After each of our increasingly routine mass shootings, there is a predictable exchange: liberals advocate gun control laws, while conservatives say we shouldn’t do that. I have to say that at a practical level, I’m with the liberals on this one. No matter what some dangling participle in the Constitution seems to imply, one of the primary goals of forming any human society is increased safety from unpredictable interpersonal violence. No law can stop people from getting angry and lashing out, but those people will do a lot less damage if they don’t have access to military-grade weaponry, for instance.
That being said, it cannot be the case that access to firearms is the root cause of nihilistic violence in American society. It is a symptom — an incredibly urgent one that must be treated immediately, but still a symptom. The deeper problem is the profound alienation and callousness that American social formation produces. That is to say, even if all our guns were raptured today, leaving us behind to fend for ourselves, American society would still be producing the kind of person who wants to randomly murder as many strangers as practically possible. More than that, it is not just producing the kind of person who fleetingly thinks that — presumably the thought has crossed the mind of many people who have been on a crowded subway car or in a long line — but someone who stays with that bitterness and rage in a way that allows them to carry out practical plans for making it happen. If that person didn’t have guns, he [sic] would be less dangerous, but on another level he would still be deeply frightening.
And I would even suggest that it’s the very same alienation and callousness that makes gun control — literally the most commonsensical measure possible — into such a hopeless cause. In other words, our empty, futile ritual of mourning follows so reliably after mass shootings because both stem from the same deep pathologies in American society.