America does violence to itself, over and over again

July 22, 2016 Originally published on SFGate

You can be deeply sad. You can be truly horrified. You can be mournful, baffled, resentful, disturbed, mortified and morally humiliated by all the murderous events spanning from Louisiana to Orlando, Minnesota to Dallas and, lest you forget, all points in between.

You can feel a lot of things. But if you live in this country, one thing you absolutely cannot be, is shocked.

This is America. We ingest guns like candy. We guzzle violence as if from a fire hose, our hearts hammered to numb impassiveness every day by an endless stream of violent images, headlines, movies, gun-soaked cop procedurals, ultraviolent videogames, bleeding bodies, murdered women, a gross and ruthless NRA making the bizarre claim that more guns is the best solution to the problem that their own gun fetishism so obviously causes.

You cannot be shocked. From Philando Castile to Alton Sterling, Micah Johnson to Omar Mateen, this is what happens when macho gun culture collides with enflamed racial tension, exemplified by police brutality and institutional racism, quickly followed by militant retaliation, all underscored by increasingly entrenched cultural resentment and suspicion, inflammatory rhetoric and shameless bigotry.

Meanwhile, the richest and most powerful among us own so much of everything, it chokes off all opportunity for personal growth, community and human connection for everyone else, leaving most of us nowhere else to turn, but toward anger.

The morbid joke these days is that any mass shooting under double digits doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. “Another day, another miserable hashtag,” one representing a human life, or a mass shooting, or dead schoolchildren, a lost cause, a stupefying time to be an American. The brutalities happen so fast, we can’t even acknowledge the fundamental emotions.

Have we reached mass-murder fatigue? It took 49 dead in a nightclub in Florida just to get some politicians’ attention, to spur them to even suggest one of the most modest gun control measures imaginable, and then… nothing happened. The old, white cowards of the GOP balked, as they always do. The NRA fell silent, before turning around and handing a rifle to a giddy, race-baiting Donald Trump.

You think that gun control debate will get new life just because Dallas sniper Micah Johnson was an Army vet who liked target practice and attended the Academy of Combat Warrior Arts, which, among other classes, teaches seminars in “Urban Everyday Carry and Improvised Weapons” and “Weapons Defense?” He was, essentially, one of the NRA’s own.

Anytown, USA

Anytown, USA

Meanwhile, gun culture remains our national shame. The vile old men in the GOP who endorse it? Even worse.

Still, it can be maddening to try and parse. What, exactly, is a symptom of what, and what’s a root cause? Is racist police brutality merely reflective of a tense, racially torn culture, which is, in turn, enflamed to be that way by the NRA, by Trump, by bigots and hatemongers and the bleak ocean of violent images and bloody entertainments in which we all swim?

Which came first, the fear or the gun? The broken heart or the bleeding one? The impulse toward death or the desperate reach for love?

What about education and opportunity? What about what happens when the PTW keep gutting social services, school budgets the social safety net in favor of more tax cuts for the wealthy? And what about the biggest and most obvious demon of all: our dumb fetish for guns?

Here’s a simple truth: If we banned all guns tomorrow, the nation would be almost instantly transformed, exclusively for the better.

Do you dare dispute it? There is no argument anywhere that can honestly claim we are a more peaceful, hopeful, loving, open-minded, enlightened, spiritually awake, accepting and morally intelligent community of humans, because there are 300 million firearms in the public domain, each one just itching to fulfill its intrinsic destiny.

Guns are no morally righteous point of pride. They are a national cancer. They are handheld death.

You need not be a sociologist to know that if guns were banned tomorrow, they and the false machismo, the fear, the death they embody would begin to fade from the culture almost instantly. One of the primary engines of our pain would begin to sputter and fail.

And then, a goddamn miracle: In a mere decade or two, every type of gun death imaginable, from suicides to mass shootings, disgruntled husbands murdering their ex-wives to toddlers shooting their parents, would plummet. Communities would transform. Our hearts would expand. This is undeniable. There is no downside.

And yet, despite all the carnage, the snipers, the radicalism, the militant stances, the NRA moronism, the dead children, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost when dumb, righteous rage is so easily armed, we are nowhere near making such an obvious and reasonable change.

Bizarrely and indefensibly, we still value the “right” to own multiple firearms, including assault weapons, more than we care about life itself, or God, or love, or peace. It’s a vicious moral distortion that’s unprecedented in the developed world, and it feeds straight into our racial tensions, which feeds into police brutality, which feeds militant calls to retaliation, which feeds ignorant calls for more guns, and so on. And the downward spiral continues.

And it’s only us. It’s only here. It is very much an American shame, an American disgrace. No other civilized nation on earth endures anything remotely close to our level of despicable gun violence. We freely weaponize our alienation, surround ourselves with flagrant lies about patriotism and the Second Amendment, and hand our fears the cruelest, deadliest tool imaginable, and then act surprised when it doesn’t work. It never will.

Shocking, it most certainly is not.

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Mark Morford

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