I haven’t cried about Sandy Hook. I’ve felt almost nothing, actually. I worry when I hear of one of these things happening close to people I know, but even then, I tend to shrug it off quickly once I know they’re safe. Why? Because I know I live in a country where there’s a large enough voting bloc that believes violence solves problems that we’ll never see sensible gun-access laws on a federal level, nor will we ever address the problems that lead us to need such laws in the first place.
I follow a lot of people in other countries on Twitter, and universally, their response to events like this is to demand to know why Americans haven’t dealt with our gun problem. As if the sensible among us can somehow magically change the minds or override the votes of the people who think they’re safer when more people have access to the means to instantly kill several people at a time.
You see, the underlying problem here is not laziness. It’s not ignorance. It’s not apathy. It’s cultural. It’s Manifest Destiny and individualism and worshipping John Wayne. It’s religious faith that hinges on eternal damnation and a single path to salvation instead of fellowship and love. It’s a belief that it’s every man for himself, and if you can’t survive entirely on your own with no help from anyone else, you’re weak, and deserve to die. It’s a belief in that magical thing called “personal responsibility,” which presumes that everyone is born with the exact same amount of power and opportunity, and thus that anyone who is failing in some way or another is simply not working hard enough.
And more than anything, it’s fear. It’s poor white people who have struggled all their lives to get by who have been lied to and told that the reason they’re suffering is because poor black women in cities want to steal their money to have babies, gay people want to steal their children and Muslims want to burn down their churches. They cower in their homes and homogenous communities, arming themselves with deadly force and righteous anger, believing that the holy trinity of God, Smith and Wesson will save them from any incursion of things they don’t understand.
Acts like this are not isolated. They are terrorism, but because the terrorists aren’t unfamiliar foreigners, we refuse to acknowledge them as such. They have just as much broken ideaology behind them as people who stuff bombs in their underwear, but because the people who commit the acts are white and using guns, and thus uncomfortably familiar, we simply distance ourselves from the brokenness of our own culture that makes these things happen. When a brown person does something bad, it’s the fault of all brown people, and thus we are obligated to wage war. When a white person does it, it’s the fault of that person, and we are not obligated to do a single damned thing about it. To acknowledge that these people who look and act like us ARE us, and thus we are obligated to fix the elements of our own culture that create these disasters is to acknowledge our own failings. And that hurts, so we’d rather blame the rest of the world, because the faceless are easier to fight.
We are in denial about the fact that WE as a country, as a culture, make things like this happen. We are in denial that we believe children are the exclusive property of their parents, and thus refuse to interfere when a child is clearly broken. We are in denial that we have let our fear lead us to go on the offense and make the whole world blind. We are in denial that brain illnesses are real. We are in denial that illness of any kind is not the fault of the afflicted, and thus we must support the sick, not leave them to die or kill. We are in denial that none of us is an island, and that our only safety relies in cooperation, not isolation.
And we are in denial that these things do not happen for a single reason, and thus keep lobbing the responsibility ball back and forth instead of realizing that we must address all aspects of this illness, causes and symptoms both, if we are ever to heal.