. This isn't a story about security in Washington; this isn't a story about the failures of government contractors. Stop with the kaleidoscopic efforts to make meaning amidst chaos. This is a story about this American culture; and folks, we own this culture. Don't get distracted by the sideshows and crazed media vultures. As Danny Hayes, of George Washington University points out, "news coverage of mass shootings follows a pattern. In a shooting's immediate wake, gun control coverage spikes before receding back into relative obscurity." 

Every day, Americans are killed by guns. According to Slate, more than 8,400 people have been killed by guns since the Newtown shooting, which resulted in the death of 20 elementary school children. The Newtown, Conn. shooting shocked the nation, and sparked a worthy discourse about mental illness in America. But the most deranged actor, it turns out, was our U.S. Senate, who failed to pass a timid, bipartisan bill that would require mandatory background checks on most gun purchases. 

In Chicago ghettos, which have become war zones in their own right, young people are killed everyday by gun violence. Conservative commentators have seized on this mindless violence as an opportunity to add their slant, opining that Chicago's tight gun laws are proof that "strict" gun legislation is ineffective. In reality, the opposite is true. 

Illinois' neighboring states-Indiana, Wisconsin and Missouri-have lamentably loose gun laws and many firearms are trafficked from the neighboring states and sold to Chicago gangs. Gun laws with no federal uniformity create discontinuity between neighboring states and the subsequent cleavages allow for the flow of guns from legal sellers to illegal buyers.

Last Friday, during a late night basketball game, a gunman opened fire in a Chicago park. Thirteen people were wounded and, luckily, no one was killed. But this act of violence was symbolically perturbing. It meant that the week ended just as it had begun: with another mass shooting. And just as he did in the aftermath of Newtown, a weary Barack Obama is trying to begin the gun debate anew. And just as they did after Newtown, the media went on a frenzy, dragging us along for the ride. And while the parents of slain Chicago teenagers have to live with their loss, we'll neatly push those Chicago youth, along with the Navy Yard victims, into the back of our national collective memory. There they'll sit in the fuzzy, unceremonious depths with the victims of Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech and Columbine before them. Their only purpose? To be anecdotally, tendentiously and cyclically retrieved with the hope of new results that aren't coming-proof of our American insanity. 

Uncharted Track

Campus Safety Reports: September 13 to 19