May 10, 2019 (San Diego) Lori Kaye (60), Riley Howell (21) and Kendrick Castillo (18) did something most of us probably will never do. Partly, because thankfully mass shootings are not that common. They stepped in the way of a mass shooter, disrupting the attack. By their actions they saved lives. How many? It is a good question, but their actions were nothing short of heroic.
One died at the place she went to pray. She went for Izkor, the Jewish Service of remembrance. The other two were killed at a college and a high school. The three of them should be honored and remembered. Their shooters, on the other hand, must be forgotten by the larger society. Their names forever consigned to non-mention by media.
However, there are cowards in this saga. And no, it is not the shooters. It is the United States Congress and State legislatures across the country. It is the National Rifle Association, that has distorted the Second Amendment into a political tool of division. Normal countries and we are not, do not allow for the mass collection of weapons. In case you wonder, thousands were confiscated in Los Angeles just the other day. And if the person was not selling them, likely that arsenal is quite legal.
Guns kill thousands of Americans every year. It is not just the now regular mass shooting, but it is suicide, This is to the tune of 22,000 suicides by gun a year. And while very technically it is not the fault of the gun, inanimate object guns usually don’t fire themselves, and usually is the operative word. Sometimes they do, when they fall and the safety fails, or when mishandled, without intent and the gun misfires. However, the wide availability of guns plays a role in this, even if in the gun country none blames the guns. And yes, there is a place that can be identified as gun country. It is also a place with a lot of despair, poverty, fear, and drug addiction deaths as well.
This is a policy matter. This is something that we must face. People, mostly males and white, chose a gun because it is usually a final act. If you try to use medications or poisons, and you are found in time, it can be reversed. Your life can be saved. And in fact, it is more often, than not. But a bullet through your brain tends to be final.
These statistics are quite stunning when you think about it.
Nearly 43,000 Americans die by suicide every year,15 and the rate of suicide has increased by 19 percent over the past decade.16 The dynamics of suicide are complex, involving factors like poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, and mental illness.17 But one thing is clear: means matter and, amongst commonly used methods of self-harm, firearms are the most lethal means.18,19 Across all suicide attempts not involving a firearm, less than 5 percent will result in death,20,21 and the vast majority of those who survive do not go on to die by suicide.22 For example, 98 percent of people who try to kill themselves through poisoning/overdose — the most common method of attempted suicide — will survive the attempt.23,24 For gun suicide, those statistics are flipped: approximately 85 percent of gun suicide attempts end in death.25,26 While firearms are used in less than 6 percent of suicide attempts, over half of suicide deaths are with firearms.
Most of these are whites, and this is the same exact population that believes they need to have guns to protect themselves in a crime-ridden world. Never mind that crime statistics are way down, and historically they peaked in 1992. In states where they can, they open carry to the supermarket, to Cosco, to Sam’s Club. This is gun country. They also open carry to the park, and other entertainment venues. They are protecting themselves from ghosts and phantoms, and at times using those guns to kill themselves in a moment of passion.
We blame everything but the gun which is by law unable to enter the morbidity research. We have defunded that research at the federal level. And while in 2018, for the first time, the Centers for Disease Control were allowed to look at this in decades, experts are far from impressed:
”There’s no funding. There’s no agreement to provide funding. There isn’t even encouragement. No big questions get answered, and there’s nothing here, yet, of significance for the research community,” says Dr. Garen Wintemute, a well-known expert on gun violence and a professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, Davis.
”I’m not particularly optimistic that anything will change,” says Daniel Webster, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The CDC has been willing to look at noncontroversial activities, such as the effect of mediating disputes between gangs, says Webster, “but the CDC has not, and I don’t believe they will examine other kinds of interventions or other kinds of solutions to the problem.”
We have no problem researching the incidence of obesity, for example. Or the effects of it in economic life. And when people throw themselves in the line of fire, we rightfully see them as heroes. But the underlying causes are still pretty much off limits.
It is time for Congress to take the next step. It is time to ask, are the guns part of the problem? Because quite Frankly guns are not just inanimate objects that magically fire themselves. When a society has more guns than people, and every week, it seems, we have a mass shooting, we have a problem. When we have more people dying from gun suicide than armed robbery, we have a problem.
There are a few steps Congress can take, and it would if we were not a highly difunctional nation.
We can start by funding research into the morbidity and mortality of guns, and not just around the edges. Incidentally, we suspect we know why they stopped. Researchers found a link between suicide and having guns in the home and the National Rifle Association lobbied Congress to stop this because that was not healthy information.
The media must also explain to people that changing society is not a threat. They are not going to be killed in non-existent gun robberies. This the media has to do to change many a conversation. I know where the eyes on the screen come from, and that is the product. But the media needs to stop covering every car chase, vehicle crash and every robbery. They distort the reality that we live in pretty safe times.
Media also needs to expand its coverage of things that actually affect the lives of Americans every day. It is not sexy, and it does not lead to eyes on the screen. But we can start by asking why are we having an increased number of attacks by white males on places of worship, markets, movie theaters? What is leading to this sense of loss and anomie that makes people do this?
We can follow with the connective tissue of fear and why we have an epidemic of drug addiction. The mechanisms for that lead to corporate greed, and not informing doctors of the addictive values in the opioids they sell. Instead, they blame the addicts themselves. But Media also has to dig into why people cannot afford to house themselves in many cities. The epidemic of homelessness is related. So is the pain that it causes.
These stories lead us straight to the policies enacted at all levels of government. And bring us back to three people who stood in the way of bullets saving lives. The people who carried out the attacks are direct consequences of the fear-driven culture we live in. It is the fear of the other, or young people who are in deep pain. It is the ability to obtain guns, at times easier than education. In one case we know the school was warned, and their reaction was to sue for defamation.
It is partly our reluctance to deal with the pain. It is our penchant for easy answers, and not asking the deeper ones. We all need to demand more from politicians and the media. Enough of these mass shootings. Enough of avoiding the core questions.
It is also time to confront reality. Normal countries react by confronting the reasons behind the shootings and regulating gun ownership. New Zealand is the last one to do that. We are not a normal country.
Lori Kaye, Riley Howell, and Kendrick Castillo are heroes. The best way to honor them is to finally face our demons and do something about these shootings. Congress has to start by confronting the NRA and fund the research. They need to stop with their collective cowardise. It also has to pass basic legislation such as universal background checks. Or we can continue on our current path…because we know it works so well.