Trump Is Right (Sort of)
I am in the midst of reading two books on gun violence for a review article in the Christian Century.
One is Common Ground: Talking About Gun Violence in America by Donald Gaffney. The other Collateral Damage: Changing the Conversation about Firearms and Faith by James Atwood. Both authors are clergy, and by the way, people who grew up as gun-owners.
Wading through the two I’ve concluded that Donald Trump may be right about this. The problem is mental illness.
But it’s not those who have a particular diagnosis of one form of mental illness or another. Only 4% of interpersonal violence in the U.S. involves someone who is “mentally ill.”
It’s all of us. It’s the whole damned society.
What else can you say about a nation where there are more guns than there are people? Three hundred and ninety three million guns in America (and increasing by the day) — more than one for every man, woman and child in the country.
What else can you say about people who buy guns for protection when the odds are twelve to one that a gun in your home will end up shooting a family member, not an intruder?
What else can you call it when the correlation between number and availability of guns and gun violence is so factually clear?
What else can you say about a nation that weeps, prays and does nothing more in the face of one mass shooting after another when, as both Atwood and Gaffney insist, “There are a few simple measures that would dramatically reduce gun violence without taking away people’s Second Amendment rights”?
We’re ill, deranged. I’d probably call it a sickness of the spirit rather than mental illness, but whatever. Or maybe demonic possession. We’re possessed.
Universal instant background checks for gun purchases or transfers is the number one common sense step, these authors agree. Have you noticed — all cars are licensed. Is the government trying to take them away?
Another closer to home measure that seems to me as if it might have subtle, but far-reaching implications is for parents and grandparents whose child is invited to the home of another is to ask, “Are there guns in your home?” “If so, how are they secured?”
Even to be asking this seems nuts to me. But it isn’t. Asking this question could bring the issue home (literally), make it personal, and let people know of your concern at a grass-roots level.
Atwood works through a list of ten “myths” that people trot out regularly, like “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” He dissects each one showing that whatever grain of truth it may hold masks much more falsehood.
“When guns are readily available, they are used,” concludes Atwood.
The “facts” are so clear and overwhelming about the dangers, that you have to conclude what we’re dealing with here is beyond rational. Of course, “out of touch with reality” is one definition of “psychosis.”
In 1964 the American historian Richard Hofstader published an article in Harpers titled, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” It seems spot on for this issue.
“I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”
This seems as accurate description as any for the state in which we find ourselves. It certainly describes the NRA and the minority of gun owners who cleave to their mantra that any form of gun control at all is simply a step toward the government seizure of all the guns.
In 1964 Hofstadter wrote words that now seem oddly contemporary:
“But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.”
What’s different between then and now is that one of the exemplars of the paranoid style is President and many of that cohort are in positions of power.
Like I said, on this one Trump is right, sort of. The problem is a mental illness. A society in the grip of psychosis.