After every mass shooting, I write a variant of the same column. Perhaps I'll republish this one when the next attack happens.
The increase in mass shootings over the course of the past several decades is not imaginary. In 2000, The New York Times analyzed 100 mass shootings between 1949 and 1999 and found that 73 of them had happened since 1990. Since 2000, according to Mother Jones magazine, there have been 33 more, including the recent massacre at the Navy Yard. The majority of the killers have untreated mental illness.
A significant portion of the political and journalistic worlds pretends that the solution to mass shootings is gun control. It would be too much to call this response insane, but it is doctrinaire, barren thinking. For good or ill, guns have always been readily available in the United States. That has not changed in the past 50 years. The number of gun deaths has actually been declining quite steeply over the past two decades. Pew Research on Social and Demographic Trends found that the firearms homicide rate was 49 percent lower in 2010 than in 1993.
Following the latest mass attack, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank decried the "loss of hope for gun control." Sen. Jay Rockefeller demanded: "When will enough be enough?" These "repeated incidents" of "tragic, senseless violence ... demand our attention."
Yes, they do, but defenders as well as opponents of gun rights in America need to lift their eyes from their prepared talking points and look at what is staring them in the face.
The guns-blazing mass attack has become the American psychosis.
Every society has mentally ill people. But the way mental illness gets expressed varies tremendously by culture. In China, Malaya, Indonesia, and parts of India, patients suffer from a variety of fertility-related phobias called "genital shrinking" anxiety. Among the Japanese and Koreans, doctors often see a morbid fear of giving offense by one's appearance. In the 20th century, many parts of the third world saw a pathological startle reaction that led to wild, dissociative behaviors called variously "running amok," "Lapp panic" or "latah."
Anorexia nervosa spread throughout the developed world in the latter part of the 20th century when thinness became the fashion ideal. Culture shapes behavior -- even, or maybe especially, among the mentally ill. Extreme behavior like anorexia is the distorted response to a real stimulus.