Columbine...Red Lake...Sandy Hook...Santa Barbara...Virginia Tech...Charleston...and...what was the last one again?
Beyond the reflexive calls to control and license guns, beyond the exhortations to do more about mental illness, Americans seem unable to address the other thing all the mass shooters have in common. Don't get me wrong. I'm in favor of commonsense gun control, and I had a family member who suffered from mental illness, so yes absolutely! more can be done to support the sufferers and their families. But aren't we missing something here?
Why so angry, boys?
Why are there so many fragile, broken, poisonously angry young men and boys? Why do so many of our adolescent boys search for a way to go out in a blaze of glory, either by spraying a classroom with gunfire or by joining Daesh, the so-called Islamic State, in Syria? What is this soul sickness really about? Why are so many of our boys in love with death?
There is a very strong temptation to dismiss them all as a bunch of sick puppies. Dead-eyed sick puppies. Other people's problem.
But they're not.
What they are is suicidal.
There is, clearly, a fine line between self-slaughter, and the slaughter of others. But the driver of these acts is suicide. The murder of other people is secondary, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. To the shooter, they are props in his grand final coup de théâtre.
The form it takes is culturally determined. In their acts and in their rationalizations, the boys reflect the ugliest undercurrents of our society - white supremacy, misogyny, self-regard, political grievance, and the rest. It's hard to feel for them.
I am haunted by how close the Rev. Clementae Pinckney and the others in Mother Emmanuel Church came to turning Dylann Roof from his purpose. Merely by welcoming him in.
It's not easy to talk a suicidal person down from the ledge. It doesn't always work. But if we can engage with boys who are on the edge, we could save a lot of lives. That said, trips to the shooting range are maybe not the wisest of bonding experiences (I'm looking at you, Nancy Lanza and Laurel Harper).
Clearly there are reasonable commonsense precautions we can take to make our particular all-American form of mass murder harder to pull off. But opponents of gun control are not all wrong. Gun control alone is not going to do the trick. As a society, we need to take a good hard look at how we are raising our boys. Their despair and hatred needs to be countered, not avoided. So many failed suicides report changing their minds on the way down.