I am always amazed when, in the aftermath of a mass shooting such as the recent tragedy at a mall in Allen, Texas, both political parties expect their overly simplistic explanations to be taken seriously, their anemic policy proposals accepted as dependable solutions.
“It’s the guns!” cries the left, recommending restrictions.
“It’s mental health” insists the right, offering resources and better enforcement.
A reasonable arbiter would concede that both accounts contain some truth.
At the very least, a nation awash in guns (with minimal restrictions on purchases and ownership) is more likely to sustain more gun-related deaths, to include instances of mass violence. That seems a statistical likelihood.
To ignore the fact that these events, still uncommon enough to shock us, have increased in frequency alongside our nation’s rapid and spiraling crises of mental health and social alienation is willfully ignorant of the darkening reality in which many Americans exist.
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But neither explanation is anywhere near complete.
Mass shootings are a manifestation of a lot more than either side is willing to concede, and both offer solutions that would help only along the margins.
I’m perhaps unusual among my fellow conservatives in that the Second Amendment is not without limitations.
I have faith that the right to own a firearm (or 20) guaranteed by the Constitution is not going anywhere, and I will always argue in favor of retaining this most necessary protection.
But does that mean that every ordinary person who wants a high-powered rifle or a high-capacity magazine should have immediate and unfettered access to them?
I’m not so sure.
Is there a balance we can strike between personal freedom and public safety and responsibility?
I’d like to think so. At least I’m open.
My skepticism aside, I also concede that many of the gun restrictions Democrats propose (such as age limits) would have almost no discernible impact on events such as the Allen shooting. Americans own about 400 million guns — with the lack of registration and a thriving black market, we don’t even have an accurate accounting. The restrictions could, however, deprive some law-abiding Americans of their rights.
And Second Amendment advocates are correct that most gun owners (which includes pretty much everyone I know in Texas) will never use their firearms (including AR-15s) for any criminal end.
While I flinch each time I read the number of gun-related deaths in the U.S., I know that these tragedies do not occur in a vacuum. Except for gun-related accidents, gun deaths can rarely be untethered from some other yawning societal ill.
Mental illness is but one of them.
Drugs; fatherlessness; the rise in internet extremism of all kinds; the emasculation of our young men; the social alienation exacerbated by the pandemic and social media; and culture wars all play a role in fueling the anger and hatred present in almost every instance of mass violence our country sustains.
Indeed, the very same weekend that the Allen shooter unleashed mayhem in North Texas, another killer, perhaps similarly fueled by anger, enacted carnage in Brownsville, Texas, mowing down at least eight migrants.
He didn’t need a gun. He used his vehicle.
Extremism remains a connecting thread in many of these events, but we can no longer insist they are solely the consequence of white supremacy as we have come to understand it.
The killers in Allen and Brownsville and Uvalde all have Hispanic surnames. The Nashville shooter was LGBTQ and a biological female.
The cultural sickness that transmutes alienation and anger into mass violence is no longer isolated to one category of perpetrator; he or she cannot be easily identified and potentially thwarted.
The darkness and the rot pervades every inch of the internet and every medium of communication.
It fills the emptiness left by social isolation, the loss of faith in our institutions, indeed, our loss of faith and God in general.
If events like the shooting in Allen leave you feeling hopeless, I don’t blame you.
Where I will find fault is if you think the government can do anything about it.
It won’t because it can’t, except for perhaps around the edges.
So yes, it’s the guns. Yes, it’s mental health.
It’s also everything else.
I suppose the first step toward recovery is acceptance.
Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: firstname.lastname@example.org.